Sports has many milestones. They often are markers indicating greatness and significant career accomplishments. Coach Gene Hildebrandt’s 450th win as St. James’ head wrestling coach is one of those memorable milestones. By any measure 450 career wins is a big number and it compares favorably to other sports milestones. Major league pitchers who have won more than 450 games is a category of one - Cy Young had 511 wins and he last pitched in 1911.
In pro football Jerry Rice topped out with 208 TD catches.
As far as pro football coaching goes George Halas, one of the founders of the NFL, had 324 wins and it took him 47 years to do it.
Don Shula the longtime coach of the Dolphins passed Halas in his final season as a head coach and ended up with 328 wins.
Joe Paterno, was fired as the head coach of Penn State just after he became the all time winningest coach of Div. 1 college football with 409 wins.
John Gagliardi the head football coach at St. John’s in Minnesota is the winningest college football coach of all time. Gagliardi has 484 wins, but he’s been at it since 1949.
OK, but all that’s comparing apples to oranges. What about wrestling coaches? Consider Dan Gable’s record as the head coach at Iowa.
It can be argued Gable is one of the greatest coaches of all time no matter what the sport (Not any of my Hawkeye chauvinism writing this), but Gable burnt out with 355 dual meet coaching wins at Iowa.
Hall of Famer Gene Hildebrandt’s 450th win in his 26th season as the head coach of St. James wrestling is a superlative achievement in an outstanding career.
One reason Gable hung it up was he continued to wrestle against the kids he coached until the end. Wrestling against two time or three time national champions might have caused a little wear and tear on Gable’s middle age body.
Coach Hildebrandt quipped one of the reasons for his long succes was not wrestling the heavyweights, or as he matured, any of the kids he coached. He came to understand it was better to coach all his athletes instead of focusing on just a few.
Another reason for Hildebrandt’s success was that St. James was the, “perfect place to be,” for him and St. James was a great place to raise a family.
The ability to control his emotions has also contributed to his success and longevity. “If you don’t control your emotions you won’t be able to help your kids,” Hildebrandt said.
Being, “Fair, firm, and friendly with everybody,” has helped Coach Hildebrandt build and maintain his program. He has a ‘team first individual second’ outlook that he instills into his young wrestlers.
His record as the Saints head coach now stands at 450-121-2. For this season the Saints are now 11-1.
This year’s team started out having to replace nine seniors who graduated last year. What is often said about sports dynasties is ‘they don’t rebuild, they reload’. Coach Hildebrandt has elevated the St. James wrestling program to where most years the team reloads.
For Hildebrandt, every year has been a highlight. He plans on coming back next year. He will be assessing his future coaching plans on a year to year basis when making a decision on when to call it quits as the Saint’s head coach.
Over the next month, there are some tough dual meets remaining for the Saints. There’s also a chance for you to watch this legend in action as Coach Hildebrandt seeks to add to his dual meet win totals.
A good Fairmont squad comes to town Thursday night. Coach Hildebrandt welcomes the challenge, and thinks this match will be a, “barn burner.”