Lou Rosselli’s mornings start early. Really early.
On Oct. 6 at 5:36 a.m., Rosselli sent a text in the team’s group chat that said, “Character creates the process and the process creates the results.” On Nov. 9 at 4:32 a.m., he sent out the weekly schedule.
The first-year OU wrestling head coach wastes no time when he wakes up, usually before 5 a.m. His wrestlers and staff can expect to wake up a few mornings a week to texts with weekly schedules, screenshots of motivational quotes or just words of wisdom. But there’s no time to waste when there’s work to be done.
“I like to get up and work out, but when I’m having my coffee everything goes through my mind for the day," Rosselli said. "I try not to get distracted from what our program needs. Everything I do is really built around the program, in how I think we should do things and when I think we should do things and what needs to happen. Sometimes it’s probably painful for them getting stuff that early, but I’m trying to do what’s best for them so we can get better.”
Rosselli was a two-time New York State Champion in high school where he recorded a 156-8 record over a five-year varsity wrestling stint starting in eighth grade. From high school, Rosselli was recruited to Edinboro University where he was a two-time All-American and the first freshman from Edinboro to qualify for the national tournament.
He continued his wrestling career at an international level and reached the pinnacle of his craft when he qualified to represent the United States at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
“I was 2-1 at the Olympic Games. I chipped and had a placement crack in my right arm in match three, so I had to default out of the tournament,” Rosselli said. “It was an okay experience, fair at best. When you go to the Olympics and you want to win gold and you get hurt and don’t, it just turns into something that is okay at best.”
But his experience as an athlete wouldn’t be the last time he took part in the Olympic Games. In 2012 he coached the U.S. Olympic Freestyle Team that produced two gold medals and returned this past summer in Rio, helping coach his former student-athlete Kyle Snyder to become the youngest Olympic wrestling champion in U.S. history.
“When you’re an athlete you’re selfish, and you have to be selfish to be the best, but when you’re a coach you think differently,” Rosselli said. “You have to think about how you can perform well as a group and how you can have a team performance that’s awesome. My coaching experiences were awesome and to help people be a part of something great is what you strive for as a coach.”
But watching Snyder win a gold medal wasn’t the only good news that would come out of the 2016 Games for Rosselli. While in Rio, he received a call from OU wrestling sport administrator Jason Leonard about the head coaching vacancy for the Sooners.
Rosselli returned to Columbus, Ohio, where he was an assistant for the Ohio State Buckeyes, from Rio on a Tuesday and rearranged his plans for the week.
He would be making a weekend trip to Norman.
“On Friday I flew into Norman and left on Saturday evening. On Monday morning I think we finalized everything,” Rosselli recalled. “Obviously the tradition and the place itself drew me here. The support and the administration that knew what they needed to be the best drew me to that decision. It happened very quickly. I flew in on Friday and on Monday morning it was complete.”
Rosselli was officially announced as the head coach of the Sooners on Aug. 30, one week after fall 2016 classes began at the University of Oklahoma.
"We knew that in terms of our program, we had to have the collegiate and Olympic side of it, but we also had to have somebody who was just going to work circles around other people."
OU Wrestling Administrator Jason Leonard
“There is no question that Lou’s wrestling IQ is off the charts, but Joe (Castiglione) and I also knew that he was a very hard worker,” Leonard said. “We knew that in terms of our program, we had to have the collegiate and Olympic side of it, but we also had to have somebody who was just going to work circles around other people. You combine that workaholic attitude with what he has done with his own wrestling career and with what he developed at Ohio State in their freestyle program, and we really felt like he met all of the needs that we thought we needed to have in a head coach.”
Rosselli, who had never been a head coach, knew that the challenge ahead was a risk, but he also knew he was more than capable of turning the program around. While at Edinboro, he helped the team to a top-10 national finish and in 2015 his Ohio State squad notched the program’s first-ever national title. He also helped build the Ohio Regional Training Center, a freestyle program that produced an Olympic gold medalist as well as a World Champion.
But the success of his wrestlers wasn’t the only challenge he would face in his first few weeks in Oklahoma. He also needed to piece together a staff just two months before the collegiate wrestling season kicked off.
“Part of the thing you look at even as an assistant is who you’re going to work with and how you’re going to work with them. Do you have the same philosophical belief system? And I think the staff we put together does and it worked out really well for us. Mike (Lightner) obviously has a lot of roots here, which is really helpful, and I knew that was going to be a big part of it. Keith Gavin was in my freestyle program, so it wasn’t as much of a challenge for me. They’re the type of people I like to be around.”
The next step for Rosselli and Co. was building chemistry with the new student-athletes and getting them to adapt to a new coaching style.
"I think as a coach the challenge is to do the boring stuff more, so he really hammers home the fundamentals and he really lets the athletes create based on their own style off of those fundamentals."
OU Assistant Coach Keith Gavin
“From a technique stand point, Lou really hammers home on the fundamentals, which is really important because I think you can get lost in all of the tricks and the creative stuff that you can do in wrestling,” Gavin said. “I think as a coach the challenge is to do the boring stuff more, so he really hammers home the fundamentals and he really lets the athletes create based on their own style off of those fundamentals. He puts a lot of time into making sure the guys are prepared.”
“He’s really smart. When you talk to Lou most of the conversations are going to be about wrestling,” OU volunteer assistant Hunter Stieber said. “He’s been in wrestling most of his life, and he’s been to the highest level of wrestling. He loves it. He loves helping people develop and helping them grow. He’s excellent and he has great attention to detail. He can help out with heavyweights or lightweights. He’s just a great coach and he cares a lot about his athletes.”
The Sooners began the season 1-3, dropping contests to three top-11 teams before the holiday break, but the team exploded in the new year, securing a 10-3 record in 2017, including wins over three ranked teams. Rosselli said he’s happy with the progression the OU squad has made since the change in staff so late in the season, but his goals aren’t met yet.
“The pinnacle is the NCAA tournament, so we have to get through that to see where we’re at,” Rosselli said. “Part of it is just seeing the guys do as well as they can do. We have guys who are on the fringe, some 9 to 16 ranked athletes, so if they could get up on the stand and get two or three All-Americans that would be the topper for this season for us. It’s definitely possible, but that would be the icing on the cake.”
But if the Sooners’ progression this season isn’t enough, in November Rosselli and his staff secured eight signees to the 2017 signing class, including seven top-100 recruits.
With new recruits, new assistants and a new head coach willing to run through walls to make Oklahoma a national powerhouse, the future looks bright in Norman.
“I think the next phase for us right now is getting the pedigree and the recruits we want to get. We want the ones who want to be an Olympic athlete. In a perfect world I want someone who wants to come to Oklahoma to be a great student, win an NCAA title and then become an Olympic athlete. I know the pieces I want that will help us build this program to one that can win nationals. I try to stay focused on those things so that we can get there faster.”
The Sooners are set to begin postseason this Saturday and Sunday, March 4-5, at the Big 12 Championship inside the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.