Like father, like son, the old cliché goes.
And this was never more true for Michigan wrestling coach Joe McFarland than it was Saturday night.
The Wolverines capped a wildly successful regular season Saturday night in Cleveland, finishing tied for fourth place at the NCAA Wrestling Championships with 80 team points.
Although the team failed to take home any first place finishes, Michigan placed five wrestlers on the podium, all of whom garnered All-American honors. Among them were redshirt sophomore 133-lb Stevan Micic and fifth-year senior heavyweight Adam Coon, each the runner-up at their respective weight class.
But for McFarland, the magnitude of the night went far beyond the team’s success. For McFarland — who retired following the championships — the story began in Cleveland, many years ago.
Joe McFarland Sr., McFarland’s father, settled in Cleveland following service in World War II. He retired there following 33 years as a firefighter.
Saturday, his son, Joe McFarland Jr., retired in Cleveland — the city where he was raised — after 33 years as a wrestling coach in a pseudo-tribute to his father.
While recounting the similarities, McFarland could not help but get nostalgic, and said the parallels to his father’s career made the moment all the more special.
Also special — as he has been all season — was Coon, who steamrolled his way through the preliminary rounds before falling to Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder of Ohio State in the championship round.
In the wake of McFarland’s retirement, Coon sang praises of his coach and mentor.
“Coach McFarland has definitely given me lots of opportunities,” Coon said. “He gave me the great opportunity to wrestle here at Michigan, so I’m forever grateful for that and this great opportunity he gave me. And I just appreciate everything he’s done for the program, as well as helping me grow as an athlete.”
For Coon, the night was nostalgic, too. Following his dual’s completion, the curtain closed on his Michigan wrestling career. But despite his impressive collection of accolades, Coon, rightfully so, wanted to be known as more than simply a great wrestler.
“What I’ll be known for I hope is for my work ethic and just what I brought to the team in being a leader and just working hard every day to give everything I had,” Coon said. “I hope I’ll be remembered as a good person and a man of faith, and that’s all I can hope for, that people will remember my personality and what it was like rather than all the accolades and stuff like that.”
McFarland recognizes Coon’s importance too. Back in October, when the star heavyweight was just returning to form following a year off due to injury, McFarland complemented Coon by saying, “He leads by example more than anything.”
In addition to leading by example, Coon’s personality was a huge factor in the team’s growth throughout the season, and enabled the team to mesh as a collective unit.
“This was a different team because it was such a close-knit bond between everybody on the team,” Coon said. “It was great to see how everyone grew with their technique and their work ethic in the practice room. Individually everybody knew how to step up their game to get more out of practice and out of competitions than I’ve seen in all these guys’ recent past so it was great to see everybody pick it up one more level.”
It speaks volumes to Coon as a leader that he is more concerned with his legacy off the mat than on it. Then again, Coon is just following the example set by his legendary, and now retired, coach.