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Lee on joining Penn State wrestling staff: ‘Nothing else I would rather do’

New Nittany Lions assistant coach Nick Lee recently explained why there’s nothing else he’d rather do than join the Penn State wrestling staff.



Penn State wrestling, Nick Lee, Cael Sanderson
Mar 19, 2022; Detroit, MI, USA; Penn State wrestler Nick Lee signals to the crowd after defeating North Carolina wrestler Kizhan Clarke in the 141 pound weight class final match during the NCAA Wrestling Championships at Little Cesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Lee will see a new side of the mat this upcoming season, joining Cael Sanderson on the Penn State wrestling coaching staff in late May. But if you ask the two-time National Champion and five-time All-American, the decision was a natural move. In a recent interview on the Baschamania podcast, Lee explained why there is nothing else he’d rather do than join the Nittany Lions staff.

Nick Lee explains decision to join Penn State wrestling staff

When assistant coach Jimmy Kennedy left Happy Valley to follow David Taylor to Oklahoma State, Nick Lee quickly emerged as a replacement candidate with backing from the members of the Penn State wrestling room.

Cael Sanderson clearly felt the same way, picking Lee to fill the vacancy a little over a week later. The program’s first five-time All-American, Lee is now transitioning into his first full-time coaching role.

But according to the former Penn State wrestling star, there was no hesitation. Shortly after the hire was made official, Nick Lee joined Justin Basch on the Bashamania podcast to explain the thought process behind his decision.

“I mean, we have a bunch of guys, I think that could have stepped into that position pretty quick,” he said. “And obviously, it’s a position that I think that Cael wanted to fill pretty quick, right? Because we have guys competing all the time. We got guys competing at U20s and U23s here soon. So, you know, it’s not something that you want to leave empty for too long.”

“But, yeah, I mean, he just asked me if I would want to fill that position, and I said, ‘There’s nothing else I would rather do.’ I wrestled here, and I help the guys out already. So, it’s kind of natural for me to want to continue to help them in an official position. So, yeah, it was a pretty short, casual conversation. And I’m sure that they don’t just fill that position as an afterthought, though. I don’t want to give that impression. I mean, I think they’re very deliberate about who they’re going to pick for that coaching spot.”

Nittany Lions program makes everyone “love wrestling more” when they leave

Nick Lee enters the coaching side of the sport in a position of luxury, joining a program that has run roughshod over the wrestling world for the last two decades. But the Nittany Lions newest coach says there’s still plenty of motivation to come to work each day.

“I think helping guys achieve their goals was something I was already doing before, even while I was competing. And so, it’s easy for me to continue to do that in an official role,” he said. “And as a program, our motivation, we just love what we do. I mean, it’s awesome to come into the office, into that room each day, and continue to try to achieve our goals and help others achieve their goals. It’s fun. I mean, it’s hard for me to not smile thinking about it.”

Perhaps the biggest key to the Cael Sanderson dynasty is that the accomplishments the outside world uses as a measuring rod of success matter very little in the Penn State wrestling room. It’s the love affair with the sport that the program fuels that allows the Nittany Lion wrestlers to go the extra mile and become the most dominant competitors in the country.

“You know, Cael mentioned this in his last interview, and I’d like to mention it as well. I think something that is unique about our program is that everyone that comes in loves wrestling more whenever they leave,” Lee said. “And that is not the case at, I think, most programs.

“Wrestling is a grueling sport. It’s tough. Everyone knows that. And so I think that we’ve created an environment where people leave loving the sport and loving trying to achieve their goals, whether they reach them or not. But you know, usually, they do.”

Lee is “definitely not retired”

When Cael Sanderson announced Nick Lee as his next assistant coach, many assumed his competitive wrestling career was finished. Such was the case for David Taylor and Thomas Gilman when they headed west to Stillwater. Penn State wrestling greats Mark Hall and Vincenzo Joseph had also retired in the weeks prior as their coaching careers continued to rise.

While Lee’s international career is still quite young, he is coming off a hard-fought loss to Zain Retherford at the Olympic Team Trials in April. Maybe, some would think, this would be the time to leave his metaphorical shoes on the mat.

But the former National Champion says that is certainly not the case. While he’s not entirely sure what his competitive career will look like moving forward, Nick Lee does know that his wrestling days aren’t over.

“I’m definitely not retired,” he said. “I think right now, my focus is on this coaching spot and being the best I can be in this position. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to compete anymore. I think that if I decide to compete, I’m going to have the full support from my room and the rest of the coaching staff if I wanted to do that. So, I think we’ll see. You know, it’s not something I’m really thinking about right now. I plan ahead when I need to, but, it’s stuff like that, I don’t really have to.

“Luckily, I won’t have any problems staying in shape. I’ll probably be wrestling more now than I did before, even. So, I think it’s something that I’m figuring out, but [I’m] definitely not retired; I don’t think I want to be retired yet.”

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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.


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