HEISER: Sanderson is best coach Penn State has to offer
- Cael Sanderson's wrestling program at Penn State has won six national titles in the last seven years.
- Sanderson's 2017 team included five individual national champions.
- Sanderson's 2017 team also sewed up this year's national title before the finals even began.
Dollar for dollar, win for win and title for title, Cael Sanderson is Penn State's most successful head coach.
He's not the most highly paid. (See James Franklin).
He's not the most high-profile. (Again, see James Franklin).
He's not the longest-tenured. (See Russ Rose).
He is, however, the most accomplished.
When he arrived at Penn State in 2009, the Nittany Lions' wrestling program was a sleeping giant. Despite sitting right in the middle of the best high school wrestling state in the nation, PSU had not won an NCAA Division I title since 1953.
Under Sanderson, that changed — in a hurry. The Lions ended that championship drought in 2011, and after last weekend's dominating performance in St. Louis, PSU has now won six of the last seven NCAA wrestling crowns.
In Missouri, the Lions left no doubt about their status as the best wrestling program in the nation. They clinched the team title before the finals even started and ended up claiming five of the 10 individual weight-class championships.
That, my friends, is total dominance.
Hot ticket: The giant is definitely no longer sleeping, and this wrestling-mad state has definitely noticed.
Sanderson's Lions hold the majority of their dual matches inside the friendly confines of ancient Rec Hall. The venerable gym holds just north of 6,500 folks when packed, and under Sanderson, it's always packed for PSU's home meets. In many ways, it's become the Mecca of wrestling in Pennsylvania.
Sanderson's Lions have sold out 35 straight Rec Hall matches, which have quickly become Happy Valley's hottest tickets.
Overall, Penn State has sold out 38 of its last 40 home events, including three of five in the cavernous 16,000-seat Bryce Jordan Center.
That kind of fan passion is something that Patrick Chambers' struggling men's basketball team wishes it could match.
Other PSU coaches: Calling Sanderson the top head coach at Penn State wasn't done rashly.
There are a number of PSU head coaches who rate among the best in the nation at what they do.
Franklin, of course, took the Nittany Lions football team on an unexpected and emotional ride to the Big Ten championship this past season, but his overall PSU record hardly compares to Sanderson's.
Really, the only PSU coach who can come close to measuring up to Sanderson is Rose, who has led the Lady Lions' powerhouse volleyball program for nearly four decades while winning a record seven national championships.
Rose, right now, has more national crowns than Sanderson, but if Sanderson remains in Happy Valley for a few more years, there seems little doubt he will add to his championship total.
The future: Nittany Nation, meanwhile, can only hope that Sanderson doesn't go anywhere anytime soon.
There's been no indication that Sanderson has any plans to leave, but there also can be little doubt that he has suitors. Coaches who win national crowns as regularly as Sanderson always have suitors.
It's hard to imagine, however, that PSU athletic director Sandy Barbour will let Sanderson get away.
Sanderson signed a contract extension in 2012 after the second of his national titles.That deal kept him in Happy Valley through the 2017 season.
Guess what year it is? That's right, 2017.
Bang for the buck: His base salary in that deal was announced at $175,000, but he surely boosted that significantly over the years with incentives and bonuses. He is likely the highest-paid wrestling coach in the nation, or at least among the highest paid.
Still, there's little room to debate that Penn State got a real bargain with Sanderson's last contract, especially when you consider Franklin is making more than $4 million to lead the football team, and Chambers reportedly gets about $1 million to lead the underachieving basketball team.
Sanderson's price will almost certainly go up significantly with his next contract — and rightfully so.
Penn State, however, simply can't afford to let its most successful coach get away.
Because Sanderson gives the school's athletic program its best bang for the buck.
Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.