The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Wednesday, January 8, 2014 - 7A
"The sky's the limit:" How freshman Adam Coon
posted Michigan's best start in program history
By ZACH SHAW
Daily Sports Writer
Freshman wrestler Adam
Coon tightened his grip. His
muscles tensed, Coon shifted his
weight to improve his leverage,
but to no avail. Seconds later,
Coon released his grip, admitting
The young wrestler doesn't
interact with defeat often, but
after helping demonstrate the
suctioning power and weight of
the Earth's atmosphere by try-
ing to pull a glass plate off a suc-
tioning tube in his physics class,
Coon accepted the rare loss. The
attentive front-row studentknew
the experiment was impossible
to beat from the start.
"(My professor) uses me for
examples whenever he needs a
big tough guy to prove a point,"
Coon said. "He also just wants to
embarrass me; for the most part
The physics professor is one of
the select few to beat Coon lately.
Since the 6-foot-5, 255-pound
heavyweight wrestler won his
collegiate debut in double-over-
time over Northern Illinois's
Jared Torrence on Nov. 16, no
one else has beaten him.
With a 20-0 record, Coon is
not only the best wrestler on
No. 14 Michigan's team right
now, but also one of the best in
the country, recently ranked as
the No. 2 heavyweight wrestler
in recent polls. He's also off
to the best start to a career in
the program's 88-year history,
besting the 18-0 start by eventual
three-time All-American and
two-time NCAA champion
Kellen Russell in 2007-08.
The streak began in November,
but anyone around Coon knows
the success was years in the
making. The son of a former
Division III wrestler, who now
coaches high school wrestling
in addition to serving as director
of the Michigan branch of USA
Wrestling, Coon was pushed into
wrestling not long after he could
walk, competing as early as four
"We first noticed him when he
was in grade school at some point
in time," said Michigan coach
Joe McFarland. "He's always
knows a target has developed on
"My mindset's changed in that
now instead of being the under-
dog, I'm level with my opponent,"
Coon said. "No matter who they
are, I know they're going to bring
their best, so I have to increase
Based on recent practices,
McFarland doesn't think Coon
will have a problem doing that.
With the early success, Coon
and his coaches have increased
the energy at practices in
preparation for Big Ten play.
Taking it all in stride, Coon has
quickly transformed from a
wide-eyed freshman into one of
the team's leaders.
"I still have to remind myself
that he's a freshman," McFarland
said. "His approach to every-
thing has been a great thing for
the program, I think the energy
he brings to ourline-up has been
nothing short of great. Now
there are all these other young
guys looking at him and saying,
'He's a true freshman who can go
out there and beat all these top
ranked guys, why can't I?"'
As the season wears on,
Michigan's optimism grows
with each of Coon's matches.
As the daunting Big Ten season
approaches, the Wolverines
have cautious confidence that
Freshman Adam Coon has posted the best start to a season in Michigan wrestling's 88-year history, a 20-0 record.
excelled on the wrestling mat,
but when kids are that young you
just don't know what the future
holds for them in the sport. But
he's always excelled on the mat;
he's very driven."
Growing up in Fowlerville -
a mid-Michigan town of under
3,000 - Coon soon became the
pride of his community. In addi-
tion to winning four straight
state titles and compiling a 212-3.
record, Coon was a four-year let-
ter winner in football and track,
earning all-state honors at line-
backer and placing runner-up
in discus and shot-put. With a
high school career worthy of the
Detroit Athletic Club's Michigan
High School Athlete of the Year
in 2013, Coon had athletic oppor-
tunities all over the country.
But after deciding to wrestle,
Coon felt most comfortable just
45 minutes from home.
"Above anything else was the
academics," Coon said. "I want
to go into aerospace engineering,
and not many schools have that
top-notch program Michigan's
is. Outside of the classroom, this
coaching staff is definitely oe of
the best in the country and that
was a huge factor for choosing
the right school."
Upon arriving to Ann Arbor,
Coon didn't take long to make
waves. With four-year starter
Ben Apland graduating the
previous spring, Michigan's
depth was thin at the
heavyweight class. But after just
a couple of practices, McFarland
and his staff knew they had a
"We wanted to see how he
was doing in practice and in
the classroom first," McFarland
said. "He was making incredible
strides right away. He comes in
and he's just completely focused
on them. No goofing around, no
talking about other things, he
comes into the practice room and
he starts getting himself ready."
When Coon was officially
named the starter, McFarland
knew immediately that he had
made the right decision.
"When we sat him down and
told him we were planning on
wrestling him, I wanted to see
what kind of reaction we would
get from him. I could tell by the
look on his face right away that
he was excited to be wrestling,
and it'sbeen all good stuff since."
The "good stuff" includes
at the Cliff Keen Invitational
in Las Vegas and the Midlands
Championshipsin E astoni '-n
the latter, Coontook dowenthe
nation's then-No. 3 heavyweight
Bobby Telford of Iowa to claim
the first Wolverine title at the
tournament since 2002. Often
wrestling opponents 20 pounds
heavier than him, McFarland
feels Coon's greatest strength is
"The key to his success has
been his mindset," McFarland
said. "He doesn't look at a guy's
reputation, he doesn't look at a
guy's record or ranking, he just
goes out and wrestles the body in
front of him.
"He's ready to go to war
every time he steps on a mat. He
doesn't ease himself into these
matches. You can see when the
ref blows the whistle he's right
across the mat into that guy's
face. He doesn't take a backseat
With 20 wins under his belt
and now the No. 2 heavyweight
wrestler in the country, Coon
Coon can be the program's first
Big Ten heavyweight champion
since Airron Richardson in 1998.
With eight ofthe country's top
12 heavyweight wrestlers hail-
ing from the conference, Cook
knows it won't be easy. But with
four years of conference and
national tournaments ahead of
him, the long-term goal is clear.
"I want a ring before I
graduate," Coon said. "The
whole team does. From here on
out we all have to be leaders and
keep pushing towards that goal
that everyone wants.
"We have a great freshman
class, and I know each and every
one of them is putting in the
extra time to make sure that we
are going to be the elite ones
down the road. I've put my trust
into this team and the coaching
staff, and if it doesn't come this
year it will come in the future."
Beyond Michigan, Coon's
goals remain lofty. In addition to
an NCAA championship, Coon
will make an effort to represent
his country in the 7016 Olympics
his junior year. After graduating,
the former all-state linebacker
hopes to earn a spot on an NFL
"He's a great role model and
a great representative of the
University of Michigan, and our
athletic program and wrestling
department," McFarland said.
"I'm excited that he sets the bar
high for himself, and if he just
keeps pushing himself and stays
focused, the sky's the limit for
Well, not quite. In addition to
athletic aspirations, Coon hopes
to use his aerospace engineering
degree to achieve one final goal
of his: to go into space. While
NASA vehicles only allow a
maximum height of 6-foot-3
in their crafts, Coon hopes to
someday change that. Given
what he's accomplished so far,
what's to stop him?
Coon once again tightened his
grip. As his muscles tensed, Coon
shifted his weight to improve his
leverage. This time it worked,
and Coon was able to duck under
Iowa's Telford, coming around
top to score two points and clinch
the Midlands Championships.
Coon may not be able to lift the
atmosphere, but that won't stop
him from making his mark on his
opponents and Michigan history.
Coon not only aspires to win an NCAA title, but also to compete in the NFL.
What Michigan can learn from Auburn's resurgence
A sbad as the Michigan
football team was this
eason, Auburn was
worse last year.
Much worse, actually, at least
record-wise. Michigan's 7-6
record in 2013 was a chilly day
to the Tigers's 3-9 polar vortex
of a 2012 season.
a 34-31 loss in the final seconds
against Florida State.
Plays like this make it easy to
characterize the Tigers' season
as a string of miracles. And luck
played an important role. More
than luck, though, Auburn's
turnaround resulted from a
string of discrete changes.
Those changes are how
Auburn went from winless in
the Southeastern Conference to
a play away from a champion-
ship the following season. And
they provide a blueprint for a
team like Michigan, hoping to
go from 7-6 to something better.
So what can Michigan learn?
It begins with evaluation.
Why was Auburn so bad? Its
defensive-oriented head coach
had a defense in disarray with
an offense struggling to adapt
to the pro style. Its coaching
failed to develop and deploy the
roster's still-formidable talent.
And it lacked production at a
major position - in this case, at
Sounds reasonably familiar.
Michigan's own defensive-
oriented head coach, Brady
Hoke, has an offense struggling
to adapt to the pro style after
several seasons of spread-heavy
football. At most positions,
Michigan has recruited well
for years, but the system hasn't
suited the recruits. The Wolver-
ines appear set at quarterback
but face a similar absence of
production at the offensive line.
The Tigers addressed each
problem directly. The coach
was a problem, so he was fired.
His replacement, Gus Malzahn,
installed a system that was
better adapted to his players'
strengths, and an influx of
new recruits on the defensive
line bolstered the defense. To
address the quarterback prob-
lem, Malzahn recruited junior
college transfer Nick Marshall.
The fixes for Michigan won't
be the same, nor will the result.
The Wolverines rarely get
junior college transfers, and
Hoke won't, and shouldn't, be
fired after his third year.
But the lesson from Auburn
is this: a quick turnaround is
possible by addressing each
issue directly and definitively.
That process resurrected an
Auburn team just a helpless as
Michigan. How will Michigan
address its own problems?
There's the question of
coaching, especially on the
offensive side of the ball. After
the regular season, Hoke said
he does not plan on changing
his staff at all. Still, Athletic
Director Dave Brandon's
statement of support for Hoke
included praise for defensive
coordinator Greg Mattison, but
offensive coordinator Al Borges
was conspicuously left out.
Whether with Borges or
with a replacement, Michigan's
offense needs a pretty major
change. Its pro-style offense
doesn't really even mirror the
pros anymore, mainly because
the game has changed and
offenses have adapted.
Auburn made a major
shift with Malzahn's hurry-
up, speed-rushing offense.
Michigan's offense needs a
change of a similar magnitude.
That should also alleviate
the second major issue - the
mismatch between Michigan's
talent and production. Plus, it
appears Michigan's top recruit,
Jabrill Peppers, doesn't need
much development to make an
immediate impact, no matter
the system. That should help
the embattled secondary and
add an explosive element to the
The third, more difficult
issue is the offensive line. The
young interior should make
a big improvement from a
miserable 2013. But losing two
NFL-caliber tackles might
result in a wash.
Auburn made a personnel
move to address its quarterback
issue. Michigan doesn't have
the luxury of a quick replace-
ment, so it must find a different
change. The difficulty of finding
such a quick fix on the offensive
line means Michigan probably
shouldn't expecta season quite
At the very least, though,
there shouldn't be a repeat of
the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl,
when the players shuffling
around the locker room offered
explanations for a failed season.
"I think just a lot of guys lost
the will to play as a family,"
said junior defensive end Frank
"It was just our mindset from
the jump," said sophomore
linebacker James Ross III. "We
weren't totally into it, I would
In football, things like chem-
istry and motivation matter.
offseason preparation mat-
ters. Before the championship
game Monday, Auburn's players
talked about a culture change,
a regained confidence. This off-
season, inevitably, Michigan's
players will mention similar
buzzwords, like "improved
work ethic" and "drive" and
"cohesion." And if those things
are true, that's a good thing for
But we tend to place too
much emphasis on those intan-
gible qualities and write off a
quick resurgence as miraculous,
beyond explanation. Really,
Michigan's problems are much
more fundamental and much
easier to see.
The real miracle for Auburn
was that it addressed its own
problems so honestly and force-
fully. If the Wolverines don't do
the same, then it might be time
- Helfand can be reached
at email@example.com or
on Twitter @zhelfand
STUCK INSIDE BECAUSE OF THE COLD? You can follow us on Twitter @theblockm without stepping outside!