Nittany Lions Pin an Olympian

They've brought in one of college wrestling's marquee coaches, Cael Sanderson.

Penn State lured one of college wrestling's marquee names away from his alma mater to take over the Nittany Lions program.

Cael Sanderson was hired after three successful seasons at Iowa State, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley said in a statement Friday. The Cyclones won Big 12 titles all three years under Sanderson and finished in the top five in each of the last three NCAA championships.

Now, Sanderson is headed east to take over at Penn State, which slipped to 17th at nationals this season following a third-place finish in 2008.

The Nittany Lions also finished seventh in the Big Ten, and Penn State grad Troy Sunderland resigned as coach two weeks ago following 11 seasons at the helm at his own alma mater.

Sanderson, 29, will be officially introduced at a news conference in Happy Valley on Monday, Penn State said.

He's perhaps even better known among wrestling aficionados for his accomplishments on the mat as an Olympic gold medalist and four-time NCAA champion.

Curley said he was thrilled that Sanderson took the job, and that "Cael has quickly demonstrated as a head coach the skills, passion and dedication that made him an NCAA and Olympic champion."

Iowa State will conduct a national search for Sanderson's replacement, said athletic director Jamie Pollard.

"It is a difficult day for all Cyclones as we cope with the departure of a truly outstanding and accomplished student and coach," Pollard said in a statement. "Cael's unblemished collegiate record, Olympic glory and promising start as a coach all came while he was representing Iowa State University and he will forever be recognized as a Cyclone."

Sanderson departs without winning the national championship he promised when he was promoted to head coach following the retirement of Bobby Douglas in March 2006.

Sanderson broke down in tears during his introductory press conference in Ames, overwhelmed by the chance to take over at his alma mater. He quickly turned Iowa State into one of the nation's top programs.

Led by 197-pound national title winner Jake Varner, Iowa State finished third at the NCAAs in St. Louis last month.

Sanderson's arrival also took the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry -- already one of the most heated in all of college sports -- to new heights. In December, top-ranked Iowa beat No. 2 Iowa State in Iowa City in front of a national dual-meet attendance record crowd of 15,955.

But Sanderson's time in Ames was overshadowed by the Hawkeyes and coach Tom Brands, who awoke a sleeping giant at Iowa by guiding it the last two national titles, the 21st and 22nd in school history.

Penn State also has deep ties to wrestling, its program being 100 years old. The school has produced 18 NCAA champions, most recently 197-pounder Phil Davis in 2008.

The Nittany Lions' only national title came in 1953. A Top 10 NCAA finisher for most of the 1980s and '90s, Penn State slipped during Sunderland's tenure.

They finished fourth in his first year as coach in 1999 before slipping to 35th in 2002. The third-place finish in '08 was the best finish under Sunderland before this year's disappointing ending and the coach's departure.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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