Connect with us


Aaron Brooks: Penn State wrestling greats make ideal candidates in assistant coach search

Aaron Brooks thinks that two Nittany Lion greats would be ideal candidates to fill the assistant coach vacancy on Cael Sanderson’s Penn State wrestling staff.



Penn State wrestling, Cael Sanderson, Aaron Brooks, Nick Lee, Zain Retherford
Apr 20, 2024; State College, Pennsylvania, USA; Zain Retherford (right) is victorious after winning by default 5-0 over Nick Lee (left) in a 65 kilograms second round and best of three finals match during the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials at Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Cael Sanderson enters the summer in need of a new assistant coach after Jimmy Kennedy followed his brother-in-law David Taylor out west to Oklahoma State last week. A relatively infrequent occurrence for Penn State wrestling in the Sanderson era, could the next man up for the Nittany Lions already be nearby? Aaron Brooks, for one, thinks so. Speaking on the Baschamania podcast last weekend, the four-time National Champion and new Olympian said Penn State greats Nick Lee and Zain Retherford have his vote of confidence to fill Kennedy’s role. 

Aaron Brooks: Nick Lee, Zain Retherford would both make “really good coaches” for Penn State wrestling

David Taylor sent shockwaves through the wrestling world last week, ending his competitive career to be the next head coach at Oklahoma State. Taylor’s not leaving State College empty-handed, either. NLWC teammate Thomas Gilman and Penn State wrestling assistant Jimmy Kennedy are also heading to Stillwater, joining Taylor’s Cowboys staff.

Now, Cael Sanderson must begin the search to replace Kennedy, who joined the Nittany Lions as a volunteer in 2021 and as a paid assistant last year following an NCAA rule change. But the answer could very well already be within arm’s reach. Speaking to Justin Basch on the Baschamania podcast, Aaron Brooks said Penn State wrestling greats Nick Lee and Zain Retherford would be his choice to join Sanderson’s staff.

“I think Nick Lee or Zain would be really cool,” Brooks said. “Because they wrestled the weight, you know. I think Nick and Zain would be really good coaches. They really care about the guys, so I think those two are really good guys. Those are honorable men. If I had to, it’s not my decision, but if I had to [it would be one of them].”

Zain Retherford may be a little preoccupied in the coming months, clinching his bid to the 2024 Summer Olympics with an epic repechage performance at the World Olympic Games Qualifier in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday. Previously unsure if he would even compete at the Olympic Team Trials, the three-time NCAA Champion recently started working a job in finance. All that’s to say, it’s unclear if taking the leap into coaching has even been on Retherford’s mind.

While Nick Lee missed a shot at the Olympics after falling to Retherford at the Olympic Team Trials in April, the two-time National Champion has seen a budding start to his international career. In February, Lee took Gold at 65 kg at the Pan American Championship in Acapulco, Mexico.

Could Sanderson add other former Nittany Lions to his staff?

Outside of Zain Retherford and Nick Lee, there are a few other former Penn State wrestlers that Cael Sanderson could turn to who already have experience in coaching.

Mark Hall made his transition soon after leaving Happy Valley, joining the staff at Penn in 2021. The four-time All-American is now turning to the profession full-time, retiring at Olympic Team Trials last month. Hall also appears to be eyeing a move up the ladder, with reports that he recently interviewed with Oklahoma for its Director of Operations position.

Another former National Champion who recently ended his competitive career is Vincenzo Joseph. Joseph spent a year coaching at Stanford and is the current Recruiting Coordinator at Arizona State.

While there are plenty of viable options outside of the Nittany Lions orbit too, Aaron Brooks was speaking to the importance of culture within the Penn State wrestling room. We’ll see which way Cael Sanderson ultimately chooses to go, but the four-timer has made his opinion clear.

Thank you for reading Basic Blues Nation, the market’s fastest-growing Penn State sports outlet. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and insights on your favorite Penn State athletics. For feedback, questions, concerns, or to apply for a writing position, please email us at or direct message us on our social media. Also, be sure to check out our new site shop. It’s due to your support that we can proudly claim a readership of over 3.5 million in our first year of operation. 

Matt is a co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.


Spinstralia Casino: online pokies real money, real fun! Get in on the action today!