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New University wrestling coach Ryan Montang has good grip on teaching sport he loves

Ryan Montang spent a good deal of his time on Tuesday talking about Russian ties and taking down an opponent.

A social studies teacher at University HS, Montang also touched on arm passes and head placement and just exactly how to get a grip.

None of it in a political sense.

Montang is well into his first season as the head wrestling coach at U-Hi, where he takes over from Don Owen – recently elected to the Washington State Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame after stepping down as head coach following 26 seasons leading the Titans.

Enthusiastic and encouraging, Montang spent the early portion of a recent practice session talking about how working an arm pass works its way into single leg takedowns. He discussed, at length, how an arm hold known as a Russian Tie can be used to throw an opponent to the mat and turned into a potential pinning move.

“I have a 55-minute prep period and I plan to spend 20 or 25 minutes working out my plan on what I want to concentrate on in that day’s practice,” he explained. “But then I look up at the clock and that’s gone and it’s almost time to start practice.”

A wrestling practice is a pure form of teaching.

A coach demonstrates a technique and students immediately work to incorporate it into their wrestling repertoire. Coaches observe and frequently step in to correct and polish the application of the concept.

In the case of a proper grip, Montang – who was a state placer as a 125-pounder at U-Hi under Owen – jumped in with some of his lighter wrestler kids to make sure they could feel the difference between a solid grip and a weak grasp.

It’s the hands-on approach he learned from.

“As soon as I got hired, I started meeting with my coaches,” he explained. “We have four guys who wrestled here. Five, I guess, if you count Don, but he never wrestled here.”

There is an old adage in the coaching realm that says you never want to be the guy who replaces a legend. They throw out names like Gene Bartow, Phil Bengtson and Ray Perkins as examples.

If you don’t recognize them as the coach who succeeded John Wooden, Vince Lombardi and Bear Bryant, you’re not alone.

Taking up Owen’s whistle in the Titans’ wrestling room could be daunting to someone who didn’t learn and refine their understanding of the sport in that very room.

And in this case, the legend is still around to help with the passing of the torch.

Yes, Owen is still in the U-Hi wrestling room every day – still actively teaching the finer points of a sport that consumed him as a high school athlete in Lolo, Montana, and later at Brigham Young University.

That he loves the sport is obvious to anyone who has ever watched him teach the finer points of a single-leg takedown, although his discourse on the importance of back pressure has been known to make some people think he’s an avid plumber.

That he’s still enjoying it in his new role is just as plain.

“(Montang) is just doing a great job,” Owen said. “This program is in great hands. It’s obvious to me that I made a good decision on this one.”

Montang is busy with the details of the sport – a list of important items he never had to worry about during his days on the mat.

The days of the movie “Vision Quest,” where a wrestler decides to drop a significant amount of weight in the middle of a season to take on a top opponent, are long gone.

“If you plan on dropping a significant amount of weight, you have to work with the coach in your specific weight group and work out a detailed plan,” he explained. “You have to be very careful because you now have to enter a wrestler’s weight online. If you aren’t careful, you can find yourself locked out of a weight. If that happens, we can’t even print you out a weigh-in sheet for a match.”

Montang said it’s been seven seasons since he last served as a head coach – at Idaho 3A Timberlake. While he was a bit out of breath after a lengthy demonstration, it was clear he’s happily in his element.

“Oh, yeah,” he grinned. “This is what’s fun. It’s what teaching is all about. You teach, the kids ask questions and you work through the process. It’s why you teach.”