Sometimes, life comes at you fast. One mid-April day, Levi Calhoun woke up as Concordia’s assistant wrestling coach. Later that same day, he found out he would soon be announced as the program’s fourth head coach since the rebirth of wrestling at Concordia in 2009. And soon after that? Calhoun and his wife Hollie welcomed their first child, daughter Mackenzie, into the world.
Let’s just say this winter will be a new experience for Calhoun, who now gets to put his stamp upon a program after spending seven seasons as an NAIA assistant coach.
Said Calhoun, “I’ve been an NAIA coach for seven years. I’ve interviewed for head coaching jobs a couple times in the past, including here after Coach (Dana) Vote moved on. I felt like I was ready. I was excited to tell my family and my wife and everybody. Then also just excited to get to work with the guys that are here. We have a great group of kids here.”
For some upperclassmen, Calhoun will be the third head coach they have wrestled for in their careers as Bulldogs. With any coaching shift comes the inevitable initial shock for everyone inside the program. A Concordia staff member since 2015, Calhoun has done well to calm the waters and maintain a united team atmosphere.
Everyone with eligibility remaining will be back in the fold in 2018-19 and join forces with the incoming group of recruits. Though the Bulldogs’ run of three-straight GPAC championship seasons ended in 2017-18, Calhoun is hopeful of a return to the top of the conference. His vision for getting back there sounds a lot like what allowed Concordia to rise to prominence in the first place.
“We’re just looking to continue to bring in the right guys who know what our goals are,” Calhoun said. “It’s simple stuff like working hard and doing the extra stuff that needs to be done beyond just practicing. You have to get the extra workouts in and hold each other accountable. As long as we’re working hard and bringing the right kids in, we’ll continue to see improvement and get back to GPAC dominance.”
Calhoun’s background also includes four years as an assistant at his alma mater, Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan. Calhoun worked under two head coaches at Baker and then for two more head coaches at Concordia. Still young in the profession, Calhoun has already had the rare opportunity to pick the brains of the likes of Nevada high school coaching legend Jimmy May, Baker’s very first head wrestling coach, and Vote, the architect behind building the Bulldogs into GPAC champions.
“It’s been awesome. All four of them are different,” said Calhoun of the head coaches he’s worked for. “I can honestly say I’ve learned something different from all four of them. In coaching you always steal stuff from guys you’ve learned from. I’ve built my philosophy and a way of doing things based on what I’ve learned from them. I’m very thankful for everything those guys have done for me while I was their assistant.”
He's only been the head coach for about two months, but Calhoun says the main differences between his new role and his former one as an assistant are the increased recruiting responsibilities and having the onus on him when a decision needs to be made or a challenge arises.
Calhoun has already passed the test in regards to one of his first big challenges as head coach: retaining the current members of the roster, including 2018 national qualifiers Deandre Chery and Chris Kimball. In his first three seasons in Seward, Calhoun has collaborated on two GPAC championship seasons and has coached a national champion, a national runner up and six total All-Americans. It appears Calhoun has earned the respect of the room.
“I met with every kid individually,” says Calhoun of the aftermath of his hiring. “They’re all coming back. They’re all supportive of me. I think their main focus is just moving ahead in their careers. I emphasized with them that no matter who the coach is they’re going to be in charge of their own destiny. They score the points and win the matches. Not me. I think they’re all focused. We’ve got a great group of kids who want to work together and bring us back to GPAC dominance.”
Calhoun’s first staff has not been officially announced, but it figures to be dominated by recent alums who understand what it has taken to build up Concordia’s wrestling program. It’s a little early to make any prognostications about what’s to come in 2018-19. Right now Calhoun is just making sure his guys are staying on top of their summer workouts.
Things have happened fast for Calhoun in recent weeks and months, and it won’t be long before he’s standing before his team at the beginning of a new semester. The message won’t be overly complex.
Said Calhoun, “Our guys are going to work hard, they’re going to get it done in the classroom and they’re going to be men of great Christian character off the mat. Plain and simple.”
As for whether being a head coach or a father is more difficult? Calhoun laughs. “Ask me in a year and we’ll see how it is.”