Robie Continues to Elevate Virginia Tech Wrestling

A look at the Head Hokie, how he's helped build Virginia Tech wrestling, and what's next for the program.

[Virginia Tech Athletics]

Tony Robie was built for it. That's according to a man that would know best — former Virginia Tech wrestling coach Kevin Dresser.

From the countless hours on the mat to his appreciation for the daily grind, Dresser acclaimed Robie had a passion for the sport of wrestling and the coaching industry. That dedication, Robie proudly said, came from his desire to be a Division I head coach someday.

So when Dresser left Virginia Tech after 11 seasons to become the wrestling coach at Iowa State, Robie got his chance. He was named the interim coach in February of 2017. By March of that same year, Hokies athletic director Whit Babcock stripped that label and promoted Robie to the full-time head coach of one of the ACC's premier programs.

"We are proud that Tony Robie will continue to lead our wrestling program at Virginia Tech," Babcock said in a statement at the time. "Tony has been loyal to Virginia Tech over the years and is respected by our student-athletes, as well as his peers in the wrestling community across the nation. He has done a very good job as our interim head coach, and we recognize the role he played over the past 11 years in building our program into a nationally elite one. We aspire to keep it that way and elevate it even further. Tony has proven his mettle as a leader, a recruiter and a teacher who represents all that we stand for at Virginia Tech. We looked at a number of candidates and Tony rose to the occasion. We have great confidence in him."

Thus far, it's a move that's paid off. Tech hasn't missed a beat since Robie's promotion and is currently ranked No. 9 in the latest National Wrestling Coaches Association Coaches Poll. The Hokies are one of four ACC teams ranked in the top 10 ahead of Sunday's conference championships at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.

"It was very clear that was Tony's career path," Dresser said. "He's done a phenomenal job, but it doesn't surprise me. I knew that he would be very good wherever he went. He was instrumental in helping us build that program."

At Edinboro University Robie wrestled under former Olympic gold medalist Bruce Baumgartner. He was a two-time captain, a three-time Eastern Wrestling League champion, a three-time Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference champion, two-time All-American, racked up a 126-23 record and was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2008. His coaching aspirations began in earnest towards the end of that world-class career.

"You're so focused on what your own personal goals are in your own athletic career at that particular point — I don't know how far into the future I was looking at that point," said Robie. "I felt like, definitely at some point during that [senior] season, I knew I could be a pretty good college wrestling coach and felt like I could lead guys well and was a good leader. At that point, I thought, 'Well, maybe this is something I could do for a living and make a career out of it.' That was the first time I really started to think seriously about it."

Prior to joining Dresser in Blacksburg, Robie spent seven years as an assistant at the Division I level as he coached 23 All-Americans and a national champion at Michigan. There he was well-respected for the one-on-one work he did with Ryan Bertin, which resulted in Bertin's 2003 NCAA championship — the Wolverines' first national title in 18 seasons.

After Michigan, Robie took over a program at Binghamton University in New York that has been discontinued after the 2003-04 school year because of budget constraints. He also had previous assistant coaching stops at West Virginia and his alma mater, Edinboro University.

His tenure with Dresser was a match made in heaven. Robie was named the associate head coach in 2006 and during his time as an assistant, the Hokies managed top-10 finishes in five different seasons and elevated to one of the top programs nationally.

"Tony was involved with everything we did on a daily basis," Dresser said. "We had a conversation every day for probably 11 years. He was my right-hand guy, my main guy. I can't say enough good things about him. He was really good in all phases of the job. We stay in touch. I think we have a great relationship. I text the heck out of him."

While the relationship between the two goes beyond the mat, the two also said they've benefited from each other on it. Dresser may have been the man in charge then, but they both said there were pieces of each other's coaching style that the other started to implement into their own. They're both now considered two of the best in the country.

"He's an incredibly hard worker and a smart guy," Dresser said. "I learned things from him and I'm sure he learned things from me. I have been blessed over the years to have good assistant coaches and Tony was awesome."

Even though they're separated by nearly 1,000 miles, their relationship remains strong. The two remain in touch often, bonded by what they accomplished together at Tech.

"Anytime you work that long with somebody, you're going to rub off on each other," Robie said. "I think we both rubbed off on each other and we collaborated on a lot of things. Kevin has been successful everywhere he's been in his career. I was definitely able to take some things he did and try to build on them and build on what he helped create here at Virginia Tech. As much as anything, one thing we both had in common was a really good work ethic. We committed to what we did. I think that was the cornerstone of what we built Virginia Tech wrestling on. It was just trying to carry that over into what we're doing and maybe personalize it a little bit more."

Naturally, when Robie was handed the keys he made Virginia Tech wrestling his own, but didn't stray too far away from the fruitful program he and Dresser built.

"There were some changes, but I wouldn't say there were significant changes," Robie said. "I was with Kevin for a long time. So a lot of the stuff we had implemented, we had done together. We were a pretty good team. I felt like the environment that we created was successful. There may have been some slight changes but overall, I think the philosophy of the program stayed the same. It was a good transition. I felt like I was ready to be a head coach. At a certain age, especially in our sport, you kind of outgrow being an assistant coach. It's harder to get on the mat, get in there and scrap, wrestle with the guys. For me, I was at that point where I was really looking for an opportunity to get a head-coaching job. They're hard to find in our sport. There aren't a lot of jobs and openings on an annual basis. Sometimes they may not be in places that work out for you personally. I was very fortunate that this one worked out perfectly for me."

It didn't take long for Robie to make a splash in his new role. Not only did the Hokies not miss a beat as one of the nation's best teams, last season freshman Mekhi Lewis became the first Tech wrestler to win a national championship.

Robie unsurprisingly called that one of the highlights of his coaching career. But with Lewis' wins came increased exposure on the Hokies' wrestling program and more pressure to find success as a team. That's something the second-year coach hasn't shied away from.

"It was an extremely special moment," Robie said of watching Lewis win the title. "As a freshman, to go into that environment and do what he did in the fashion that he did it was pretty impressive. He's a tremendous athlete, but I was really happy for him because I knew the type of work and commitment he had put in to accomplish that goal. I knew what kind of person he is and what kind of character he has and what kind of work ethic he has. To me, I was thrilled for him to accomplish that goal. To do it as a freshman and knowing where he's come from and how many people have influenced him — it was definitely a proud moment for me and for the Virginia Tech wrestling program. He's our first NCAA champion and hopefully the first of many."

In August, however, Tech announced that Lewis would not compete for the Hokies in the upcoming school year and instead redshirt in an effort to train for the Olympic trials in April.

It was a move Robie said he knew would immediately impact Tech's team success, but one that he felt was necessary because of the magnitude of what it would mean for Lewis' career. At the time of the move and still today, Robie said he has full faith in Lewis' chances of making it.

"I'm excited about the future of the program," Robie said. "I really do think our best years are in front of us. This year, we've struggled a bit here recently and that's been a challenge for us. We made some decisions before the season started in terms of redshirting some guys and we knew that would affect some outcomes. At the end of the day, that certainly has. If you look at what we have in the barn with some young guys that aren't in our current lineup, with Mekhi coming back and with some of our recruiting guys, I'm really excited about the future. We're going to have some great teams, great individuals, several national champions and a bunch of ACC titles. The ultimate goal is to win a national team title."

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Comments

Great write up Cody. Looks like we have the right guy for the job

I'm just here to sling some legs

Great Article.

Pain is Temporary, Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever, Let's Go Hokies!!

Thanks for the write up.

I love hoe Coach Robie has elevated our team and we are much more competitive at the national level

Hokies, Local Soccer, AFC Ajax, Ravens

Nice, well done!

Robie took over a program at Binghamton University in New York that has been discontinued after the 2003-04 school year because of budget constraints

I realize this is essentially copied from Robie's Hokie Sports bio but it's worth noting that Binghamton reinstated the wrestling program in 2005-06.

It's interesting to note that Pat Popolizio, current coach at NC State, coached at Binghamton from 2007-2012 before going to NC State. Also for anyone wondering, I hate Pat Popolizio.

Joffrey, Cersei, Ilyn Payne, the Hound, Jeff Jagodzinski, Paul Johnson, Pat Narduzzi.

Yeah i dont like Pop either

More on tv
There's gotta be
More on tv
There's gotta be
More on tv
Than just
Moron tv

Outstanding article. Thank you!

"We'll bring out the moonshine, start tellin' lies, and callin up the women..." Harry Hogge, Days of Thunder

Solid look into to head off the program. I like his goal of multiple national title winners and a team title. Wrestling has been looking like Tech's best chance at a team title for a couple of years now.

Whatever. It was one bad year.

Seasonal Brew means High ABV for football season and standard the rest of the year.

This has been discussed before, and while wrestling has been the most consistent high performing team, I don't think it is the best chance at a team title due to the championship format and top-heavy nature of the sport. Ultimately I'd say women's soccer, men's soccer, and women's lacrosse almost certainly have better chances.

Joffrey, Cersei, Ilyn Payne, the Hound, Jeff Jagodzinski, Paul Johnson, Pat Narduzzi.

How does ncaa team wrestling championship work?

'Its easy to grin, when your ship comes in, and you've got the stock market beat,
but the man worthwhile, is the man who can smile, when his shorts are too tight in the seat'

it looks something like this, right?

It's the team with the most points from the individual tournament.

Wrestlers advance in their weight class individually. Advancing scores points for your team and wins by major decision, tech fall, and fall are worth extra. The team with the most points wins. That's the gist of it. Few teams qualify a wrestler in all 10 weight classes. In order to score enough team points to finish in the top 4 and get a trophy a team needs roughly 6+ wrestlers to advance pretty far, either in the championship bracket or in the wrestle backs. The year Tech finished 4th they had 6 wrestlers finish All American (Top 8).

It's Time to go to Work

I think the program is in a good spot, even with this being a "down" year, since the ACC is actually pretty strong this season with 4 teams ending up in the top 10 dual meet poll. The things I look for Sunday is at least two champs and 5 finalists would be a solid showing, with maybe Moore or Prata being able to make a surprise title run. Hopefully the guys are focused and can avenge some of the close loses from the regular season to finish well. Dave really needs to step up his game since to win it he'll have to avenge two loses, but I think he's got a really good shot at it and hopefully that'll set him up for a great NCAA run where he's trying to become our first 4 time AA, which is a big deal and 165 is pretty loaded this year. Bolen will be tested by either NCST or Pitt, but hopefully he's ready for them as I think they are all really close in skill level honestly, but if he does win out he's probably going to be the NCAA 1 seed. I don't think we'll have enough overall to take home first, but I would love to at least make it a close race. Hopefully we can come away with at least 7, but hopefully 8 automatics for the NCAAs given the breakdown.

I think Bolen is much better than Hidlay. He is better than Bonaccorsi too but got worn out in the dual meet. It's huge that Bonaccorsi has to wrestle an extra match and then face Hidlay.

McFadden is definitely good enough to win 165 but he has to wrestle an extra match and got a bad draw.

The only other wrestler that I think has much of a chance at a title is Moore. He has struggled against other ranked opponents but his win against Tariq Wilson in the dual meet gives me hope he has taken a step forward.

Other wrestlers to keep an eye on are Prata and Andonian. Prata is capable of placing second if he returns to his December form or he could fail to get an automatic bid. Andonian is in a 2 bid weight class so he can't afford any freshman moments.

It's Time to go to Work

The things I look for Sunday is at least two champs and 5 finalists would be a solid showing

That would be a spectacular showing and there's almost no way it happens. Bolen is the favorite at 184 by virtue of the 1 seed but the finals match will be against a highly capable opponent. Andonian is the 2 and should be able to make the finals but is a heavy underdog to O'Connor. There's a solid argument for Moore and McFadden as potential finalists but they have to avenge losses and it's far from guaranteed. Outside of those 4, all of our wrestlers are 4/5 seeds and will see the 1 seed in the semis, where it would take a massive upset to advance to the finals. I guess Philippi is beatable at 133 but Gerardi advancing past Hayes is far from guaranteed. Otherwise I really struggle to see a path to the finals for our wrestlers.

Tl;dr prediction - Bolen, Andonian, and McFadden make the finals. Bolen is the only champ. Hokies take 4th in a really tight team race between 2nd-4th

Joffrey, Cersei, Ilyn Payne, the Hound, Jeff Jagodzinski, Paul Johnson, Pat Narduzzi.

Glad to see some Olympic Sports articles on the front page!

Can't wait for the tournament tomorrow

If you want level-headed opinions, don't go on a message board or sports forums

Watch ESPN showing tournament at 11 am for 8 of our guys while Bolen and Bryce skip to the semi's at 1pm. Acc network broadcasting the finals at 7pm.

“I'm addicted to placebos. I could quit, but it wouldn't matter”~steven wright

Kind of annoying more is not on ACCN instead of airing recorded content today. I would have thought at least the quarters and semis would be on ACCN.

Joey Prata wins in last second takedown over Pitt opponent. On to semi's for him.

“I'm addicted to placebos. I could quit, but it wouldn't matter”~steven wright

Damn Comcast

"Hey Bud, you wont have to hold the opponent to 17 points anymore."

same

Tough morning - only Prata, McFadden and Borst winning their matches.

“I'm addicted to placebos. I could quit, but it wouldn't matter”~steven wright

Yes, Andonian getting into the finals tonite and getting the automatic qualification into the ncaa's as a freshman. Love to watch the offense Bryce brings to the mat.

“I'm addicted to placebos. I could quit, but it wouldn't matter”~steven wright

3 seed McFadden defeats 2 seed Bullard to take on 4 seed Wentzel from Pitt. Better yet he doesn't have to face UNC's Kennedy in the final tonite. Way to go Big Dave!

“I'm addicted to placebos. I could quit, but it wouldn't matter”~steven wright

This was a let down. Oh wait, we are a volleyball school now!😂

"Hey Bud, you wont have to hold the opponent to 17 points anymore."

we are a [whatever team has dominated LOLUVa most recently] school now!

checks notes...I guess that makes us a softball school!

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

So any news on why Mitch transferred out. Hadn't heard it mentioned before and then saw the news today after not seeing him mentioned in the flow preseason rankings at 141. Thought maybe bad feelings with how Brent ended his career here.

I haven't seen enough public information to piece together exactly what happened. My guess is he wasn't thrilled with something going on in the room but most of all he wanted a change of scenery.

Joffrey, Cersei, Ilyn Payne, the Hound, Jeff Jagodzinski, Paul Johnson, Pat Narduzzi.

I was certainly careless and didn't pay enough attention to it 5+ years ago, but damn has the wrestling program taken flight. And not just the NC win, but the whole program seems to be humming. Happy for all involved.

@hokie_rd