1 on 1 with Pittsburgh Head Coach Keith Gavin: An Inside Look

PITTSBURGH – On Thursday PA Power Wrestling’s Jeff Upson and Eric Knopsnyder sat down with newly hired head coach Keith Gavin at the Fitzgerald Fieldhouse. In just his second day operating in the new position Keith Gavin took time out of his day to speak about the path back to Pittsburgh and what lies ahead for the Panthers Wrestling program.


Eric Knopsnyder:  Coach Gavin you’re getting settled in now, you’ve moved into the office, what are your overall thoughts on how the transition is going?


Keith Gavin:  So far so good. Everyone has been really helpful with getting me settled. I am just anxious, eager, to get things in place and get rolling. This is my second day so there is a lot to do and I am just learning how everything works here and it’s going well.


Eric Knopsnyder:  Well we appreciate you taking the time with us. You obviously spent a ton of time here in the Fieldhouse, has it changed at all since you’ve been here or is it relatively the same?


Keith Gavin:  There are some little differences but the Fieldhouse has pretty much been the same since I’ve been here and a lot of the same people that are still here so it’s pretty cool. I’ve bumped into a lot of familiar faces. Not too much has changed, there have been a few things on campus that changed but the Fieldhouse is pretty similar to when I was here.


Eric Knopsnyder:  As far as the Wrestling Community goes have you had a lot of people reaching out to you, congratulate you, and give you advice or anything like that?


Keith Gavin:  Yeah I’ve been getting a lot of advice, it’s been great. My phone has been blowing up, a lot of people reaching out, saying good things, and a lot of alumni have been texting me. I think when it was first announced they sent my contact info out to the alumni so I’ve been talking to a lot of those guys, which has been neat.


Eric Knopsnyder:  As far as that goes I really felt like there was a lot more energy from the program during the coaching search and we really saw people come out of the woodworks who maybe haven’t had a lot to do with the program over the last few years, do you feel like it has really energized people, this change and the opportunity ahead of you?


Keith Gavin:  Yeah I think it has. I think you see this all the time, you know, when there is a coaching change with that initial excitement and my job is to keep that going. The way we do that is to prove that I know what I am doing and put a plan in place. Anytime you see a change at a program people get excited and it’s just exciting to think about the future. the potential, and what could happen but no we gotta keep that rolling.


Eric Knopsnyder:  Is it a situation where you almost have to pace yourself because you want to go forward and get everything done right now but there’s certain things you can’t do just yet. Is that difficult to rein yourself in and say, okay we have a plan we just have to execute it?


Keith Gavin:  Yeah that is definitely the case. You want to get all this stuff done and you want to get it done now, you want to be great now, but things take time and there’s a lot of things just in being a new hire you have to do like HR stuff and things like that. It is going well, like I said, and we are hitting the ground running, it’s going to be good.


Eric knopsnyder:  And that’s one of the things with the assistants, everyone wants to know who are going to be the assistants, but like you said things take time such as HR and advertising, there is a certain amount of time it’s going to take.


Keith Gavin:  Right. It’s a process but I do feel like it will happen shortly.


Eric Knopsnyder:  As far as the team goes have you been able to address everyone together or are you still just reaching out individually?


Keith Gavin:  Yeah yesterday at 2:30 I met with the team and it was pretty introductory. I know a lot of the older guys just from being around and I was coaching in the same conference so I saw them a lot and I always liked to see those guys do well because I am an alumi. But yeah we met and I went over some general things, what they should expect from me and what I expect of them. I saw them again this morning when they were weightlifting so it’s good. Those guys they’re putting their time in and for them I am sure the change and the wait to see who their coach was going to be has been a difficult period but it seems like they have been focusing on the right things and trying to get better so that’s good to see.  


Eric Knopsnyder:  What are the rules as far as recruits go, the ones that have already signed, do you reach out to them now too and what has their reactions been like?


Keith Gavin:  Yeah so I got a list of the guys on the team and their contact info then a list of the guys that we’ve recruited and so I will be reaching out to them, I haven’t talked to every one of them yet, but will probably by the end of today or tomorrow. When I first got here it was mainly just reaching out to the guys on the team. One of the first things I did was called all the upperclassmen on the team just to get a feel on their thoughts on the program, on staffing, and all of those issues. Now I will be calling all the recruits. I did my compliance meeting and all of that so I am ready to go with recruiting.


Eric Knopsnyder:  Anytime there is a coaching change there is some attrition, people leaving, how difficult is it now with the NCAA in regards to graduation rate and those things to make sure everyone is on the same page.


Keith Gavin:  I don’t think it’s been difficult and don’t think it will be difficult. I think these guys love Pittsburgh and they love wrestling for Pitt. I haven’t heard anything about anyone wanting to leave so I am not real concerned right now.


Eric Knopsnyder:  I know the word ‘cultural change’ has been thrown around, is it difficult having the same guys or is it just a mindset and moving forward?


Keith Gavin:  No I don’t think it’s difficult. You know, they say ‘cultural change’ whenever there is a change at head coach and that is just what people say. It’s not really anything crazy maybe just more accountability and I think the guys will respond well to that. I think they are going to crave it and from what I’ve seen and what I hear it’s already taking place. I am just going to add to that and from talking with some guys on the team they seem to be looking forward to those types of things. 


Eric Knopsnyder:  Having you here as someone who was the last time win a National Championship, is that a real tangible goal that you can show them and say you can do this here, it’s possible to reach that level here?


Keith Gavin:  Yeah, absolutely. We talked about that yesterday in the team meeting. They should take pride in the fact that it has been done at Pitt, and not just me, there’s been plenty of All-Americans, and just a couple of years ago Tyler Wilps was in the National Finals and pretty much won that match, not to get into that, but yeah I think they have seen guys and know guys that have done the things they want to do and that’s a big deal, not every school can say that. Having that Pitt pride and knowing that you have everything you need here to be successful.


Jeff Upson:  In terms of excitement around the program, Eric talked about the rejuvenation, talk about the NCAA’s being selected here in Pittsburgh, it is almost like a perfect storm with you coming in and a few days later Pittsburgh being named a host city. What’s the excitement level been like surrounding that?


Keith Gavin:  Everyone is really excited. We did a press conference yesterday and it’s really cool that we are going to get to experience that. I know everyone on the team is real excited for that. This year it’s going to be in Cleveland and then after that Pittsburgh so we aren’t going to travel too far the next two season for the NCAA’s. Just having it here at Pitt is going to be great – we saw the arena yesterday and it’s going to be awesome. Fans are going to enjoy it.


Eric Knopsnyder:  I saw the Dom Forys interview from yesterday and he said “I am open to redshirting if need be so I can be there in Pittsburgh come 2019.” 


Keith Gavin:  Yeah I heard that to. He didn’t say anything to me yet but I’ll just tell Dom to focus on getting better, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.


Jeff Upson:  Dom’s one of those guys, a local kid, from North Allegheny near the City. What are you going to do specifically in order to keep that high level talent here in the WPIAL coming to Pitt?


Keith Gavin:  I think it’s relationship building. Getting in with the clubs in the area and with high school coaches, getting to know these kids and setting up unofficial visits. We’re in a location where there is easy access to top recruits so really we just have to take advantage of that; popping in and out of practices, building that relationship, and becoming a familiar face to these kids so that they trust us and know that if I go to Pitt, I’m in good hands.


Eric Knopsnyder:  I’ve talked to other coaches who have said you can’t start recruiting a guy when he’s a senior. You can’t “recruit” earlier but you can reach these kids when they’re in eighth or ninth grades at summer clinics, so how important is that off-season stuff?


Keith Gavin:  It is really important. I think kids want to go and wrestle for someone who they feel comfortable with it’s hard to establish that comfort level and trust when they’re already a senior so that’s going to be really important going forward. 


Jeff Upson:  Talking about tapping into resources here in the WPIAL, you almost have two neck of the woods being from the Eastern part of the State in Lackawanna area which is close to New York, do you still have roots back that way with family when you go home?


Keith Gavin:  Well, I haven’t been home in a while because I’ve been living in Oklahoma for the past year or so, which makes it tough to get back, but yeah I still know people there in the area, high school and club coaches. Again it’s not just Western Pennsylvania where we are going to recruit out of, it obviously has a lot of depth, but as you said we have New York Eastern PA, North East Ohio, I mean those places are fairly easy to get to from where we are so we’re going to be looking at everybody.


Jeff Upson:  In terms of off-season wrestling, Freestyle especially, Freestyle is something you really excelled in going from NCAA Champion to excelling on the National and International stage, so how important is it to you to guide these young guys into expanding their repertoire? Is Freestyle one of those things you really preach to guys to improve on their Folkstyle?


Keith Gavin:  Yeah, and for a couple of reasons. Just the Freestyle skill set helps your Folkstyle as far as finishing your attacks, you can’t roll around, you get punished way more in Freestyle then you would in Folkstyle for sloppy finishes. It helps your skill set just by having your hips in on your shots, not getting away with poor finishing technique, things like that. So that’s a big reason but also I think it’s always good to compete. Everybody knows a guy that is crushing it in practice all the time but has trouble when the lights come on so getting used to competing and going through that stress that competing brings is huge and if don’t wrestle Freestyle there is no other option in the off-season, for college wrestlers, so it’s a must. During the team meeting yesterday there were guys asking about going to University’s so you know they’re excited. It’s a long layoff from March until November to not compete so I encourage our guys to compete.


Jeff Upson:  It seems kids are starting younger in Freestyle, when did you begin wrestling Freestyle?


Keith Gavin:  I think I was in eighth grade when I first got into Freestyle.


Jeff Upson:  In terms of Freestyle here in Pittsburgh, is an RTC something you are looking forward to, I know you trained at the Ohio RTC, is that something you can see maybe down the road?


Keith Gavin:  Yes. I’ve talked to some key people about building an RTC, it’s going to take some fundraisers and other efforts but people are excited about it and it is a key piece to any program and we got to have it. It’s going to help with recruiting, it’s going to help our guys with training partners, so we are definitely going to be doing that moving forward but like anything it takes time.


Eric Knopsnyder:  What are your thoughts on the proposed new rules from the NCAA in regards to rolling around with the funk to avoid a takedown?


Keith Gavin:  Well I think we’ll still see funks I just think you’ll see more effective scrambling rather than scrambling to just save yourself, to get a stalemate. It just doesn’t make any sense, to me. Ask any average wrestling fan the goal of wrestling and they’ll say to try and pin the guy, so you should try to stay off your back. You watch a Folkstyle match where someone gets in on a leg and the defensive guy rolls to his back and he’s just holding a toe, or an ankle, or something and there are no points. The goal is to stay off your back, not go to your back to avoid being scored on. I don’t know, we’ll see how it plays out. I think in theory it’s good and I hope that it helps with that because it just looks strange, I think. And also I hope it picks up the pace of the match as well. So I think it could be good. I don’t think it will kill scrambling you’ll just see more effective scrambling. I’m looking forward to it and I hope that it works out.


Eric Knopsnyder:  The other changes are a little more cosmetic, the headgear, not having to wear it, and no shaving. Do you like those going towards a more Freestyle look?


Keith Gavin:  Yeah definitely, I think everybody would agree with them, it doesn’t make any sense really, the headgear rule especially, I mean by now everyone has cauliflower ear so it’s not really helping, I don’t know it’s just kind of making us look silly out there. I hope that goes through as well.


Jeff Upson:  It’s been full circle for you having competed here, coached here, and then going to Virginia and Oklahoma. What’s it like for you and your family, I know we talked to you when you first got hired by Oklahoma and you had to pack everything up. How has it been on your family, do you feel like you are getting settled and they are happy knowing this is a long term thing?


Keith Gavin:  My wife is very excited about it. We loved Oklahoma, the people there were great, our staff was great. My wife loved Oklahoma but it’s no comparison to having her family here in Pittsburgh where she is from and we have two little kids. So it’s really hard to pass up.


Jeff Upson:  Do you feel like you took a little something away every step from Virginia to Oklahoma, with coaches Garland and Rosselli, and bring it here to Pitt?


Keith Gavin:  Yeah absolutely. I think everything I’ve done is preparation for this. I’ve been really fortunate to be around some great people in the Sport and not just that one year under Lou in Oklahoma. I’ve known Lou for several years now, he was my coach, and he’s one of the best coaches in the world. So getting to learn from him and guys like Pat Santora and Tom Ryan, plus my time at Virginia was great as well. You get to see different things and every place has it’s advantages and disadvantages and you learn how to navigate through that. All those things were great learning experiences and I’m definitely going to use what I learned in my new role here at Pitt.


Jeff Upson:  I know we talked about earlier that during the coaching search here at Pitt a lot of things were brought up about the facilities, obviously with that “pie in the sky” you would want a multi-million dollar facility, but realistically I know you mentioned you would like to see some upgrades. What are some things that you would possibly want to see done to help better improve the facilities?


Keith Gavin:  Well I think just the layout of the wrestling room is kind of different so if we were able to somehow, in the future, there are talks about renovating the Fieldhouse some time in the future so when they do that just changing the layout of the room. I think the space is okay it’s just the way that it’s laid out that makes it a little challenging. Ideally, really all you need in a wrestling room is space, there isn’t a lot of equipment you need, just space and like I said the space is fine it’s just the layout. The Fitzgerald Fieldhouse is a great competition venue so I’m excited about that and hopefully we pick up some more fans and increase the attendance and really pack that place it could be a really intimate environment to hold a dual.


Jeff Upson:  The Fieldhouse has a lot of character, almost reminds me of Grace Hall in Lehigh.


Keith Gavin:  Yeah exactly, it does remind me of that.


Jeff Upson:  I’m sure your comeback to people saying things about the facilities is, well I trained here for five years and I turned out okay! So it can be done whether you have the same facilities today as you do the next five years. You were able to find success training in that environment so is that something that you can maybe pass on to guys.


Keith Gavin:  You talk about facility upgrades and things like that because it looks nice for recruiting purposes but at the same time if you can’t win because the wrestling room isn’t to your liking, I mean, no one loses because they aren’t in a nice enough wrestling room, you lose because your not good enough. I’ve said this before you can throw a wrestling mat in your backyard and get better, you know? That has nothing to do with the improvement, it’s just that everyone is updating their rooms and it looks nice, so recruits can see that, and that’s all it really is.


Eric Knopsnyder:  As far as scheduling goes, any idea what the schedule looks like, any chance we see duals with Penn State or West Virginia, against those “rivals?”


Keith Gavin:  My phone has been blowing up with scheduling too, and I haven’t had time to get back to everybody but our ACC schedule is set by the ACC, so that’s nice. But yeah we should be figuring out the scheduling pretty soon here and I am sure we are going to continue to wrestle West Virginia and I am not sure about Penn State yet. 


Jeff Upson:  We really appreciate it Coach Gavin, taking the time out to talk to us at PA Power Wrestling and we wish you nothing but the best in moving forward here at Pitt.


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