Entering his eighth year at the helm of the Arizona State University wrestling program, Thom Ortiz, much like his student-athletes, is looking forward to the 2008-09 season and the continued growth of the Sun Devil program. Following a 2007-08 academic year that saw a young and talented team compete hard on the mats and excel in the community, the program was one of three teams discontinued by the University only to be revived by supporters of the program a mere 10 days later. With the new lease on life, Ortiz has his wrestlers positioned to make headlines this year on the mat.
In his previous seven years leading the Sun Devils, Ortiz guided the Sun Devils to three Pac-10 Conference Championships, 20 individual Pac-10 titles, 12 All-America honors and one individual NCAA champion. With his youthful squad from last year battle-tested as redshirt freshmen, Ortiz' Sun Devils will look to add to the those numbers and put the maroon and gold back in the upper echelon of the Pac-10 and NCAA standings.
As a head coach, Ortiz carries a career record of 74-52-1 overall with a 41-8-0 mark against the Pac-10. On January 15, 2006, the Sun Devils won the 50th dual of Ortiz' young career as they upset No. 9 Missouri (for the second time in two days) on criteria, 21-21, to finish seventh at the NWCA National Duals. Also during his tenure, Ortiz has guided the team to the 400th and 450th victories in program history.
Overall, individuals have also flourished under the tutelage of Ortiz as 12 different grapplers have collected 20 Pac-10 titles while eight individuals earned 12 All-America honors. Ortiz also has guided two wrestlers to the finals of the NCAA Championships with Eric Larkin winning the 2003 crown at 149 while Larkin (2002 at 141) and Brian Stith (2006 at 157) each finished second overall.
Last year, five of his wrestlers advanced to the finals of the Pac-10 Championships, including three redshirt freshmen, with two Sun Devils claiming titles. Senior Patrick Pitsch captured his third title at 165, becoming the first in Pac-10 history to win that weight class three times in a career, while rookie Brent Chriswell won the title at 184. At the same meet, rookies Anthony Robles (125) and Chris Drouin (141) and senior Jason Trulson (197) also advanced to the finals and finished second to lead the team to a fourth-place finish at the conference meet, only three points out of second place. Nationally, Robles, Drouin, Pitsch and Trulson each advanced to the Round of 12 at the NCAA Championships, falling one victory shy of earning All-America honors. With the 15.5 points the team earned, the Sun Devils finished tied for 28th in the national standings.
Amateur wrestling was not the only success Ortiz' athletes experienced during the year as a trio of his former All-Americans made a name for themselves in the realm of mixed martial arts (MMA). C.B. Dollaway (184) and Cain Velasquez (HWT), both All-Americans in 2006, won fights in the UFC with Dollaway taking second in The Ultimate Fighter series, the same show Ryan Bader (197) will appear on this year. All three, with exceptional wrestling backgrounds honed under Ortiz' tutelage, have pushed all three into the limelight with many naming each of the three as the `next biggest thing' in the UFC.
In 2006-07, Ortiz once again had multiple Pac-10 champions as Stith (157), Pitsch (165) and Greg Gifford (184), a transfer from Fresno State, each won crowns. It was the second year in a row the Sun Devils won at least three crowns and sixth year in a row under Ortiz that multiple titles were won. The team finished with an 8-11 record (5-2 Pac-10), taking fifth in the Pac-10 and tying for 34th in the NCAA.
During his fifth year, Ortiz worked with several successful Sun Devils and saw his student-athletes claim three individual crowns at the conference tournament before earning four All-America honors at the national tournament. The year ended with Stith finishing second overall at 157 pounds to earn his second All-America accolade while Dollaway (fifth at 184), Bader (seventh at 197) and Velasquez (fourth at 285) added their names to the growing list of Top 8 finishers at the national event.
The 2006 Pac-10 Coach of the Year, Ortiz guided ASU to back-to-back conference crowns (2005 & 2006) and the team's third in the last four years with the title earned in 2006 tying Oregon State for the most in Pac-10 wrestling history (16). Prior to his team's conference and national success, ASU turned in a 14-7-0 record and went 8-0-0 against the Pac-10 for the second year in a row.
During the 2004-05 season, Ortiz guided a strong group of young grapplers to the 15th Pac-10 Conference championship in school history before his Sun Devils placed 13th at the NCAA Championships. Ortiz also captured his second Pac-10 Coach of the Year honor after guiding his squad to the team title. Four of his 10 starters reached the finals of the Pac-10 Championships with Stith (157) and Velasquez (HWT) each winning titles. Stith, who knocked off defending conference and national champion Matt Gentry of Stanford in the final, was selected as the Outstanding Wrestler of the Championships before joining 2005 Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year Velasquez as All-Americans at the NCAA Championships. Despite an 11-6-1 overall dual record, Ortiz' Sun Devils ran the table in the Pac-10, going 8-0 before taking the team title at Cal Poly.
The 2003-04 season saw the squad go 11-8-0 in duals and finish fifth at the conference meet prior to a 26th-place finish at the national championships. Ortiz helped guide Bader to his second Pac-10 title in as many years before the Top 5-ranked wrestler captured All-America honors at 197 pounds. The honor for Bader was the 100th earned in school history.
In 2002-03, the Sun Devils built a 12-9-0 record and won the 400th dual in the history of the program. From there, ASU went on to put seven of its wrestlers in the Pac-10 Championships finals with six bringing home gold to vault ASU to their 16th conference tournament title (14 in the Pac-10 and two in the WAC). For his efforts, the coaches of the Pac-10 named Ortiz as the Coach of the Year, his first head coaching honor.
Two weeks later, Ortiz helped Larkin to a national title at 149 pounds, the first individual title on the mats for the maroon and gold since Markus Mollica in 1995. He also saw two other seniors, Curtis Owen (fourth) and Kellan Fluckiger (fifth) earn their first All-America honors as the team took fifth place at the NCAA meet.
As a competitor, Ortiz helped ASU win four straight Pac-10 titles and its only NCAA Championship crown in 1988, a season followed by two straight national runner-up finishes in 1989 and 1990. Now in his first collegiate head coaching position, Ortiz continues to guide the program back to its glory days of the late 1980s.
"My motto for ASU is `back to the future,'" Ortiz said upon being hired to take the reigns of the Sun Devil program. "I want to get this program back to wrestling like we did during the dominant years of 1988, 1989 and 1990. We have the wrestlers here to accomplish that, but we have a way to go. It's going to take a lot of hard work, patience and support."
Ortiz returned to the Sun Devil program after serving nine years as the head assistant coach at Iowa State under his former Sun Devil coach, Bobby Douglas. In 1992, he followed Douglas from Tempe to Ames, Iowa, for an assistant coaching position.
With the Cyclones, Ortiz helped mentor three national champions and numerous All-Americans. In 1997, he was responsible for recruiting the top-ranked class in the nation, while bringing in the second-ranked class in the nation in 1996. Ortiz was also the runner-up for the 2000 National Wrestling Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year.
Also to his credit during his coaching tenure at Iowa State, Ortiz recruited, coached and mentored Cael Sanderson, perhaps the best collegiate wrestler of all-time. Sanderson, who took over the coaching duties from Douglas upon his retirement in 2006, completed his collegiate career with an unblemished record of 159-0, four national championships and eventually an Olympic Gold Medal in 2004.
Ortiz has been in the coaching ranks ever since graduating from ASU in 1990. He served as a graduate assistant under Douglas in 1991, before taking over as the Sun Devils' interim head coach while Douglas was coaching the U.S. Olympic wrestling team in 1992.
A native of Tucson, Ariz., Ortiz wrestled at ASU from 1985-90, using his redshirt season in 1985-86. He compiled an overall record of 118-34-2 and ranks eighth on ASU's all-time wins list. His 57 career dual wins rank fifth at ASU and his 19 individual points scored at the 1990 NCAA meet are the third best point total for an ASU wrestler.
As a freshman in 1987, Ortiz won his first Pac-10 title at 150 pounds and qualified for the NCAA Championships. As a sophomore in 1988, Ortiz moved down a weight class to 142 pounds and won his second straight Pac-10 crown. He went on to place fourth at the NCAA Tournament, earning his first career All-America honors to help ASU to it's only national team title.
As an upperclassman, Ortiz continued to be a vital component of the Sun Devil starting lineup. During his junior campaign in 1989, Ortiz was back wrestling at 150 pounds and earned runner-up honors at the Pac-10 Championships. He earned his second-straight All-America honors at the NCAA Championships, placing sixth and helping ASU to a second-place national team finish. He compiled an impressive 19-3-0 dual record, tied for 11th on ASU's single season dual wins list.
As a senior in 1990, Ortiz racked up an undefeated dual record of 18-0-0, tying for 12th on ASU's single season dual wins list. Wrestling at 142 pounds, Ortiz won his third Pac-10 title before becoming a three-time All-American with a runner-up finish at the NCAA Championships and, for the second straight season, he helped ASU to a runner-up NCAA finish.
Ortiz comes from a family rich with ASU wrestling tradition as his older brothers, Eddie and Richard, also wrestled for the Sun Devil program. Eddie compiled an overall record of 33-9-2 and was an All-American during the 1979-80 season while Richard was 2-1-0 during the 1981-82 season. For good measure, Thom's father, Richard, Sr., wrestled at Tucson High School in the early 1950's.
Success came early to Ortiz at Sunnyside High School in Tucson, where he was a two-time Arizona state champion, a first-team High School All-American and the Arizona High School Wrestler of the Year in 1985.
Ortiz has competed on the national and international level as a member of the Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club, for whom he now coaches. He also was a four-time USA Wrestling All-American and placed fourth in the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Ortiz received his bachelor's degree in finance from ASU in 1990 and earned his master's degree in industrial relations from Iowa State in 1998. Ortiz has a daughter, Olivia.