The epiphany came to Matt Ryan this past Dec. 1.
It happened as Ryan, in his 21st year as the Kenyon-Wanamingo wrestling team’s head coach, was in the middle of devoting 12 hours of his Saturday to his team’s participation in a tournament in northern Twin Cities suburb Chisago Lakes.
Ryan’s son, Tyler, was with him, a senior wrestler on the team who next season will compete at St. Cloud State. His 10th-grade and seventh-grade daughters were elsewhere, competing separately in athletic competitions of their own.
It was during a break in that Saturday tournament that Ryan — one of most successful wrestling coaches in the state — came up with a big decision: This would be his final season directing the K-W program.
As hugely devoted as the 44-year-old has been to K-W wrestling, he’s even more devoted to his family, which includes his wife, Molly.
“I was thinking about Tyler, wrestling next year at St. Cloud,” Ryan said. “And I was thinking about my other two kids and how I was missing their stuff that day. I just said to myself, ‘Do I really want to be doing this again next year, with all three of them somewhere else as I coached?’”
It was a fairly easy question for Ryan to answer.
Also the principal at Kenyon-Wanamingo High School, Ryan made it official on Sunday, telling his K-W wrestlers at their annual banquet that he was retiring as coach.
Ryan is moving on from a program that he turned from one of the most struggling in the state, to one of its best. Those struggles included his first five years as the Knights coach, when K-W went 8-9, then 1-15, then 3-16, then 4-14, then 6-12.
“Those first five years were really, really challenging,” said Ryan, who was a star wrestler at Zumbrota-Mazeppa and then St. John’s University in Collegeville, where he was a Division III All-American. “I questioned myself about why I was even doing this.”
Those questions were emphatically answered beginning in Year 10 in the program and forever after. That’s when his Knights qualified for state for the first time. That also marked the beginning of a 12-year run of K-W reaching the section finals every season.
That includes this past season, when K-W not only reached the state tournament, but made it all the way to championship dual, ultimately losing 35-27 to No. 1-ranked Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville.
And there was even more to celebrate after that. Two days later, Ryan’s 160-pound son Tyler finished as a state individual champion, as did teammates Seth Brossard (152 pounds) and Jeron Matson (120).
“It was a fantastic way to end, getting all the way to the finals,” said Matt Ryan, whose team reached the state title dual three times in his tenure, including winning it all in 2016. “I think I enjoyed this season all the more knowing that this would be it for me. But to coach my last dual in the state finals, and then have three individuals win state titles, and my son to be the last one, that was an awesome way to go out.”
Ryan finished with a 363-172-2 record as K-W coach. That included him going a spectacular 284-78 the last 12 years.
K-W has yet to name a new head wrestling coach. But Ryan likes the position the program is in.
“I think it is a great program to get involved in,” he said. “The wrestling community here is great and we have great boosters. Also, we’re getting a new wrestling room that will be ready for next season and a new weight room.”
K-W is in fine shape. Ryan left it that way.