Keith Gavin is coming back “home.”
The former Lackawanna Trail standout wrestler, who was an assistant coach at the University of Oklahoma for the 2016-17 season, was named the new head wrestling coach at the University of Pittsburgh, his alma mater, Friday morning.
“It’s exciting,” Gavin said. “I’m pretty fortunate to be a head coach at a fairly young age, and to do so at the place I always wanted to end up. Career-wise, my long-term goal was always to be head coach at Pittsburgh. It just happened a lot quicker than I thought it would, and I feel very fortunate for that.”
The native of Factoryville replaces Jason Peters, who was fired in January following an incident that occurred while the team was competing at the Midlands Championships in Evanston, Illinois, on Dec. 29-30.
Assistants Matt Kocher and Drew Headlee served as co-head coaches for the remainder of the season.
“We are thrilled to announce Keith Gavin as the new head coach of the University of Pittsburgh wrestling program,” Pittsburgh Director of Athletics Heather Lyke said Friday in a release. “He has an exceptional wrestling pedigree and is one of the top dynamic coaches in the wrestling profession. His passion and commitment to Pitt wrestling will enable our program to build on its rich tradition on and off the mat. We look forward to Coach Gavin leading our program to the ACC Championships as well as continued success on the national stage.”
A 2008 graduate of Pittsburgh, Gavin was a two-time All-American with the Panthers and had a career record of 120-37.
He was an NCAA runner-up at 174 pounds in 2007 and won the national championship at 174 in 2008, the first time a Panthers wrestler had done so since 1989.
Gavin is also a two-time EWL champion, a two-time EWL Wrestler of the Year, a member of the EWL Hall of Fame and his 120 career wins rank eighth in program history
That experience will certainly go a long way when it comes to motivating the Panthers for what they can achieve.
“I think it’s helpful,” Gavin said. “I’m confident in telling them that they can be national champions at Pitt because I was one, so I know for a fact that it can be done. You might wonder if it’s possible at some other places, so I think it will help in that way. A lot of the people that were here when I was in school still are in the athletic department, so it’s nice to have some familiar faces while making the transition.”
After graduating, Gavin remained at Pitt for one season as an assistant coach. He also spent two seasons (2014 and 2015) as an assistant at the University of Virginia.
This season at Oklahoma, Gavin was an assistant under first-year coach Lou Rosselli, who he trained under while wrestling for the United States National and World Teams.
“Everything I’ve done has really prepared me to lead a program,” Gavin said. “With international wrestling, you really learn a lot about yourself and what it takes to be elite. I think carrying that knowledge with me and what it takes to perform and train there — implementing all of that will be key. As a coach, I’ve had some great mentors in my life and worked under some of the best in the coaching business. I was able to learn something from each of them and will definitely draw from that.”
As a member of the U.S. National Team for seven years, Gavin won titles at the U.S. National Championships in 2013 and 2014.
He also was runner-up at the Pan American Games in 2011 and placed third at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Now, Gavin will use all of what he learned both on and off the mat in teaching the Panthers later in the year.
“I feel pretty strongly about my coaching philosophy, and that’s to focus on the things we can control,” Gavin said. “You can’t always control the result, but you can control your effort and give the best possible effort that you can. If we lose from a technical error or something, it’s much easier to fix that. It’s important to place the value on the things you can control and that will be the important thing for me that I’ll be stressing. The second thing will be in enjoying the process. Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up and we forget that this is enjoyable and you’re doing something that you love and will be over before you know it. Wrestling really is a fun sport and something that you can continue to learn while enjoying doing so.”
That learning will come from an array of sources that will include the experience from Gavin, as well as the experience he’ll bring in with the rest of the coaching staff.
“I think I have a good handle on technique, so that can help, but the main thing is my philosophy and mentality that I’ll bring to the guys,” Gavin said. “My hope is that the way I coach frees them up to just go out and compete. Sometimes, guys might wrestle tight and wrestle not to lose. I want them to go out to the mat and scrap and let it all on the line. I hope that’s the most important piece. I was a tactician when I wrestled, but everyone is different and will be able to find their own techniques through the keys that we focus on.”
As far as the recruiting goes, Gavin noted that he’s already prepared for the challenge from his assistant coaching duties and that he’s excited for the opportunities that reside throughout Pennsylvania.
“Pittsburgh is definitely a hot bed for high school wresting, and there’s a lot of good recruits in Pennsylvania in general,” he said. “There’s a lot of depth and talent, so it’s nice to be back in Western PA.”
There was certainly signs of that talent last season, which saw the Panthers finish 11-5 overall while falling in the top 25 of the USA Today/NWCA Coaches poll the entire season.
Pittsburgh managed a 2-3 mark against ACC opponents, though posted a third-place finish at the ACC championship, highlighted by three individual champions, which was the most since the 2014-2015 season.
“Our main focus will just be continuing to improve,” Gavin said. “Wrestling is a team sport, but it’s a big individual sport as well. Each guy has different areas to improve, so it will be very important for the staff to pick those things out and make sure they’re improving. Some guys might be great at something, while others might struggle with it, which is what makes wrestling tricky to coach, but also fun. It’s like solving a puzzle, with each guy working to improve their strengths and weaknesses.”
Times-Shamrock sports writer Scott Walsh also contributed to this story.