Jack Spates has worn many hats during his career in collegiate wrestling. He was a fierce competitor while wrestling for Smithtown High School and Slippery Rock University. Spates has also been a builder of programs, mentor of coaches and developer of wrestlers as an assistant and head coach.
Spates career in wrestling began as a 10th grader at Smithtown. Signed up for the wrestling team by a friend as a joke, Spates not only competed on his high school squad but excelled. He would win a state championship and was named a high school All-American while winning four conference championships.
High school success led Spates to an opportunity to wrestle as Slippery Rock. He claimed the collegiate national championship in 1973 and was an NCAA runner-up the following year at 118 pounds. Spates compiled a 118-8 career record at Slippery Rock, the second best win total in school history. For his achievements on the mat, Spates has been inducted into the Slippery Rock Athletic Hall of Fame.
Spates' stellar coaching career began at Baptist Bible College in 1975. He quickly earned a reputation as a builder of programs when he helped lead the small private school to six conference championships. Baptist Bible College registered winning percentages of better than .700, despite competing predominantly against larger colleges and universities. Spates helped develop more than 20 wrestlers who earned All-America status during his tenure. After leaving Baptist Bible College in 1981, Spates entered the business world before returning for a one year stint as assistant at the University of Pittsburgh where helped direct the Panthers to their first winning season in five years.
After leaving Pittsburgh, Spates served as head assistant coach at the U.S. Military Academy. While Spates was at Army, the Black Knights attained their highest ever NCAA finish (13th) and climbed as high as No. 11 during regular season rankings in 1987. That same year Army won its only Eastern Conference Championship in the program's 78-year history. While at West Point, Spates recruited Army's highest rated class, which was judged as seventh best in the nation. He was also named runner-up for national assistant-coach-of-the-year honors while at West Point.
His success at West Point led to a head coaching position at Cornell. During his five years with the Big Red, he led Cornell to five straight Ivy League Championships. Cornell's all-time winningest coach by percentage, Spates compiled a 74-14-1 record during his tenure and developed a team offering no scholarships into an Eastern and national power. His last two Cornell teams dominated the Eastern Championships, crowning nine individual champions. Cornell also steadily improved at the NCAA championships, rising from no national placing to finishes of 20th, 15th and 10th place. Spates commitment to the development of the athlete off of the mat was also evident in his Cornell teams earning the highest grade point average of any of the athletic team on campus. For his accomplishments, Spates was named New York Collegiate Coach of the Year, Eastern Coach of the Year and New York State Wrestling Man of the Year.
Spates became the 12th head coach in Oklahoma history in 1993 and inherited a proud but struggling program. OU's average finish at the NCAA championships was 23rd in the three years prior to Spates' arrival. In his eight seasons at OU, Spates has led OU to six top-10 finishes, including back-to-back fourth-place finishes. In 1999, the Sooners claimed their first conference title since 1985. Spates was named Big 12 Coach of the Year that season. When five OU grapplers earned All-America honors last season, it was the most by an Oklahoma squad since 1988. Spates has also continued to bring the nation's top talent to OU. The Sooners' last several recruiting classes have ranked in the top 10 nationally.
Not only has Spates built programs into regional and national powers, he has also served as a mentor to several Division I head coaches. Rob Koll, head coach at Cornell, served as an assistant to Spates for the Big Red as did Missouri head coach Brian Smith. Koll led Cornell to a tie for its conference title while Smith is rebuilding the Tiger program and has led it to two of its better finishes in the past several seasons. Princeton coach Michael New wrestled for Spates at Cornell. Nebraska head coach Mark Manning also served as a Spates' assistant before leaving Oklahoma to take the head coaching position at Northern Iowa. Manning rebuilt the Panther program and led the Huskers to an eighth-place finish at last year's NCAA Championships. The latest Spates' disciple to accept a head coaching position was former Sooner head assistant Chuck Barbee who will be entering his second season as the head coach at Army.
During his tenure as Sooner head coach, Spates has developed 16 wrestlers who have earned All-America honors 25 times. Included among that list are four-time All-Americans and national champions John Kading and Michael Lightner. Spates has also coached undefeated national champions the past two seasons in Lightner and Byron Tucker. Current OU assistant coach Rodney Jones and Shane Valdez were three-time All-Americans under Spates. Perhaps Spates' greatest challenge in developing young talent came during the 2000-01 campaign. Oklahoma lost six starters from the previous year and lost several key wrestlers to injury during the season. After losing starter Bo Maynes at 125 pounds, Spates inserted Matt Ridings into the lineup and he would go on to 17 straight matches and earn a fourth seed at the national championships, despite having only five dual starts entering the season. Sophomores Witt Durden and Josh Lambrecht both struggled with confidence and injuries during 2001 but rallied to earn All-America honors. Redshirt freshman heavyweight Leonce Crump failed to win a state title as a senior in high school and was pinned twice at high school nationals. Under Spates' guidance, Crump claimed a Big 12 title and placed fourth at the NCAA Championships, the highest finish for an OU freshman in 20 years.
Spates also wears many hats outside of the world of wrestling. He graduated magna cum laude from graduate school and was awarded the Greek Award for Proficiency in the Koine Greek Language as well as the Literary Award for Dissertation of Publishable Quality. Spates' dedication to education is still evident today as his program regularly produces Academic All-Big 12 and Academic All-America selections including last season's selections Tony Moore, who was the only member of the Academic All-Big 12 first team to earn a 4.0 GPA, and Witt Durden who was a second team Academic All-American. p> Author of the highly-acclaimed wrestling book Mat Snacks: Wrestling Stories to Feed the Spirit and Tickle the Funny Bone, Spates is developing a reputation as a motivational speaker to many businesses, schools and clubs. A sequel to his first book, More Mat Snacks, is scheduled to for release this fall. Spates is also a songwriter who has written ballads for all three of his national champions.
The most important role of Spates' life is that of father. He is the proud father of four children: Jessica, Jeremy, Justin and Jenilyn. Jessica currently teaches Spanish at Lake Forest Academy outside Chicago. Both Jeremy and Justin, former high school state champs, wrestle at the University of Missouri and have qualified for the NCAA Championships. Jenilyn lives in Norman and works as a bank teller.