April 16, 2015
Joe Wells makes a difference in wrestling and life
By Steve Fraser
I write this article today with tears in my eyes and a heavy, heavy heart – in honor of one of my most beloved coaches of all time, Joe Wells. Joe recently was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Thinking his recent pain was due to the possible need for a hip replacement, Joe had no clue of the seriousness of his illness. In just a couple short weeks from being diagnosed; today – April 16, 2015 – as I was en route to catch a flight to Portland, Oregon to visit my former coach and friend, I received word from his wife, Cindia that Joe had passed. How can life change in such a short time?
Joe Wells, 67, was head coach of Oregon State University for 14 years. He influenced and/or coached many greats, such as Randy Couture (wrestling and MMA star) and Les Gutches (world champ). Joe led the Beavers to a Pacific-10 championship and guided them to four top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships, including a runner-up finish in 1995.
Joe, who has coached numerous World Teams for the United States, was a 1972 Iowa graduate. He was a two-time place winner in the Big Ten and was the 1976 U.S. Wrestling Federation freestyle champ.
Before Joe’s tenure at OSU he was assistant coach at the University of Michigan for many years. This is where I met him. Joe was my coach and training partner (at times) while I was in my senior year at Michigan, and while I trained for the Olympics and international competition in my post-college career.
This strong, tough, genuine, honest and extremely knowledgeable man influenced not only my life, but many other young wrestlers lives as well. He was a great coach that knew the game from top to bottom. He was extremely tough and had an ornery side to him that taught wrestlers how to be tough.
I can remember a training incident when Joe and I were wrestling, and as we were aggressively grappling and fighting for position Joe’s head bashed into mine. Now Joe was kind of known for his physical roughness, and in this particular practice session Joe came away with a one inch gash right above his left eye. Gushing a bit with blood, Joe said, “DANG IT (okay, not the exact words)!” With that, we wrapped his head with a bandage and continued to wrestle, until we were done, and it was time to go get about 10 stitches.
I owe Joe Wells much gratitude in helping me make the U.S. Olympic Team. In the 1984 Final Olympic Trials, Joe inspired and coached me in a very difficult situation. It was just prior to my final rubber match against Mike Houck, of the Minnesota Wrestling Club. Houck and I had had many, many very tough physical bouts throughout the years. We were close to 50/50 as far as who won those bouts. Needless to say, the Greco-Roman Olympic Team spot at 90 kilos could go either way in most people’s minds.
The moment of truth was upon us!
I won the first of the best-of-three matches. Needless to say I was ecstatic! Then Houck won the second match. All of a sudden I found myself very depressed and down in the dumps. The pressure was getting to me. I started feeling sorry for myself and began to let myself have a defeatist attitude. And with only one hour away from the third and final bout that would determine the United States Olympic Team member, I was not in a good place!
Joe saw that my attitude was not right. He sat me down and talked me through this. He calmed my nerves and reassured me that I could win this thing. We chatted about how I had prepared, how I had sacrificed and what I needed to do right now! He even got me to laugh a bit. And it worked, I was back!
The sport of wrestling is so much more than just a simple sport. Wrestling is a lifestyle. Wrestling is a family. Wrestling is an activity that molds people into greatness. No matter the titles won or lost, wrestling develops a physical, emotional and mental strength that creates our human spirit and establishes a oneness among all the brave souls that dare to try it. Wrestling people are the true essence of what is good in this world! My hat goes off to this wonderful family we call “wrestling” and many heartfelt thank yous and farewells to this wonderful man – Joe Wells – for a lifetime of friendship, dedication and commitment to the children of our wrestling family. Joe Wells will be missed!