ENCINITAS — Retired teacher Ed Wiley had never seen wrestlers face off in a match when he started San Dieguito Union High School’s wrestling team more than five decades ago.
His lack of experience didn’t stop him from becoming one of San Diego’s most celebrated coaches. Wiley chalks up his long career to a coaching philosophy that placed equal weight in both academics and athletics.
“I’ve always said the success you have as a coach isn’t the coach, but it’s the kids you have,” Wiley said. “If you have good kids going to class, you’re going to have a good team.
“Not everyone will be an A student, but they can at least try,” Wiley added.
Known as the father of Encinitas wrestling, Wiley was named county coach of the year twice and inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in the mid-‘90s. Most recently, he was presented with a proclamation from the Encinitas City Council July 10 as recognition of his influence on so many young minds.
Some of Wiley’s former wrestlers came to the meeting to support their coach. Among them was Tom Pellegrino, who wrestled at San Dieguito for four years in the 1980s and is the current superintendent of the Alpine Union School District.
Pellegrino said Wiley was “transformational” to his life.
“He taught us to respect ourselves and others,” Pellegrino said. “ He said to respect ourselves, we should always try hard in school.”
As another example of respect, Pellegrino said Wiley taught him, win or lose, to always shake the opposing coach’s hand at the end of a match.
Pellegrino added that San Dieguito had a host of great coaches during his time. And Wiley was the epicenter of them.
“Who I am as a father, teacher and educator can be attributed to coach Wiley and other instructors,” Pellegrino said.
Wiley grew up a ways away from Encinitas — in Silver City, N.M. Not long after high school, Wiley was drafted into the military. He climbed the ranks and eventually served as an Army Ranger officer.
“I learned about toughness there,” Wiley said.
After leaving the service, he opted to go to UC Santa Barbara, where he studied physical education and played center as well as linebacker on the school’s football team.
Upon graduating in 1957, he landed a job as a PE teacher at San Dieguito Union High School, now called San Dieguito Academy. He also signed on as the freshman football coach.
Several years later, he got the idea that wrestling would be a good off-season sport for football players looking to stay in shape. Plus, he figured his larger players, who towered over many opposing teams on the football field, would be able to dominate wrestling matches.
“I liked the big tackles I had,” Wiley said. “They just hit people. They didn’t know why or how.”
Completely unfamiliar with the sport at the time, he later realized a 100-pound wrestler could be just as valuable as someone three times as heavy given the different weight classes. Also, he didn’t know wrestling, like football, requires more than brute force — complex footwork is necessary.
But before Wiley and his wrestlers knew an ankle pick from a half nelson, San Dieguito had its first match against La Jolla High School.
“We lost 58-0,” Wiley said. “Only one kid didn’t get pinned.
“The first two years weren’t very successful,” Wiley added. “In fact, they were completely unsuccessful.”
Yet San Dieguito wrestling turned the corner in the program’s third year, in part because experienced community college wrestlers participated in the team’s practices.
“That was a step up from me learning about wrestling in books and parents who had once wrestled in school,” Wiley said with a gruff laugh.
After that, not only did Wiley have a greater knowledge of wrestling techniques, but he also developed his own coaching style. That included stressing the importance of life lessons like punctuality, listening in the classroom and “taking pride in whatever you’re doing,” he said.
“Those lessons will serve you well in a lot of aspects of your life,” Wiley said.
The wisdom he passed on translated to success, on the mat and off. Wiley and his teams won six North County wrestling championships during his coaching tenure.
And Wiley noted many of his wrestlers went on to do great things. For some of them, he knows wresting made the difference.
For instance, Wiley recalled a freshman student who “was told he didn’t have a future after high school.” Yet the student’s love of the sport led him to wrestle for MiraCosta College and eventually in Oregon. Along the way, he found a passion for teaching, launching a career in education.
“Wrestling got him to college and that kicked his brain into gear,” Wiley said.
While Wiley retired from coaching wrestling and teaching roughly 15 years ago, he continues to earn praise. He received a lifetime service award from the California Wrestling Hall of Fame this past spring.
Hearing about that award prompted Councilman Tony Kranz to recognize Wiley with a city proclamation.
Kranz, who grew up near Wiley, has fond memories of wrestling with his son at the Wileys’ home. In high school, Kranz got to better know Wiley when he played football.
“I remember him as a quiet leader,” Kranz said. He added that Wiley was more likely to inspire than intimidate — a quality not all football coaches have.
“The Wileys are a great family,” Kranz said.
On that note, Wiley said he’s indebted to his wife and two children, who always encouraged his passion for coaching.
Mary, his wife, noted the entire family could be spotted contributing to wrestling tournaments. She ran the concession stand; their daughter kept score; and their son took part in the match while her husband offered advice on the best hold to take down the opponent.
“Our family all worked at it,” she said.
From almost all his wrestlers getting pinned at a match to racking up awards, it’s been quite a journey for Wiley.
“We have a long history in this community; I’m glad we could give something,” Wiley said.