Former Sun Devil Thom Ortiz Named ASU Wrestling Coach
April 19, 2001
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Former Sun Devil All-American and Arizona native Thom Ortiz has been named head wrestling coach at Arizona State University, Athletics Director Gene Smith announced Thursday.
Ortiz, the fifth head coach in the 38-year history of the Arizona State wrestling program, replaces Lee Roy Smith who stepped down from the position last month after a nine-year tenure.
'This is my first head coaching job and I'm hoping it is my last,' Ortiz said. 'I want to retire as the head wrestling coach at Arizona State. The job is a perfect fit for me. I have a huge passion for wrestling, for education, for the state of Arizona and for the university. Being back at Arizona State is coming home for me.'
Ortiz returns to ASU after serving nine years as head assistant coach at Iowa State under former Sun Devil head coach Bobby Douglas. The Tucson, Ariz. native is no stranger to the Arizona State program. Ortiz wrestled at Arizona State from 1986-90 under Douglas, the most successful years in ASU wrestling history. During that time, Ortiz helped lead ASU to its only national title in 1988, NCAA runner-up finishes in 1989 and 1990 and four Pac-10 team titles.
'My motto for this program will be 'back to the future',' Ortiz said. 'I want to get this program back to wrestling like we did during the dominant years of 1988, 1989 and 1990. We have the wrestlers here at ASU to accomplish that, but we have a ways to go. It's going to take a lot of hard work, patience and support.'
Ortiz inherits a Sun Devil program that returns two All-Americans, six NCAA qualifiers and 13 letterwinners. ASU is coming off a ninth-place team finish at the 2001 NCAA Championships and its third Pac-10 title in five years.
'My coaching staff's first priority will be the education and welfare of our student-athletes,' Ortiz said. 'My ultimate goal is to graduate our wrestlers, and we will aim to be a top-10 team in the nation academically. We want to win national titles, but my first priority is academics.'
While wrestling at ASU, Ortiz was a three-time All-American, a three-time Pac-10 Champion and team captain from 1989-90. He received his bachelor's degree in finance from ASU in 1990 and earned his masters degree in industrial relations from Iowa State in 1998.
'We're very happy to have Thom on board,' Gene Smith said. 'He is an ASU alum, an Arizona native and an outstanding coach. Having wrestled for and worked with one of the better coaches in the country (Douglas), Thom is ready for the job and the challenge ahead.'
After completing his collegiate wrestling career with 118 career victories (seventh on the all-time list), Ortiz served as a graduate assistant coach at ASU during the 1990-91 season. He also served as the interim head coach between the tenures of Douglas and Smith during the 1991-92 season.
In 1992, Ortiz was reunited with his mentor Douglas, serving as an assistant at Iowa State in Ames, Iowa. While a Cyclone, Ortiz mentored three national champions and numerous All-Americans. Last year he was the runner-up for the National Wrestling Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year award. In 1997, he was responsible for recruiting the top-ranked class in the nation while bringing in the second-ranked class in the nation in 1996.
Also to his credit during his coaching tenure at Iowa State, Ortiz coached numerous Academic All-Americans. He also recruited, coached and mentored Cael Sanderson, the first freshman to receive the Outstanding Wrestler award in the history of the NCAA. Sanderson finished his collegiate career this season with a perfect record of 119-0.
For the past 12 years, Ortiz has been actively competing on the national and international level as a member of the Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club. Ortiz was also a four-time USA Wrestling All-American and placed fourth in the 1996 U.S. Olympic trials.Success came early to Ortiz at Sunnyside High School in Tucson, where he was a two-time Arizona High School State Champion, a first-team High School All-American and the Arizona High School Wrestler of the Year in 1985.
The Ortiz family has a wrestling tradition, as both Thom's older brothers Eddie and Richard also wrestled at Arizona State. Eddie compiled an overall record of 33-9-2 and was an All-American during the 1979-80 season, while Richard was 2-1-0 during the 1981-82 season. Thom's father, Richard, Sr. wrestled at Tucson High School in the early 1950s.