Mike Zadick was done with wrestling. He had accomplished everything he wanted to, both as a competitor and a coach.
After a falling out with Iowa head coach Tom Brands, Zadick headed for the family’s cabin in the mountains of Montana, where he was perfectly content to live out his life hunting and fishing and enjoying the solitude of the woods.
Kevin Dresser had other ideas for Zadick.
Dresser, the head coach at Virginia Tech and former All-American for Iowa, reached out to Zadick and asked him to join his staff and be an assistant coach.
Zadick, figuring he had plenty to offer the sport, accepted the challenge and is in his second season with the Hokies, his first as a paid assistant.
Now back with a purpose in the sport that has been such a big part of his life, Zadick is helping the Hokies make a push for the first national championship in school history.
There is no place Zadick would rather be.
“Through the grapevine a friend of mine, who knew Kevin Dresser really well, told Dresser he should go after Mike Zadick to help coach. So he Facebook messaged me to see if I was interested,” Zadick said. “I was in a cabin in the Montana woods and helping with some real estate development for my family and helping a local high school team 45 minutes away. I had been in the woods for four years at that point. I told myself I had to be true to myself and check it out.
“I love doing what I’m doing. I love developing wrestlers. The last year has been a very satisfying year,” Zadick said. “Hands down, the number one thing that got me to Virginia Tech is they have some really, really good kids. Not just good wrestlers, but good kids. You just know when you meet somebody you get that warm, fuzzy connection. That is the reason we are successful as a program.”
Zadick was a three-time All-American at Iowa from 2000-2002, winning the 149-pound Big Ten championship in 2002. After graduating from Iowa, he went on to a distinguished international career, earning a spot on the 2010 World team. He won the 2009 U.S. Senior Nationals and won the 2007 World Team Trials. He competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. Zadick won numerous medals during an eight-year run.
During that time he spent 10 years as an assistant coach at Iowa, first under Jim Zalesky, then Brands.
Zadick was at the height of his coaching career. He helped Iowa win three straight national team titles from 2008-10.
Two years later, he had a falling out with Brands. Zadick declined to get into details of the separation, but his ties with Iowa were severed. He disappeared from the sport, finding solace in the woods of Montana.
“I felt like I got kicked by a horse in the gut. Did it leave a bad taste in my mouth? Yes. I wasn’t in a good place when I left Iowa. A lot of people don’t know the whole story and I am going to keep it that way,” Zadick said. “The next best thing in my life is family and hunting, so that’s what I did.”
It appeared to many that Zadick had disappeared from the face of the Earth. Close, but Zadick was having the time of his life in the woods, communing with nature. It gave him time to analyze things and get back in touch with his feelings.
“When I left Iowa, I left everything other than a couple duffle bags and some hunting gear. That’s it,” Zadick said. “I left a 15-acre farm, an old pickup truck, a tractor and some farm equipment, pots and pans and silverware all back in Iowa. You don’t need a whole lot to be out in nature.”
Zadick did a little guiding for a local outfitting business and spent time fixing up a family car lot for a company to move into. Zadick developed the site for a large grocery store in Montana.
Once that project was complete, Zadick packed his things and moved to Virginia to begin building the Hokies into a national championship contender.
Zadick’s duties include running morning lifts, meetings with staff, doing one-on-one workouts with wrestlers and running daily practices. That is one of the things Zadick loves most about Virginia Tech.
“Dresser handles a lot of the administrative things and he gave me the wrestling room. I run 90 percent of the workouts. He is comfortable stepping away and letting me inject as much as I can,” Zadick said. “Where I shine best if in interaction with wrestlers and skill development. I didn’t get that at Iowa. I ran more practices here in one week than I did in the 15 years total I was at Iowa.”
Making the Virginia Tech experience doubly enjoyable is having former Iowa national champion Derek St. John on board as a volunteer assistant coach. St. John is in his second season with the Hokies.
“That is a huge help,” Zadick said. “When I was first contacted about the job, I told them I wasn’t interested unless I could have Derek or Daniel Dennis come with me. I wanted someone with a similar vision, a like mindedness. I talked to Derek, who was coaching at North Dakota State at the time, and he was on board.”
Zadick has the Hokies wrestling like national championship contenders. The Hokies have six of their 10 wrestlers ranked in the top 20 at their respective weight classes and are ranked fifth nationally as a team.
But more importantly, Zadick has Virginia Tech believing it can win a national championship. That is 90 percent of the battle.
“We should contend for a national title. This program right now, the biggest thing is believing it. They do believe. Can we go into Penn State and say, ‘We’re going to kick their butt?’ I’m not sure that we’re at that level yet. We still have a to develop a little more mentally,” Zadick said. “These guys believe they can compete with the best. They are getting better with their work ethic. This program should be in the top two or three. It has been an eye-opener for these guys. They are being rewarded for their hard work. This program is headed in the right direction.”