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Seven years into his tenure as head wrestling coach at NC State, Carter Jordan can look back and take satisfaction that the program is headed in the right direction.
The accomplishments of Jordan's first seven years speak for themselves: an ACC championship, 13 individual ACC champions, back-to-back national top 25 finishes, including a top 20 finish in 2009, and the remarkable season and career of 2009 NCAA national champion Darrion Caldwell, who finished his career last March as one of the two or three greatest wrestlers in the history of the storied Wolfpack program.
When Jordan became head coach following the 2003-04 season, he was looking to restore the program to its glory days of the 1980s and early 1990s. Hard work, on the recruiting trail and in the practice room, has helped Jordan make positive steps in that direction.
The 2007 ACC championship was the first big step for Jordan and the Wolfpack. NC State's 36-point margin of victory in that tournament was the largest margin in the ACC Championships in 13 years and the second largest margin ever by a Wolfpack team. Eight NC State wrestlers placed in the finals that year, and five won individual championships.
In 2008, Caldwell became NC State's first All-American in 12 years, leading the program to a 25th-place national finish. One year later, Caldwell won the Pack's first national championship since 1993, and NC State finished 18th nationally.
Caldwell followed his national championship by earning a spot on the USA National team, a rarity for a current college wrestler, and wrestled that summer at the Heydar Grand Prix at Azerbaijan. Jordan was there with Caldwell, serving as an assistant coach for his second USA World Team trials. Jordan also was an assistant for the 2008 USA Olympic Trials.
"Until injuries decimated our roster in 2009-10, we'd taken a tangible step forward as a program every year since I took this job," Jordan says. "I said that getting back into the top 25 and having an All-American were huge steps for us, but that it would mean very little if we didn't build on that. And we did. The guys in this program have been selfless in the hard work and sacrifices they've made for this team, and we've made very tangible progress. I expect that progress to resume this year now that we have a healthy team with some depth."
Ever since his promotion to head coach for the 2004-05 season, Jordan has been on a mission to re-establish NC State's storied wrestling tradition, which now includes 14 conference championships, 26 All-Americans, four national top 10 finishes, 14 national top 25 finishes, five individual national champions and 100 individual conference champions, all since 1975.
In particular, NC State was one of the nation's most dominant college wrestling programs in the 1980s and early 1990s. In the 14 years from 1980-93, the Wolfpack compiled a 191-75-4 record in dual matches, finished in the national top 10 four times, won seven ACC team championships and 49 individual conference championships. The Pack's first four individual national champions came in those 14 years. Caldwell is the first since then.
Based on Jordan's first seven years as head coach, NC State should be ready to return to the national stage. And Jordan is the ideal candidate to lead the triumphant return. As a walk-on at NC State from 1983-86, Jordan was teammates with nine All-Americans and two national champions. Those NC State teams compiled a dual-match record of 58-19, won the 1983 ACC championship, and finished in the top 20 at the NCAA Tournament three times. He knows the program's traditions as well as anyone.
"I wrestled here during the 1980s and I know how great the program was back then," Jordan says. "I also know how hard it is to sustain that kind of success, and how difficult it is to build the program back to that level. We've worked hard to begin the journey back, but the process really never ends. It's going to take hard work from everyone involved in this program, starting with me."
Jordan's time with the program already has seen its share of success. In 13 seasons since he joined legendary former head coach Bob Guzzo's staff full-time in the fall of 1998, the Wolfpack has compiled a dual-match record of 123-110-3, including a 38-29-1 mark in ACC matches. In that time, NC State produced 32 individual ACC champions, 55 NCAA Tournament qualifiers, and won four ACC team championships.
Since Jordan succeeded Guzzo in 2005, the Wolfpack has produced 13 individual conference champions and 21 NCAA Tournament qualifiers. Caldwell, who won the 2009 national championship at 149 pounds, became NC State's fourth four-time ACC champion in 2011, was ACC Wrestler of the Year twice, ACC Rookie of the Year, and a two-time All-American. He was the second NC State wrestler ever to win Most Outstanding Wrestler at the NCAA Championships. Caldwell finished his incredible career ranked second in school history in victories, winning percentage and pins.
There is every reason to believe that the influx of young talent will continue. In five years as head recruiter under Guzzo, Jordan assembled two national top 10 recruiting classes, and signed four high school or prep national champions, the first in NC State history.
Jordan has continued to recruit successfully as head coach, and a year ago he and his staff brought in a 14-man class that was a consensus top 10 class. With high school All-Americans and/or multiple-time state champions such as Henry Carlson, Coltin Fought, Michael Avelar and Harrison Honeycutt headlining this stellar class, NC State wrestling will have a sound foundation for the foreseeable future.
In all, six of Jordan's recruits -- Scott Garren in 2000, Dustin Kawa in 2001, Kevin Gabrielson in 2002, Zach Garren in 2004, Goodman in 2006 and Caldwell in 2007 -- were named to the Amateur Wrestling News' All-Rookie Team.
"We want to bring in the best young wrestlers we can find, but we also want to bring in kids with great character and work ethic," Jordan says. "The young men who've achieved success for us the last seven years have been kids who worked extremely hard and responded well to coaching."
When Jordan joined the NC State wrestling coaching staff as an administrative assistant and part-time assistant coach in the fall of 1997, he had no idea that one day he would become the program's head coach. Despite having experience as a head coach at the prep level, Jordan's initial goal upon returning to NC State was to finish the college degree he left hanging 12 years earlier.
"When I came back here, it wasn't with the aspirations of becoming the head wrestling coach," Jordan says. "It was with the aspiration of getting involved with college athletics. It wasn't until I coached my first year that I said to myself, `You know, I can do this. I can do this at this level. This is a lot of fun.' It's a big challenge. Of course, I got to tutor under one of the best coaches in the history of the sport in Bob Guzzo, so I was very lucky in that respect. It's really amazing how it all worked out."
To say the least, it's all worked out really well. On May 10, 2004, Jordan became the eighth head coach in the 82-year history of the NC State wrestling program. By that time, Jordan was ready for the challenge. During his time as an assistant coach, he had his hands on virtually every aspect of the Wolfpack program, from administrative details to recruiting to strength-and-conditioning to academic support to budget matters to the actual hands-on coaching of the wrestlers.
Jordan went from administrative assistant to full-time assistant coach in 1998-99, and took over as recruiting coordinator a year later. He became associate head coach in 2002, then began to prepare seriously to take over the program as Guzzo's retirement plans took shape during the 2003-04 school year.
When Guzzo finally hung up his whistle following the 2003-04 season, he left a big pair of shoes to fill, but he groomed Jordan for the job and made sure that his protege was ready. The program that Jordan took over couldn't possibly have enjoyed more success or had a richer tradition than that established by Guzzo.
Jordan's coaching career began after he left NC State in 1986 at Princess Ann Middle School in Virginia Beach, Va. In seven years as the school's head coach, 1990-96, Jordan guided Princess Ann to a 35-5 dual-meet record. In 1994, his team won the first city championship in any sport in Princess Ann Middle School history. Before long, however, Jordan felt the need for a bigger challenge, and in 1997 he returned to NC State.
Building on the Wolfpack program's most recent run of success was Jordan's short-range goal, and that goal was reached early on. Building a consistent national contender and re-establishing the success of the 1980s is his long-range goal. Reaching the pinnacle of the sport will be his ultimate goal.
"We want to win the national championship," Jordan says. "If you're not in this to reach the highest level, then you're in the wrong business. This is the purest form of competition. That's what's beautiful about being involved in college athletics, the finality of it -- either you win or you lose. You certainly compete in the private sector, but the outcome can take months, or even years, and it's exciting in its way, but there's nothing like the finality of going into a wrestling competition and knowing two hours later whether you won or lost, what mistakes you made, what you have to correct. It's extremely exciting."
The 46-year-old Jordan and his wife Janie live in Raleigh and have three children, Chris, 24; Cole, 21; and Caroline, 19.