The Greco-Roman program at Northern Michigan University, now over two decades in the books, has enjoyed a rich history of assistant coaches. From Willie Madison and Jim Gruenwald to the late Aghasi Manukyan and current NMU head Andrew Bisek, wide-eyed wrestlers with dreams of becoming star Greco-Roman athletes have not been shortchanged when it comes to learning from the second voices in the room.
But — and it’s not a diss to any of the above — it is highly unlikely the aforementioned lot cherished the role as much, or ever wanted it as badly, as Parker Betts.
Betts first arrived on campus in advance of 2011’s fall semester. A legacy kid, you could have called him, for his older brother Chas had attended NMU throughout the aughts and later went on to make an Olympic Team. The younger Betts knew he was going to land at Northern after high school. He had visited Marquette and dug the insularity. He also knew, more importantly, that a future filled with Greco-Roman competition in conjunction with the pursuit of World hardware had summed up his long-term desires.
As a wrestler, Betts was on the right track. Heavyweight is almost always one of the United States’ deepest weight categories, which has a tendency to force-feed development for those just beginning their careers. The early days are more about survival and steady progression than they are success. Still, the strides Betts began making were hard to miss. He was in the running at most Senior events from jump street. Eventually, he earned a University title and, later, finished runner-up at the US Open.
It sounds nice. For Betts, it was nice. Except, ever-so-gradually, he started finding it easier to imagine coaching wrestlers instead of trying to destroy them within the confines of sanctioned competition.
When that happens, it’s time to walk away. Time to make a choice.
Betts made his whilst back home in “ohh-fer-sher” Minnesota. First, he was hired as an assistant at his alma mater, St. Michael-Albertville. That whole thing must have went well, because only a season hence Betts was tabbed to lead Centennial High School’s program. He had wanted to become a coach. And he was one, quickly. A head coach, at that. But somewhere in the recesses of Betts’ mind was a slight tinge of uneasiness.
He was certainly happy. A young married guy blessed enough to have a job in the sport. Then there was Florida. FLORIDA. An opportunity arose on the gulf coast shepherded by former NMU head coach Rob Hermann. Gulf Breeze High had an opening, where Hermann was involved on a volunteer basis. Betts got the gig, and in the process caught a taste of what life is like when you don’t have to crack ice off of the windshield in October.
If you had peered at Betts’ lifestyle through a 360 lens, nothing would have seemed amiss. Mostly because it wasn’t. Thing was, even while he was coaching and forming friendships on the gulf, Northern, some 1,300 miles away, was still elevating his pulse. Betts remained dedicated to the program from afar, and was interested in coaching Greco eventually if the opportunity and timing matched up accordingly.
When it did, which came in the form of a call from Bisek towards the end of the summer, there was zero hesitation. Betts was offered his dream job, he promptly accepted, and ever since has been joyously investing in athletes whose shoes he himself once wore not too long ago.
So — how has done so far?
Betts assumed the role of NMU assistant coach in September. Although the competitive calendar for American wrestlers has not exactly delivered a full slate of action, the general business of Greco-Roman development has only increased at the school. Obviously, Betts is now integral to the operation — and the best way to check on his effectiveness nearly six months after taking the job is through the voices of several prominent NMU athletes.
Max Diaz (130 kg)
“It has been really good. He is such a dog on the mat still. He also knows where each individual athlete is at. He understands that there are differences between Keaton (Fanning) and I, and what we need to do to move up.
“So I like that about him. And I like how he will actually get down on the mat and wrestle with us. He wants to make you tough. I really respect that about him. He wrestled heavyweight for so long and knows that we are heavyweights. He has been there before, so he knows how to explain things and how things work in this weight class as opposed to other weight classes. For example, he will talk about par terre being a mindset. How ‘it’s going to hurt’. It is going to be very gritty, but you have to have a mindset that says, There is nothing you can do that is going to turn me. I don’t care how much it hurts, you’re not going to turn me.
“He also gives us realistic feels about what the international stage is going to be like. He’ll get me in these front headlocks and use his hands to block my mouth and nose. At first glance, you’re like, Wow, that is kind of dirty. But he isn’t doing it be dirty. He is doing it because on the international stage, some of those countries take wrestling super, super seriously. It’s like a living to them. They are doing it because that is how they pay for everything. So, they are going to be serious and do dirty stuff like that. You’d rather experience it now on the mat and learn how to keep your composure for when something crazy like that happens.”
Keaton Fanning (130 kg) — ’21 Last Chance WTT Qualifier Champion
“I definitely like having Parker around because he is someone who pushes you. With him being here, I have something to strive for a little bit more when we wrestle live. It is like, How am I going to figure out how to score on him? How am I going to stop him from scoring? If he does score on me, then I have something to work on because no one else attempts stuff like he does. That’s the biggest thing. The practices he ran solo, I liked them. He concentrates a lot on the pushing-pulling aspect as you would imagine a heavyweight doing, but it is definitely pretty sick having a match with him.
“Just in general, when I need to work on something specifically, I will ask him to be my partner because he gives you the best feel. I have terrible front headlock defense and he exposed me for having terrible front headlock defense. He hasn’t been out of the sport too long but it has been pretty nice to see him get in there with us when we need help.”
Timothy Eubanks (87 kg)
“I think he is doing great as a coach. I feel like he is doing a really good job. I definitely learn a lot wrestling with him. If I’m doing something wrong, he will correct me.”
George Sikes (82 kg) — ’18 U23 World Team
“I would say that he is doing really well. He has been a good leader. I want to say that he is like a big brother as well as a coach. We can talk to him as more than just a coach. We see him as an older brother. We know that he wants us to win, so we respect him and do what he says. He helps us a lot. He always watches.
“I’m 82 (kilograms), so I would say those of us from 77 and up are who he helps, especially with a lot of par terre and things like that. He is always correcting us. If there is an odd number and we need a partner, he’ll jump in and wrestle. Even though he is bigger, he will still give me a good look and tell me exactly what he feels, and what I should fix.”
Alston Nutter (67 kg) –– ’19 Junior World bronze, ’21 National runner-up
“It has been awesome having Parker in the room. I was teammates with Parker for a couple of years. That transition from him being one of my older brothers on the team to a coach has gone really well. It is cool to have that relationship because he pushed me in the room when I was younger. Now that he is a coach, he is still pushing me but we already had that relationship prior, which is really cool. You know, a lot of times when a new coach comes in you don’t have that previous relationship with him, so you have to adjust and get used to it.
“With Parker, we already had that, so it’s awesome. It has been good for our upper-weights, too. We have lacked heavyweights in the past. The fact that Parker is here and bringing the intensity that he has always had is making those guys a lot better. He can push us little guys. I’m not going to wrestle with him, but I’ll listen to him (laughs).”
Benji Peak (72 kg) — ’20 National Champion, US National Team member
“He is kicking ass. He is getting used to being back up here. It’s a different place and he is kind of getting back into the Marquette weather. He is doing a lot of the recruiting and the paperwork but he is also wrestling everyday, which is super sick. He wrestles with the heavyweights every single day. And honestly, he is in pretty solid shape. He is wrestling with Keaton Fanning, Max Diaz, and he’s coaching them. It is really good for the big guys to have him. He’s a good friend to a lot of the guys on the team, like me, Alston, George Sikes… We had been in school with him. I really like having him up here. I enjoy it. I think he’s doing a great job.”
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