How Ohio State University’s Tom Ryan Created A Record-Breaking Wrestling Program

An Interview With Chad Silverstein

In today’s high-stakes world of college sports, the elusive “it factor” often separates the good from the great. But what exactly is this “it”? I spoke with Head Coach Tom Ryan from The Ohio State University Wrestling Program. We covered a lot of ground and touched on leadership, discipline, and what it takes to be the best of the best. Tom’s authentic and genuine responses will give you a glimpse into how blessed student athletes are to have him in their life.

Tom Ryan Teaser: Glimpse into a Champion's Mindset

Check out this preview of the full video (click on the link in the comments to watch). In this interview, Tom talks…

It’s great to have you here today. You led your team to the first National Championship in the school’s history. Your bio is impressive and also long. Can anything even come close to that achievement?

That was definitely the pinnacle of my coaching career. It was an amazing weekend to lead Ohio State to its 1st ever-team championship in wrestling. Only 12 teams have done that in 120 national tournaments. Coming from New York, I knew Ohio was a sleeping giant in wrestling. It was a great weekend for many people. But there are also unnoticed victories along the way, moments that aren’t as loud but still cherished.

How do you balance creating a tight-knit community within your team while operating under the rules and expectations of a larger organization like Ohio State?

We’re one of 36 sports at Ohio State, and wrestling stands out in the state. It’s about having the right people and serving others. I don’t feel the pressure of the “mothership” because I focus on things I can control — recruiting the right people, hiring the right staff, and truly wanting to serve others. Football and basketball are king at Ohio State, but I haven’t felt constrained by that.

Can you give me a specific example of a time you had to fight for something significant for your wrestling program at OSU?

There are constant battles. Building our our new complex for the team was not easy. When I came to the program in 2006 we were starting to fall behind and out of the top 20 programs and it’s a big deal when guys come look at the school before deciding whether or not they want to go to school here. Facilities don’t win championships, but they certainly help attract the elite people who I want. And, I think elite-minded people, when they walk in a place, they can get a sense if they can see themselves there. So we had the challenge of building a new complex and raising $10,000,000 dollars. My boss, Gene Smith, is really special and is one of the best in the business. He wanted to put a plan together, give me a piece of land and also made it very clear that he wasn’t going to fund it- so I had to get to work fundraising which was a real challenge.

Tell me about your experience with a Built to Lead and hiring a leadership coach to hit you with what you need to work on.

It was a blessing that we met at that event and spoke afterward. When you told me about Built to Lead I had to check it out for myself. I’m really drawn to people who understand and have experienced real suffering. Before attending your company’s leadership practice, I remember coming to one of your workouts in the morning. I was impressed by the toughness of everyone there. After seeing how much authenticity you had built with your leadership team, I was blown away. I remember thinking that if a wrestling team could communicate like, there’s nothing that can stop us. That experience shook my world in a positive way. It’s influenced me as a father, husband, and coach. My leadership team still uses Build to Lead; it’s made things very digestible for us.

What specifically has to happen in the next 36 months for you to be happy with your progress in coaching and your team?

Laser Focus: The 3-year Question Reveals All.

Dan Sullivan's 3 year question uncovers visionaries and purpose-driven people in an instant. I asked OSU's Head…

I want to maintain deep relationships with my student-athletes and keep winning national championships. Additionally, I aim to see my grandchildren and children thrive, keep my marriage strong, and grow my program’s funding from $650,000 to $2 million a year. My faith is also crucial; it needs to continue to grow. I’m content with where I am, so it’s more about sustaining and building upon what I have, personally and professionally.

Tell me about the annual reset. Is it a struggle or a motivator?

It’s a motivator. Each year, we assess where we stand, especially against top competitors like Penn State. The gap between us and them has grown, so we constantly evaluate how to close it.

How does NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) affect recruiting?

NIL has added financial allure, making some recruits harder to land. But we focus on athletes who want to be at Ohio State for the right reasons.

What’s your take on having tough conversations with your team?

Tough talks build trust. I ask my team open-ended questions, like how they’d feel if I recruited someone who could beat them. It’s about team; over ego. Wrestlers have a tough exterior, but that doesn’t mean internal communication should suffer. Being direct is not a sign of weakness; it’s a strength. Teams can’t excel if they’re not authentic with each other. The key is finding some balance between grace and truth. I used to end my meetings with me talking and now I end them listening.

What’s the one thing your coach would say you need to work on?

That I need to be tougher with my team.

What’s one area you’re focusing on to get better?

I need to write more. I want to focus on getting more clarity by diving deeper into the events of each day.

How do you rate yourself in being tuned into your team, particularly when someone is having a rough day?

I rely heavily on my staff and technology, like filming practices, to gauge the room. My tendency is to focus on high performers, which can make me miss the signs when someone’s struggling.

What does it mean when someone has the “IT” factor and have you ever seen someone not have “it” and then find “it”

What the Elite High Performers Have That Most People Don't

Tom Ryan talks about what it is that the great ones posses and why it's so rare. Head Coach of the Ohio State Wrestling…

That’s a great question. I’ve been a head coach now for 30 years. I’ve never seen someone that that didn’t have the it factor and then at uncovered it at this level. You have to be a a psychotic competitor, like like borderline insane. The desire to attain what you want is so deep that there’s nothing you wouldn’t do to attain it. The ultimate competitor. Everywhere life, I’m just attracted to people like this. I’m in love with my garbage man. This guy’s amazing and he loves what he does. It doesn’t matter if there’s 10 inches of snow and it’s minus 20 degrees outside. He’s on the truck. This is the passion to be elite. To be the best.

Can you tell me about a recent situation where you felt like you messed up and had to repair with someone?

Sure, I have a student-athlete who was struggling and we had a difficult conversation. I’m close to his family. I later found out that this kid wasn’t doing any better and he was carrying it all on his own. They told me he felt differently than I thought. It was a blind spot for me and I had to reflect on how I missed it. I thought I was reading him right, but I was wrong. I made sure to tell him how much I love him and that was not my intention.

What advice you can give to some parents of athletes?

I think one of the biggest challenges for kids today is when they have overbearing parents. I believe parents have to let their kids struggle more because it’s important to figure out how to get through the tough things in life.

What about advice for kids?

Embrace the struggle because it’s good for you. Tension is good and stress can be a really good healthy stress if handled properly. It’s kind of like working out. You put your body into a type of stress, but then you let it go after your workout.

What are some of your daily disciplines?

I get up early. I like watching sunrises. I have a big window in my house and I also rush to get home to see the sunset. Life is precious, I think it’s beautiful and I have friends who are getting older and some are struggling, so I’ve learned not to take anything for granted.

Tom’s View Each Morning When The Sun Rises

I start every day off with a hot drink. It’s got lemon, honey, garlic, ginger, kale, and some cayenne pepper. It’s an incredible cleanser and helps make me feel great. I love working out and making sure I sweat every day. I’m blessed and my life is too easy so I have to bring some hard things into my life because when things are going great I can be really soft. Wrestling can consume me so I have to build things into my calendar to make sure I get done what I want. I’m deliberate about making time to talk to my kids.

Thank you for a great interview. I wish you and your team a ton of success this year. I appreciate our relationship and want you to know how much I value being connected to your program.

Watch the full interview:

About the Interviewer: Chad Silverstein is a successful entrepreneur with more than two decades of experience as a successful founder and CEO. He started his first company, Choice Recovery, Inc. a third-party collection agency, out of his apartment while going to The Ohio State University. He grew the business nationwide and represented more than 10,000 clients before he sold the company on his 25th anniversary. Chad’s second venture [re]start, a career development platform that helps people find new jobs, launched in 2013 as a division inside his agency. [re]start was a catalyst to Chad’s team becoming an industry outlier after connecting thousands of people sent to collections with new career opportunities so they could afford to pay their bills and get out of debt. His team was nationally recognized for their social impact, while twice being ranked the #1 business to work for in Central Ohio. Chad sold [re]start in 2023 and is now a writer and thought leader for Authority Magazine’s Entrepreneur and Sports Editorials. He also offers an exclusive executive leadership program inside his online community at Authentic Authority.