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The Force Behind 25 Years of Wrestling Wins

BU People: Carl Adams has led BU grapplers to 10 conference championships

Carl Adams’ Terrier teams have won 10 conference championships in the last 25 years. Photo by Rob Klein

Carl Adams constantly wrestled with his first grade classmates at recess, much to the dismay of his teachers. “I had a lot of energy as a child,” he says with a laugh. Kids will be kids, but he continued to tussle with his friends so much that it came as no surprise to his family that Adams, head wrestling coach at BU for 25 years, eventually carved out a career in the field. “It takes passion and commitment to excel in any sport,” says Adams, who often quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson to his athletes: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
 
Greatness is subjective, but some 45 years after his schoolyard shenanigans, it’s safe to say that Adams is a wrestling legend. A three-time All-American at Iowa State, he earned two NCAA titles in his 158-pound weight class, in 1971 and 1972. After graduating, he captured the National Amateur Athletic Union Freestyle championships in 1973 and 1975 and followed with a silver medal at the Pan American Games, along with a third-place showing in the World Championships. National Mat News named him Top Middleweight of the Decade for the 1970s.

His reputation grew in the 1980s, when he took the head coach job at the University of Rhode Island and was named Rookie Coach of the Year by Amateur Wrestling News in 1980 and New England Coach of the Year in 1981. In the 1981-82 season, his first at BU, he coached the Terriers to a New England title, and the accolades have been coming in a steady stream ever since: 10 conference championships in 25 seasons, 4 Terrier All-Americans, and 85 NCAA tournament appearances by Terrier wrestlers. In 2002 Adams was inducted into the Massachusetts Wrestling Hall of Fame.

“I think wrestling is the ultimate sport,” he says. “It’s just you and your opponent out there. It was the first Olympic sport, and you can see why kids are attracted to it, because kids like to wrestle.”

True, boys tend to roughhouse, but as an eight-year-old, Adams’ interest in the sport was “tweaked” when his father brought him to Madison Square Garden one night to watch such professional wrestling titans as Bruno Sammartino, Bobo Brazil, Haystack Calhoun, and the Calypso Kid. When the Bay Shore, N.Y., native entered junior high school, he began wrestling competitively, and the sport came to define his life.

Adams began his coaching career in 1973 at his alma mater, serving as an assistant — and at the same time wrestling his way to the nation’s top-ranked spot as a 158-pounder in 1975. Unfortunately, a shoulder separation thwarted his bid to compete in the 1976 Olympics. “Of course I was disappointed, but I wasn’t devastated,” says Adams. “I tried to keep everything in perspective. I was blessed to stay healthy up to then, and I got to travel the world — and wrestle in the World Championships in the Soviet Union.”

Even when he isn’t coaching, Adams lives and breathes wrestling. He’s written three instructional books and has a video series on wrestling techniques, and in 1974 he created Adam, a life-size spring-loaded mannequin/takedown machine that provides motion and resistance when attacked. The wall-mounted device is popular with thousands of coaches across the country because it’s especially effective for wrestlers who are injured and not able to practice at full strength. In 2003, with the help of All-American wrestler Earl Walker (SAR’96, SED’98,’03), he developed an even more advanced training mannequin called the Snap and Shoot.

This season, Adams’ team is in the midst of a rebuilding campaign — six seniors graduated last spring — but a strong recruiting class this past summer bodes well for the next few years. Adams excels with young wrestlers — he helps them hone their technique and is an effective motivator. “I’ve learned from him that if you can get through the hard stuff, everything else just gets easier,” says Brett Frimer (COM’07), who joined the team as a walk-on freshman year. “Even though I consider myself a confident wrestler, he can instill more confidence.”

Brian Fitzgerald can be reached at bfitzger@bu.edu.