Scott Goodale stood in a corner tunnel of the Scottrade Center in St. Louis in March, waiting for Frank Molinaro to come down from his podium.
The fifth four-time All-American in Penn State history finished his career with a national title at 149 pounds, and about an hour after accepting his trophy and hugging Goodale, he was already meeting with Rutgers wrestling boosters.
He ate breakfast with Goodale the next morning, and a month later it became official: Molinaro will join Goodale’s coaching staff.
“Coach gave me an opportunity to come back to New Jersey, where I’m from and where I want to be,” the Barnegat, N.J., native said. “It proved we had a good relationship over all the years, and it means a lot.”
The pair first became friendly when Molinaro was in middle school, then rivals when Molinaro attended Southern Regional and Goodale coached at Jackson Memorial.
But they remained close, connected through the Shore Thing Wrestling Club.
“It didn’t matter that he was from our rival,” Goodale said. “He was good and he trained hard, so I was immediately attracted to him for that.”
Goodale coached Molinaro as a senior at the High School Nationals in Virginia, but when Molinaro chose to attend Penn State, Goodale was still coaching high school.
“Unfortunately,” Goodale said.
So Goodale began recruiting the three-time New Jersey state champion last May to coach rather than wrestle, and the pair kept in touch throughout the season.
It was a special one for Molinaro.
After finishing eighth in the NCAA Championships as a freshman and fifth place as a sophomore, he was the national runner-up as a junior.
He returned with a 33-0 record this year en route to the top of the podium.
“When you’re close with someone, you’re like, ‘Is he really going to win it?’” Goodale said. “But I just had this feeling halfway through the year that this guy’s pretty good. I thought, ‘He’s going to be very, very hard to beat, and if there’s one guy who can beat him, hopefully it’s our guy.’ He would tell me what he was doing and how he was training, but we never talked about [junior] Mario [Mason].”
Mason and Molinaro each entered last season among the top five 149-pounders in the nation, a year after they were favored as All-Americans in the seedings at the national tournament.
Molinaro beat Mason in that tournament, and Mason — along with the Rutgers program — remains without All-American status. Molinaro comes from a program that produced six last season en route to its second consecutive team national title.
He brings ideas — Penn State routinely took a mid-week day off before dual meets, and Goodale said Rutgers will try it — and experience.
“The thing about Penn State is we were so competitive,” Molinaro said. “We were all really good friends, but once we got in the room, it was every man for himself. No one wanted to lose. That’s something I really want to bring.”
He is best suited to work out with Rutgers wrestlers ranging from 125-174 pounds, but he spent part of last summer wrestling 197-pounders at Penn State.
And Goodale believes his wrestlers and recruits are already taking notice.
“We have a national champ in our room. What else do you want?” Goodale said. “He feels like he’s going to be able to get them over the hump. Whatever it takes, I don’t have an ego and I don’t care. I hope he’s the guy to get them over the hump.”