Few Cowboys in OSU’s grand athletic history cast a longer shadow than Myron Roderick, who died Wednesday at the age of 77. Roderick was an elite wrestler, then a championship wrestling coach, then a landmark athletic director.
Roderick, who came to OSU in 1953 from Winfield, Kan., won three NCAA individual titles as a wrestler (he also lettered three years in tennis; you don’t see many wrestling/tennis combos anymore); coached the Cowboys to the NCAA team championship at the age of 23, his first of seven national team champions in 13 seasons; became the first executive director of the U.S. Wrestling Federation and was the Cowboy athletic director from 1983-90.
Among Roderick’s moves as AD: promoting Pat Jones from defensive coordinator to head coach after Jimmy Johnson went to Miami after spring practiced 1984. I don’t know how much of that was Roderick’s decision and how much was others’. Back in those days, ADs didn’t wield the hiring and firing power they do now in collegiate athletics.
But by 1990, the hiring process most definitely was Roderick’s call, and he pulled the trigger on the hiring of Eddie Sutton, which transformed Cowboy basketball and gave the beleaguered OSU athletic department a cash infusion for more than a decade, while football sputtered.
Sutton’s hiring looks like a no-brainer now. But in 1990, it was not so evident. Sutton had spent a year out of coaching after the massive recruiting scandal at Kentucky. And Sutton had acknowledged a drinking problem. Former Cowboys, led by Jack Hartman, himself a legendary coach, pushed for Sutton but had to convince Roderick that was the right move.
And that’s to Roderick’s credit. He was careful and he should have been careful.
OSU had tried to hire Sutton, who played for the Cowboys in the 1950s under Henry Iba, several times over the years “but we couldn’t afford him,” Roderick told me in 1993.
Then in 1990, when Leonard Hamilton resigned to go to Miami (just like Johnson), Sutton was a little bit of damaged goods. Except maybe for the little bit part. “We knew Eddie was an outstanding basketball coach,” Roderick said. “There were some things we needed to check out and make sure were OK. ”
The Cowboys did, Sutton was hired and OSU athletics were enhanced. Gallagher-Iba Arena became a basketball hotbed, OSU went to two Final Fours and Sutton today remains perhaps the most beloved figure in school history, despite his imperfect past.
Roderick deserves credit for carefully considering the situation, then making the call.
Back in 1999, the NCAA Wrestling Championships were staged at Penn State, which Roderick first visited as an OSU freshman. Our man Mac Bentley did an excellent story on Roderick that week. Here is that story:
A Lifetime of Leadership Former OSU Wrestling Coach Enjoys Post at Hall of Fame
By Mac Bentley
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – A return to Happy Valley brought back some sweet memories for Myron Roderick.
It was at Penn State University that he saw his first NCAA Tournament, when he was a freshman when freshmen were not allowed to compete, in 1953.
“There were only eight weights at that time, and coach said, ‘Hey, we’ve got an extra room so you’re the manager,’ ” recalled Roderick. “It’s the first national I ever saw.”
Oklahoma A&M finished fourth that year, but would win the NCAA title the next three years with Roderickin the lineup and winning individual titles at 137 pounds in 1954 and 130 pounds in 1955 and 1956.
The NCAA returned to Penn State in 1968, and it would mark the seventh and final national championship Oklahoma State won under Roderick, the coach.
“That was a hairy one,” said Roderick. “We were out of it and then came back in the consolations on the last day. And Dwayne Keller had to beat Rick Sanders, the returning national champion and outstanding wrestler, in the finals for us to win.”
Now, 31 years later, Rodericktook a break Wednesday from setting up his National Wrestling Hall of Fame exhibit on the concourse of the Bryce Jordan Center. He discussed a lifetime of championship performances and positions of leadership and responsibility.
To say Roderickwas a wrestler and a coach is to say that Will Rogers could tell a joke. There’s much more to him than that, as his career as college wrestler and coach spanned just 16 of his 64 years. He turned the Cowboy wrestling program over to Tommy Chesbro in 1970 when he was just 34.
“I enjoyed coaching, probably more than anything I ever did,” he said. “But you kind of look and say to yourself, ‘Do you want to just add on?’ At 34, I probably had some years left, but I think a lot of people stay on too long in coaching.”
Roderickwas lured away from the Cowboys by an offer to be executive director of the National Wrestling Federation, a wedge those in the NCAA league used to unseat the Amateur Athletic Union as the national governing body. He also served four years as the executive director of the International Racquetball Association, a sport in which he won three national singles age-group championship and 10 national doubles titles with a San Diego partner.
He quit playing racquetball when he became the Oklahoma State athletic director in 1983, a post he held until moving over to the Stillwater-based National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in 1990, where he is the executive director.
It was through his racquetball experiences that he formed Sports Unlimited, which builds racquetball and gym courts all over the country. Since becoming athletic director, he hasn’t been active in the company, which is run by a brother-in-law who married his twin sister Margaret.
Roderickhas the cauliflower ears that are the badge of his sport, and he looks like he still can take care of himself on the wrestling mat if you don’t ask him to make his college weight. He still has the sparkling eyes that make you think he sees a lot more than you do, and he speaks of “rasslin’” rather than wrestling.
Roderickis the son of a school teacher and coach. He had a Kansas upbringing, born in Anthony, raised in Zenda until he was a high school sophomore when his family moved to Winfield. Waiting there was a wrestling team.
“It was kind of a natural for me,” he said of his introduction to the sport. “I was small, but I was quick. The first match I had was 19-2, and I didn’t win; but I learned how to bridge early.”
Winfield’s schedule included Blackwell and Ponca City, so Oklahoma coach Port Robertson and Oklahoma A&M coach Art Griffith saw Roderickwrestle and each offered him a scholarship. He chose A&M.
“Art Griffith’s style was takedowns, quickness, and that fit my ability,” Rodericksaid.
He won 42 of 44 collegiate matches during his three seasons, then made the Olympic team and placed fourth at the 1956 Melbourne Games. Upon returning to Stillwater, he was called into the office of Henry Iba and was told, “‘You’ve got the (wrestling) job.’ I thought he meant as an assistant,” Rodericksaid. “He said no, Art Griffith was retiring and wanted to know if I wanted to be the coach.”
Roderick‘s teams posted a 140-10-7 dual record and his tenure included an 84-match streak without a loss.
Not all of Roderick‘s decisions have been prudent. As a Winfield high schooler, he won the pole vault event in the high school division of the Kansas Relays, then won a regional qualifier and a berth in the state tournament. He skipped it, though.
“The Swedish steel poles just came in. My brother was in the sporting goods business and got me one,” he recalls. “But I had the senior prom, and I was in love. So I skipped the state meet. My coach and my dad and my mom weren’t very happy about it. Love didn’t last too long, either. She finally caught on; she wasn’t used to those half-Nelsons and choke holds.”
The Hall of Fame has flourished under his leadership and decision-making. It’s debt-free and completing a $2 million renovation and expansion. One of his best decisions, he said, was putting together a strong board of directors.
“I was looking for people who had an interest in wrestling and who had resources,” he said. “That was probably the best move I made, because our board is really strong. When we decided to expand, they stepped up and pledged $700,000 to kick it off, and that’s pretty good for about 16 people.”
He’s also made the hall a first-class, all-inclusive and relevant institution. The annual banquet is a black-tie affair, and besides the wrestlers and coaches who are inducted into the hall, awards have been added for outstanding high school student-athletes, for persons who have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds resulting from a physical disability, and for some of the country’s most outstanding citizens who have been involved in wrestling at some point in their lives.
“They came to me to take the Hall of Fame and run with it,” he said. “In my retiring, receding years, that would be an interesting undertaking. And I’m glad I made the decision.
“It’s been exciting. With the new facility and when we get the Web site and all the media put together, it’ll be as nice as any place.”