By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Craig Turnbull, who guided West Virginia University’s wrestling program through days of glory, was fired by athletic director Oliver Luck just days after completing his 36th year as head coach.
“Craig has spent the last 36 years as the head of the Mountaineer wrestling program, and we appreciate his many years of service to West Virginia University,” Luck said. “He took over at the helm of the WVU wrestling program in 1979 after serving as an assistant coach here under Fred Liechti, coaching hundreds of Mountaineer wrestlers along the way. We wish him the best.”
Turnbull did not return a call Friday afternoon.
Among those hundreds of wrestlers he coached, three went on to become national champions, headed by one of the greatest collegiate wrestlers of all-time in Greg Jones, who was serving as associate head and figures to be prominent in any search for Turnbull’s replacement.
Jones stunned the wrestling world when he won the national title at 174 pounds as a freshman in 2002.
After a stunning upset his sophomore season, Jones came back to win at 184 pounds as a junior in 2004 and then added a third national title in 2005, also being named the tournament’s outstanding wrestler.
Prior to Jones becoming the first athlete in WVU history to claim multiple NCAA titles, Turnbull had coached Scott Collins to a 1991 national championship and Dean Morrison to a national title in 1994.
Greg Jones’ older brother, Vertus, was a three-time All-American under Turnbull and his younger brother, Donnie, also wrestled at the school.
Among Turnbull’s other accomplishments were four Eastern Wrestling League Coach of the Year awards. He coached 26 of the school’s 29 All-Americans, 42 EWL champions and more than 160 wrestlers qualified for the NCAAs under him, including three this year.
Turnbull also was the seventh-winningest active coach in the NCAA and had 12 top-25 finishes in NCAA Championships.
Turnbull finishes at WVU with a 287-219-9 record. This season, the Mountaineers posted an 11-7 overall record and a 0-3 mark in the Big 12.
Turnbull’s greatest accomplishments came with truly antiquated facilities. He was a driving force behind the WVU Wrestling Pavilion, a $1.4 million building built in 2006 that includes four mats, an aerobic room, coaches’ offices and a study center with a players’ lounge.
There are plans in the future to add a weight room that will be shared by the wrestling team.
Turnbull also had a hand in national and Olympic wrestling as Zeke Jones, one of his former assistants, went from WVU to become head coach at Penn and then accepted a job of the United States freestyle wrestling team.