By Steven Eggert
In 1978, a gallon of gas cost about 63 cents, the very first cellular phone was introduced in Illinois, President Jimmy Carter was in office and disco was all the rage.
That was also the year that Gary Taylor took over the wrestling reins and never let go. The founder of Rider’s wrestling program, Barry Burtnett, decided to step down after nine seasons coaching the team and become a full-time athletic trainer.
Fast forward to Jan. 17, 2014, an Eastern Wrestling League (EWL) match against 22nd ranked Bloomsburg. A 20-16 win made Taylor just the second active Division I coach to reach 400 career wins.
In addition, wins against Duke and Sacred Heart on Feb. 1 gave Taylor 402 career victories at Rider. He trails only J Robinson of the University of Minnesota with 413.
“It’s extremely rewarding to help him accomplish an amazing task,” said former Bronc wrestler and current Associate Head Coach John Hangey. “To do it at a school like Rider, the way that he’s done it, it means a ton and I wouldn’t want it to happen to anyone else but him.”
Taylor, has coached 12 All-Americans, 96 conference championship winners, and 125 wrestlers who qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
Along with all the accolades, Taylor is a seven-time East Coast Wrestling Association (ECWA) Coach of the Year, a 13-time ECWA conference champion, and a three-time conference runner-up when the Broncs moved to the Colonial Athletic Association from 2002-13.
Taylor was just a couple years removed from starting his coaching career as an assistant to Clyde “Red” Whitman at East Stroudsburg when he was selected as the new head coach at Rider.
It is safe to say that in order to maintain success and fill the shoes of a man known as “the father of Rider wrestling,” Taylor needed to have incredible drive and passion.
“I wanted to bring national recognition to Rider University,” Taylor said. “There hadn’t been a nationally ranked wrestler or team, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Everyone probably thought I was half-nuts when I first said it, and a lot of people didn’t think it could happen at a small private school.”
Taylor wrestled at Greenville High School in western Pennsylvania and collegiately at Clarion University. He then enrolled at East Stroudsburg to get his degree and to experience coaching wrestling.
Taylor learned a lot as a wrestler and an aspiring coach from men who were honored in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“I had a wonderful mentor at East Stroudsburg in Clyde Whitman,” Taylor said. “What a great opportunity it was to work with him in my first coaching experience. At Clarion, Bob Bubb and Neil Turner were two great coaches. They were wonderful role models, mentors and coaches, and they solidified that coaching is what I wanted to do.”
Taylor has also shown that over time, he can maintain national success.
In the Broncs’ first season competing in the EWL, they have been ranked in the top-25 nationally four times. Most recently, the Broncs ranked 24th in the first week of 2014.
According to Taylor, there are a couple of key factors to these achievements.
The first is to be able to connect with the minds of the wrestlers.
His first All-American at Rider, Lou DiSerafino, ’80, is a prime example of what can happen when motivating wrestlers effectively.
“Working with Lou, it was getting him to understand he had a right to be an All-American and to feel he was good,” Taylor said. “Whether he believed it or not, he proved it, and no one could ever say, ‘You can’t be an All-American at Rider.’ He ended that myth. It was about getting people to believe they can get to that next level.”
Whether it is 1980 or 2014, Taylor has impacted the mentality of many wrestlers through his wisdom and understanding.
“He can coach anybody,” 184-pound redshirt junior Clint Morrison said. “He is so knowledgeable and most people could never grasp how much he actually understands.”
Hangey agreed with Morrison.
“The stuff he’s taught me over the years goes on and on,” Hangey said. “Guys don’t just hear him. They listen, learn, and go back for more every time.”
The second major factor to success is an All-American coaching staff.
Along with Hangey is former Rider wrestler and current Assistant Coach Jason Nase, ’97, and Assistant Coach Nic Bedelyon. All three built résumés as All-Americans on the mat.
Each of them helps Taylor keep up the prosperity of the Rider wrestling program.
“I’m fortunate with John, Nic and Jason,” Taylor said. “We work very well together. John has been with the program for a long time with me. Nic and his commitment to coaching has made a big impact, and Jason is a volunteer because he’s a teacher. They relate well with the kids, so I’m happy.”
Coaching at Rider can be tough, according to Taylor, because the school does not have the facilities, the funding, or the recognition of big schools in conferences such as the Big 10, the Pac 12 or the Ivy Leagues.
“It’s always an uphill battle at a small school to out-work people,” he said. “It’s kind of a David vs. Goliath story. There are certain people that relate to David and Goliath and want to prove people wrong. We look hard for those kids, and when we get them, they start to prove that they could do that.”
Now in his 60s, Taylor does not know exactly when he plans to retire. When he does, someone else will have big shoes to fill.
The man who has given Rider’s wrestling program national recognition holds an all-time record of 402-227-4. With or without the records, he still loves every minute of coaching.
“I still enjoy it,” Taylor said. “I’m one of those people who are fortunate to do what I really enjoy for a living. It’s exciting to see kids achieve their goals. That’s what drives me, not my records. That’s just a byproduct of helping kids get better and achieve at a higher level.”