Local business owner Thom Baker seeks to leave Columbia a gift when he retires. Tucked away in his equipment-lain home office, Thom Baker of...
How has the sport of wrestling changed since you were an athlete? Both good and bad, young wrestlers — like a lot of athletes today — commit to one sport early. This definitely makes for more technically advanced younger wrestlers coming up, but I also feel more injuries occur because of overuse of the body. Nutrition and weight cutting has drastically changed for the better in our sport. Our wrestlers at Mizzou are probably some of the healthiest people on campus when it comes to nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle. Having a full-time nutritionist, trainers, strength coaches and the coaching staff all on the same page getting the most out of an athlete’s performance, this didn’t really exist when I competed.
You’re a three-time MAC Coach of the Year. What does it mean to be a top coach? It means I was smart enough to surround myself with a lot of knowledgeable people all committed to Tiger Style. You are only as good as the staff and athletes you surround yourself with, and I am very fortunate to have great people to work with.
What’s in store this coming season for your team following a fourth-place finish at the NCAA National Tournament? I don’t believe in using the verbiage, “We are young” or “We are in a tough league” or “in a rebuilding phase.” Each year the makeup of my team is different from the last, but the philosophy and work ethic don’t change. If I am doing my job, and everyone else is taking care of their business, we should compete for championships every year.
What is it like to coach a nationally ranked wrestling team in a city like Columbia? It’s a great place to live but a very frustrating place for a fan base. We’ve had five top 10 finishes in the past eight years, we’ve won four straight conference titles and the only NCAA team trophies in any sport (two) since the 1960s, and yet we don’t have the fan base like other wrestling programs at our level. The crowds have definitely improved over the years, but my goal is to see the Hearnes Center filled to watch us compete someday. Hopefully it’s on Dec. 12, when we take on the defending NCAA champs, Ohio State, in the Hearnes.
What is the biggest challenge student-athletes face today? They have it pretty darn good today with the support they get, such as: tutors, mentors, full-time coaching staffs, nutritionists, trainers, academic advisers, strength coaches, along with sports psychologists and life skills people. They have so much that I feel they don’t deal with adversity as well as kids in the past because everything is easy for them. Probably the other challenge they deal with today is they are constantly in the public eye with social media.
How do you inspire your athletes? I tell a lot of stories that relate to how we are trying to get them to live, act and compete in everything. It’s easy to inspire someone if they believe in your purpose, so my job is to sell that purpose and get them to live right to achieve it.