Cormier starts new Gilroy wrestling era

Daniel Cormier is the new Gilroy High wrestling coach. Marco Sanchez (right) the Gilroy principal, is one of the assistant coaches.

The Gilroy High wrestling program—one of the great prep sports dynasties in California—received a jolt of star power when Gilroy resident Daniel Cormier was hired to become the new coach of the Mustangs on April 17. Cormier, of course, is the reigning UFC light heavyweight champion, a frequent analyst and color commentator on UFC broadcasts and a head coach on the current installment of the UFC Ultimate Fighter 27.

“This opportunity is huge for me,” Cormier told Ariel Helwani of (repeated efforts from the Dispatch to reach Cormier were unsuccessful). “Wrestling has been the foundation for everything I’ve done. I’m excited to coach a great team in Gilroy and excited to give back to the town that has accepted me and my family so openly.”

Cormier, who has a heavyweight title fight against champion Stipe Miocic on July 7, surprised Gilroy principal Marco Sanchez, Ph.D., when the Gilroy resident reached out to him expressing interest in the position. As most in the high school game know, it requires countless hours to sustain a winning program year after year.

“I was surprised at first that he wanted to take on such a responsibility,” said Sanchez, who is also one of the Gilroy High wrestling assistant coaches. “But he’s fired up and ready to go.”

Cormier replaces Greg Varela, who guided Gilroy to spectacular results for the last decade. The Mustangs are one of the most well traveled sports teams in the Bay Area, as last season alone they went to Reno, the Central Valley, Southern California and the Midwest to compete in high-profile national tournaments. Sanchez said the infrastructure is there for Gilroy to continue its jam-packed schedule.

Despite the loss of Varela, Sanchez said the entire assistant coaching staff was left intact. Cormier will also be bringing on Shawn Brunch and Kyle Crutchmer, a pair of two-time NCAA Wrestling All-Americans.

“We discussed Daniel’s schedule and how to work through it,” Sanchez said. “There is a lot of support already in place, in addition to what he’s bringing to the program. There’s enough capacity within the coaching ranks to support his schedule until he eventually stops fighting and training full time. … He’s looking to retire within the next year or two, and he’s looking for the next thing to do in his career.“

Cormier has already said he will retire by March 2019. Although the 39-year-old Cormier doesn’t have high school coaching experience, he is the wrestling coach at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), one of the great Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) training facilities in the world led by Javier Mendez.

Cormier trains both youth and AKA’s pro fighters in wrestling.

“I want to say he has 50 kids in the youth program there, so he has experience working with this specific age group,” Sanchez said. “I’m excited. The potential is great considering what he is going to bring. He’s bringing a couple of assistant coaches—all college level All-Americans who are highly skilled and experienced—so our wrestlers will get a chance to roll around and work out with guys in the room. This will be ideal for the program.”

Cormier is certainly coming on at a great time. The Mustangs are coming off a record-breaking season—they broke the Central Coast Section Championships record for most individual champions (10) and 373 points—the latter which smashed their own previous record of 297 from a year earlier—before proceeding to finish with the most points and placers at the CIF State Championships in program history.

The scary part? Gilroy returns the majority of its starting lineup; additionally, there are always a handful of up-and-coming underclassmen—even freshmen—who wind up contending for section titles.

Safe to say, the cupboard is well-stocked for Gilroy to have another record-breaking season for the 2018-2019 school year. Probable returnees include state placers Jayden Gomez, Chase Saldate, Nick Villarreal, along with Daniel Vizcarra, who was one match away from placing at state.

Varela also noted Nate Villarreal, Dallas Gutierrez and Nate Aguilar all have the potential to go deep in the state tournament should they make the necessary improvements in the off-season. The former Gilroy coach also said that Victor Jacinto—who will be a sophomore for the 2018-2019 season but was behind Nic Aguilar and Chase Saldate last season—“beat state placers all year and will come through like a beast.”