By Shaun Chornobroff
When looking at Rider University wrestling, many see a program that is a dangerous, mid-major powerhouse with the potential to climb into the national rankings and compete with almost any team in the country.
That reputation was earned in large part thanks to Gary Taylor, a legendary figure who turned Rider’s wrestling program from one that was in its infancy to one that was feared during his 39-year tenure as head coach of the program.
Taylor, who was third all-time in Division I with 442 dual-meet victories at the time of his retirement, died on Sept. 14 at the age of 73.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Coach Gary Taylor,” said current wrestling Head Coach John Hangey, who not only competed but coached under and succeeded Taylor, in an obituary released by the university. “He was a legend at Rider, a giant in the wrestling world, a special person who molded young men and, most importantly, a great father and husband. Gary touched many lives and will be sorely missed.”
Taylor took over the program in the 1978-79 season, and it was not long before he was making Rider’s presence known to the nation.
In 1980, the school produced its first All-American. Four years later, Rider won its first conference title.
That title was the first of 14 titles Taylor won during his storied tenure at the school.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Gary’s family,” Rider Athletic Director Don Harnum said in the school obituary. “Gary was a personal friend to me and so many others at Rider and in the wrestling community who, like me, are shocked and saddened by his sudden passing. Gary was and always will be a Rider coaching legend and remembered as a great man.”
In 1997 Taylor led Rider to being ranked No. 7 in the nation by Amateur Wrestling News for the final five weeks of the season and developed nine wrestlers into national qualifiers, a number that was second best in the nation.
All in all, Taylor developed 15 different All-Americans, was a conference coach of the year nine times and saw his wrestlers earn 110 individual conference titles. In 2018 after his vaunted career came to a close, he was given the Lifetime Service Award from the New Jersey Chapter of the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
In his final home dual-match against a ranked Maryland team, Taylor bid farewell to Rider in a way only fit for the program he brought to prominence.
In what The Rider News described as a “near-herculean effort” Taylor’s team closed a 12-point deficit against the Terrapins to defeat its Big Ten foe 23-20.
After the victory, Taylor was quoted in an athletic department recap of the match saying, “This is a very special day. This is a special team. And it’s all the teams leading up to here that built the history and the quality of this program.”
Taylor is survived by his wife, Nancy, and daughter, Danica. Contributions in his memory can be made to The Rider Wrestling Club.