Brandon Hall didnt want to come back to coaching wrestling unless it was real.
Some of the other jobs that came open, no disrespect to them, but I felt like Id have to manufacture the passion to get things going there, he said. But I thought Liberty, the passion would have come back really quickly, if that had ever come available to me.
And now it has.
With the approval of the Bethlehem Area School Board on Monday, Hall becomes the fifth head coach in Hurricanes history, succeeding Jody Karam and his 26 eventful years.
Its a remarkable turnaround for Hall, who at this time last year was dealing with his ouster as Freedoms head coach, where he had been since 2010.
Yes, the same school district where he was just hired. And, yes, Libertys archrival. Like going from the Yankees to the Red Sox, Penn State to Pitt, Easton to Phillipsburg.
As one former Freedom wrestler tweeted at the news, I never thought Id be rooting for Liberty wrestling.
But a deeper look shows the move makes sense.
First, and foremost, almost everybody in the regional wrestling community respected the job Hall did at Freedom, and almost everybody was surprised (to say the least) when he was let go. That included plenty of people at Liberty, who, when Karam resigned in July, knew who they wanted to step in. While Liberty and Freedom are in the same district, they are not run, at most levels, by the same people. So Freedom not wanting Hall made no difference if Liberty did. And it did.
Second, Hall loves Bethlehem, in the way that sometimes only a transplant can. Hes not a native -- Hall, now 43, originally hails from tiny Tussey Mountain High School in south-central Pennsylvania, in perhaps the most obscure PIAA district (5). But while you could drop Tussey Mountains graduating class into Libertys student body and hardly anyone would notice, Hall sees a similar mindset in the Christmas City.
My wife Tara and I moved here in 2000 and we live in Bethlehem, Hall said. It feels like a small-town environment, which is so important to me, My children go to Nitschmann Middle School and James Buchanan Elementary. I have always been impressed by the sense of community at Liberty, its a beautiful thing to see how many people care about the school in all its aspects.
Hall, who teaches social studies at South Mountain Middle School in the Allentown School District, and his passion for his adopted hometown and his sport came together nicely.
I was on vacation in Maine (when Karam resigned), way up in Maine, and we barely had cellphone service, and people were calling and asking me if I wanted the job, Hall said. I really thought about it and I never thought the opportunity would come up, but now it has, and its an amazing thing to me, being head coach of the oldest program in the state (1923).
Third, Hall loves wrestling in a way that a coach at a program like Liberty must love the sport. When you coach at one of the Lehigh Valleys top wrestling schools, you become identified with both the school and, even more so, the sport in an almost all-consuming way. Thats not for everybody -- as some folks who have taken those jobs have learned to their sorrow -- but it fits Hall perfectly.
My wife told me, Youll never be completely happy if youre not involved in wrestling; remember you went back to school to get your teaching certificate because of coaching, Hall said. She reminded me of that -- to not lose sight of your ultimate goal.
Hall did hesitate a bit about applying at Liberty.
Would they hire me?, Hall said he thought. We know what happened across town, the same school district. But (longtime referee and youth coach) Mike Evans, who I am really good friends with, reached out to me and said, I think you are so wrong. I think you are misreading this.
That excellent advice landed Hall at Liberty, where he can apply his long experience in wrestling -- he was part of three MAC championship teams at Lycoming under the legendary Roger Crebs, as good a coaching model as can be found -- to maintain the levels of excellence Karam reached, especially in recent seasons.
Theres every reason to believe Hall will do so.
Karam inspired loyalty and commitment to Liberty wrestling, and Hall did the same at Freedom. Both coaches, while wildly different personalities and with a very different sense of style (Hall isnt quite Karam-like in sartorial splendor), believe in their wrestlers and their staff in ways that last far beyond the mat and create lifetime bonds.Thats where the passion comes in.
Halls Liberty will be a mix of Freedom types and Liberty loyalists on staff, with Kyle DeHaut and Evans as ex-Pates and Mikey Pena, Richie Cabrera and more as Hurricanes holdovers.
Its not just about bringing in my people, Hall said. What makes Liberty great is all the people that want to help me.
Hall helps himself by his approach to the sport. Like Karam, he knows not everybody wrestles year-round, and thats OK. He has a real flair for working with upper weights -- an increasing rarity these days and often an untapped road to victories. He can convince athletes to wrestle, as he did so well at Freedom. At the same time, he knows the junior high and youth programs are critical.
Its all helped by where Hall is.
Theres a lot of history and tradition here, Hall said. Its our goal to make it even better.
Halls task will be to keep Liberty at the top of the region and advance the Hurricanes to levels not seen under Karam -- a berth in the state team duals, for example. Hall has a clear idea of what he wants on the mat.
Grit and no quit," he said. Thats what I want to see. I want the same blue-collar mentality this town as built on. I dont want my kids to back down no matter who steps on the mat. The other kid has better technique? Get in their face and break them, dont ever stop.
If Liberty wrestles like that every night, with that kind of passion, Bethlehem will love Hall as much as he loves it.
Brad Wilson may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.
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