Key assistant returns to MU wrestling

After three years away from Columbia, Lee Pritts rejoins team that he coached for six years.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:55 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
LEE PRITTS recruited many of the wrestlers who are now upperclassmen for the Tigers.

MU assistant wrestling coach Lee Pritts spent six years with the Tigers before taking a job at Old Dominion University in 2004. In August, he’ll return to the team that still has wrestlers whom he recruited.

Nine years ago, MU wrestling coach Brian Smith started his mission of turning the Tigers into a national power. Lee Pritts and Bart Horton were his two assistants.

In 2004, Pritts moved to ODU, where he was hired as head assistant coach.

It was a decision that he and Smith deliberated before they agreed it would be a chance for Pritts to become a better coach.

“Some people thought he and I had a falling out, which couldn’t be any further from the truth,” Smith said in a phone interview.

Smith first started working with Pritts when he coached Pritts to two high school state titles in Florida.

“A wrestler and his coach form a bond,” Smith said, “when they go through the process of just starting to learn the sport of wrestling to finishing as the best in the state.”.

In the three years that Pritts was at ODU, he and Smith still communicated weekly and talked about various wrestling topics. During a recent phone conversation, Pritts learned Smith had lost both assistants, Horton and Pat McNamara, to other coaching jobs.

With the loss of two assistants, Smith had to find replacements.

Pritts said Smith called him looking for a “big guy” to fill the position left by Horton, and Pritts told him he would need a day or two to help him look for one. Less than 48 hours later, Smith called again and asked “if I was ready to come home,” Pritts said in a phone interview

“What a great opportunity to come home to a team in the chase for the national title,” Pritts said.

“I’m getting Lee back, who was with me and Bart for the first six years, which where the most difficult six years,” Smith said.

While coaching at ODU, Pritts kept up with the wrestlers he brought to MU, including Josh Wagner. In 2005, Pritts ran into Wagner at the Virginia Duals. After a match, Pritts stopped Wagner to give him some pointers.

“‘When you’re doing your attempt, I don’t want you here,’” he told Wagner. “‘I want you right here.’”

Wagner is enthusiastic to receive more of Pritts’ pointers and expects a quick readjustment with his former coach.

“I’m excited, and it will be good that we already know each other,” Wagner said. “There won’t be that awkward ‘get to know each other’ period. He already knows my style.”

Pritts was a successful coach at ODU. As head assistant, Pritts brought in highly valued recruits. He built two top-10 recruiting classes and helped lead ODU to back-to-back second place finishes in the Colonial Athletic Association.

His ability to recruit well is something that he attributes to an early lesson taught to him by Smith.

“Recruiting is a funny game. We outwork people,” Pritts said. “I learned that from Brian, who learned to recruit out of the Ivy Leagues, which doesn’t give out scholarships. So you have to out work everyone and sell (recruits) a dream and a vision to be a part of a national championship team.

“I learned that you don’t have to sugarcoat or lie to these kids, like I’ve heard other coaches doing. You could just speak the truth to them, and I started to love recruiting.”

Last season with ODU, Pritts received an interesting perspective on MU wrestling when the two schools met for a dual in February in Columbia. Coming into the Hearnes Center, Pritts had done a lot of scouting and film study on MU, trying to prepare his team for the highly-ranked Tigers.

“I really learned a lot of the teams’ strengths and weaknesses in the film,” he said, “and I want to come in and try to fix some of those things we were looking to exploit at that meet.”

Pritts’ last two recruiting classes for MU are now seniors and juniors, with their chance to pick up where Ben Askren and the rest of the 2007 team left off.

“It’s a wild and rare situation that I’m coming back to,” Pritts said. “Tyler (McCormick) and Josh (Wagner) were both redshirts, so I never got a chance to coach them much in competition, and we can get Mike Chandler and few other guys over the hump and put them up on the podium.”

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