Damion Hahn started a new job on Monday. The job? South Dakota State’s new head wrestling coach. Hahn previously served as an assistant coach for 12 years at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and wrestled at the University of Minnesota in college.
Q: How excited are you to take over a program that was left in pretty good shape?
A: Excited is an understatement. I am absolutely thrilled because of the potential of this program, taking 12th in the country at nationals is phenomenal. Having a national champion is great, but that’s not the ceiling in my book. I think we can be a perennial powerhouse and contend for trophies. Getting through this transition period is key. I couldn’t be more excited for this opportunity.
Q: What was your reaction to finding out that you would be the man for the job?
A: When I got the call from Justin [Sell] I was thrilled. He called, and we talked through it, he made the answer easy for me. He showed me the support he has for this athletic department — not just the wrestling team — and the passion and vision he has. Who wouldn’t want to work for an athletic director who is so passionate about this university? My initial reaction was like, “Yeah, all right.”
Q: What’s that transition been like for you?
A: Monday was my first day on the job. Last week, I was still out in New York trying to get everything situated. I have been on the phone nonstop. I am on the phone a half hour before I wake up and about half an hour after I go to bed. It’s continuous. Its been good; it’s nice finally getting here.
I got in (Sunday). I got a chance to sit down with Cody Caldwell. It’s been great trying to get things in order. The transition for me has been OK, still have some ways to go and have to get my family out here.
Q: How big of a change is it from New York to South Dakota?
A: I’m familiar with the Midwest, I was born in New Jersey, but wrestled at Minnesota, my wife is from Minnesota. We get out here every chance we get. Ithaca is not that different. Ithaca has Cornell University and Ithaca College and surrounded by that you have nothing but dairy farms and wineries. The university is the city and (vice-versa), similar to here. There are so many similarities between Brookings and Ithaca that it just clicked. If we can do it at Cornell with our administration support, why can’t we do it here?
Q: How will your assistant coaching experience help you in a head coaching position?
A: I like to tell people that Bob Kroll [head coach of Cornell wrestling]makes great head coaches despite himself. If you look at his coaching tree, his assistants are all over the place. I was at Cornell for 12 years, I will take everything. It’s not just showing the technique in the wrestling room, it’s running it as the company, and he’s the CEO. I learned so much under him that I plan on bringing here. There’s always room to grow. If you don’t think that way you’re going to get passed by the next person or program.
Q: Speaking of Cornell, how hard was it for you to take off the red and put on the blue?
A: Extremely hard. To be honest, I never thought I would leave Cornell. I told my wife we would be out of Cornell in a year and move onto the next venture. Twelve years later, two kids later, we both work for Cornell and I am saying goodbye.
Q: What was saying goodbye like?
A: It was hard and emotional. Last Monday when I addressed my team, I literally couldn’t catch my breath … It can get a little emotional, these kids believe and trust everything you say and then you’re gone, it’s a tough pill to swallow. But change is good. I love my athletes back at Cornell, I’ll always love them, but now we are moving onto a new chapter and walking into a new family at South Dakota State.
Q: You take over a program that has had recent success. Including a 12th place finish at Nationals last year and a national champion in Seth Gross. What does that do for your confidence?
A: It’s great, it gives you a base to start with. Three All-Americans, two of them graduated. Luke Zilverberg is trying to get into grad school, hopefully we can keep some of those guys around because they are leaders in their own right … I am stepping into a situation where we have improvements that need to be made. We lost two All-Americans, those are two big shoes to fill. We have the caliber of guys in the room that can step in and replace those guys.
Q: What does getting Seth Gross back do for that confidence?
A: You got Seth Gross, returning national champion and a handful of Nationals qualifiers. The cupboards are not bare by any means. We have guys that have been to the show and have some experience going through this. When you have a leader like Seth, who’s absolutely stepped up and took the reins going through the process and risen above a lot of things, it’s great.
Q: What are some of the goals this year?
A: I have a comprehensive list of everything we did at Cornell, why can’t we do it here? We are going to build on it. I would love to bump the average attendance. I heard it’s absolutely crazy to wrestle in Frost Arena. I want to times that by two. I want to put a product on the mat that people are excited about and they are proud about. Hats off to Chris [Bono] and what he did, but let’s take it to the next level.