University of Tennessee at Chattanooga alumnus Heath Eslinger has been hired as the school's wrestling coach.
The official announcement will come at 2 p.m. today at the Hall of Fame Room in McKenzie Arena.
"We weren't making a decision based on what's best for the program for the next six to 12 months but for the next six to 10 years," UTC athletic director Rick Hart said Friday.
Eslinger was a three-time Southern Conference champion for the Mocs and the league's wrestler of the year in 2000 after winning two state championships for Bradley Central High School. He was the state-tournament "outstanding wrestler" in 1995.
He and Illinois assistant Carl Perry were the only two candidates who had on-campus interviews, but Hart and the selection committee reviewed more than two dozen applications and pared the list twice before arriving at those two.
"I'm very satisfied," Hart said. "The process was very inclusive, very thorough. We have identified the best person to lead our program at this time."
Eslinger, Cleveland High School head coach the past two seasons, served as Mocs assistant coach under Terry Brands from 2001 to '04.
"I'm very excited," Eslinger said. "I have been on the phone all day with guys on the team. I want to make sure everybody is on the same page. I want to start getting calendars out for when we're going to train. I want to hit the ground running. It's nothing new, just a new place."
When he applied for the job, he had some reservations.
"I don't think I had doubts, but I had concerns because I was so happy (at Cleveland)," he said. "With all you see in the news about wrestling (programs being dropped), I wanted to make sure the security was there."
Eslinger also wanted to make sure he would be comfortable as a member of the UTC athletic family.
"When I went for the interview, it was going to have to be a picture-perfect situation for me to take this job, and when I walked out of (Hart's) office Thursday, it was pretty clear that he is a guy I want to work for and the rest of the staff are people I look forward to working with," Eslinger said.
The Mocs have had three head coaches this decade with Joe Seay following Brands and then yielding to Chris Bono, who resigned to return to Iowa State as the Cyclones' assistant head coach. The departures had been a concern among the program's supporters, so it didn't hurt Eslinger's chances to be an alum and someone who has spent most of his life in the Chattanooga area.
Hart hired Russ Huesman, another alum, earlier this year as the school's football coach.
"It was among factors that were considered, but we felt both people we brought in were committed to providing us with stability and continuity," Hart said. "Being an alum wasn't a minus. You're not going to see us hiring an alum every time a job comes open. That wasn't our goal. Just like the football search, we hired the guy who was the best fit.
"Any time you're familiar with a program and people associated with the program, it can help you, and it probably helped him. Heath can build relations more quickly because he's been here, but we didn't get too caught up in that. Now that Heath is coming here, certainly it will be a positive."
There were other attributes, though, that Hart and the selection committee picked up.
"There were some things in common with me and the people who shared their thoughts," the AD said. "He has an enthusiasm and a passion for working with student-athletes and understanding that wrestling is a conduit to getting an education and preparing yourself for leading a productive and meaningful life. When we talked about our mission and values, Heath was very much in step with that."