Chris Bono was introduced as the new head coach of the University of Wisconsin wrestling team last month, replacing Badger legend Barry Davis after his retirement.
Having been assistant coach at Iowa State and head coach with the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits, Bono brings an impressive resume to the Badger job. At SDSU, Bono transformed what was a small school program into a national contender at the top of the Big 12 conference.
When asked what he could bring to a program that has already had so much success under Davis’ regime, Bono responded emphatically.
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“Energy We’ve got to pump this place with energy. We’ve got to get everybody fired up about Wisconsin wrestling,” Bono said.
After 24 years under Davis’ regime, Bono is a young and driven head coach ready to prove Wisconsin belongs at the top of college wrestling’s best conference, the Big Ten.
Wisconsin wrestling already has several key young pieces from Davis’ regime, including the coach’s last All-American Evan Wick, who Bono had nothing but glowing things to say about.
“First off Evan [Wick] is a great person. I love being around the kid. He’s a great kid he’s got a great attitude and he’s fun to be around” said Bono, “Evan can be a national champion and we’re excited about that.”
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After ending the year advancing two rounds in the 165 pound championship in NCAA’s Wick may be the most promising wrestler on the Badgers today.
But while Wick will certainly be one of Bono’s more exceptional wrestlers, he has lofty expectations for the rest of the team as well.
“As far as everybody else I’m very happy that these kids are all really great kids. Their attitude is awesome. The effort they’re putting out in their postseason workouts is unbelievable. And I can’t wait to get my hands on them every single day during the preseason in August.”
Wisconsin will enter the new season after a successful year where the team finished sixth in the Big Ten and 17th in the nation.
But Bono knows he can’t just be content with the program’s existing talent and has been working on recruiting since the first day he took over.
“We recruit every day. Recruiting’s like breathing. If you stop recruiting you die, if you stop breathing you die. So we recruit every single day and there’s not a single day we’re not out reaching somebody, talking to kids, talking to coaches. So we’re on the trail,” Bono said.
Though SDSU had success under Bono’s tenure, it is a significantly smaller program than what Bono will face at Wisconsin.
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When asked how Bono would approach running a program at a school of this size and presteigem he seemed unfazed.
“I’ll tell you what I’m taking that small school mentality and small school work ethic and bringing it to a place that has all the resources and everything in line to win. So we’re just going to keep putting our heads down, rolling our sleeves up and outworking everybody in the country.”
Bono’s new assistant coaches will surely help him get to the ground running.
Jon Reader, a former national champion wrestler with Iowa State, and Matt McDonough, another national champion from Iowa, will round out the new coaching regime for Wisconsin wrestling.
“First I’ve been with Jon [Reader] for a long time. I coached him at Iowa State and I’ve coached with him [at SDSU] he’s like family.” Bono said.
As Bono said, he and Reader have a relationship dating back to their playing days where he coached him as an All-American in the 2009 season. Reader was also an assistant for Bono for three years while he was head coach at SDSU.
But Bono felt the need to go out of house for the last member of his staff in Iowa’s Matt McDonough, a two time national champion in the 125 pound division and a former member of the US national team.
“As far as Matt [McDonough], he came from a storied program like Iowa who can bring in different ideas, he can recruit the state of Iowa. And he’s one heck of a competitor as a two time national champion. ” Bono said.
The ability to maintain and expand his recruiting connections in the Midwest was a major factor for Bono in coming to UW.
Just last year Bono was offered a prestigious position as Head Coach for Pitt, but he turned it down because it is a different region for recruits. As a long time assistant for Iowa State and more recently the Head Coach for SDSU the majority of Bono’s connections would be in the Midwest.
Fortunately, Bono should have plenty of help in recruiting from both his new assistants and from retired coach Barry Davis, who plans to stay in the area and maintain involvement with the team.
While it will be impossible to replicate the legacy Davis left behind, the Badgers needed a committed replacement to pick the program up right back where it started. And with Bono at the helm, Wisconsin wrestling appears to be in good hands for the foreseeable future.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that Bono had been the assistant coach San Diego State University. This article has been updated to accurately reflect the fact that he had been the assistant coach at South Dakota State University. The Badger Herald regrets this error.