Now entering his 27th season at the helm of the Minnesota wrestling program, Gophers head coach J Robinson looks to continue the success that has defined the Golden Gopher program.
Under Robinson, Minnesota has developed an environment of excellence that has seen Minnesota rise to elite status in college wrestling. Since taking over the Gophers program in 1986, Robinson's teams have claimed the first three national championships in Minnesota history while the three-time national coach of the year has helped develop 57 All-Americans, 13 individual national champions, six Big Ten team titles and 29 individual Big Ten champions. All told, Robinson's wrestlers have amassed a total of 109 All-America honors, including a NCAA record 10 All-Americans during the national championship run in 2001. His .743 winning percentage is a program record, and his 388 dual meet victories stand as the second best mark in Minnesota wrestling history -- just five wins away from overcoming Wally Johnson for the all-time win record.
2011-12 was a banner year for Robinson's program. The Golden Gophers finished the season with a 14-3 overall record and a 7-1 rate of success in conference duels. The Maroon and Gold finished second in the Big Ten with Tony Nelson and Kevin Steinhaus winning individual titles for the first time in their respective careers. Robinson led the team to a runner-up finish at the NCAA Championships, marking the Gophers' best finish on the national stage since winning the title in 2007. Nelson continued his success to become Minnesota's first NCAA Individual Champion since 2010 and the first heavyweight champion since 2007.
Under Robinson's guidance, Minnesota led the nation with seven All-Americans, including three-time selection Sonny Yohn and two-time selection Kevin Steinhaus. Zach Sanders also received the honor, becoming only the sixth four-time All-American in Gopher history. For his efforts Robinson was named the 2012 National Coach of the Year and also earned his third Dan Gable Coach of the Year award.
In 2010-11, Robinson guided the Gophers to another top 10 finish at the NCAA tournament as Minnesota finished seventh at the national championship, marking the program's 18th top-ten finish under Robinson and the 14th time in the last 14 years. The Gophers posted a 15-4-1 overall record on the season while Minnesota paced the NCAA championships with five All-Americans.
Robinson celebrated yet another first in 2009-10 as four-time All-American Jayson Ness became the first Gopher to earn the Hodge Trophy. Ness, who finished his Gophers career as the most decorated wrestler ever to step foot on the mat at Minnesota, posted a perfect 31-0 record. Under Robinson's tutelage, Ness became just the fifth Minnesota grappler to go undefeated in a season, all under Robinson, and the sixth Gophers wrestler to finish his career as a four-time All-American, all under Robinson. Ness was one of two individual Big Ten champions in 2009-10 along with Mike Thorn and one of four All-Americans as the Gophers finished seventh at the NCAA championships.
Robinson led the 2009-10 squad to a 12-5 overall record, a second-place finish in the Big Ten (7-1) and a fifth-place standing in the final national rankings. Along with Ness, Sonny Yohn, Zach Sanders and Mike Thorn each earned All-America honors while Ness and Thorn both captured individual titles at the Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich.
In 2008-09, Robinson and his wrestlers highlighted the season with wins over some of the nation's top-ranked programs including 22-15 over #9 Wisconsin and 21-18 over #14 Penn State on Jan. 10 at the National Duals. The season's midpoint was also marked with a perfect 3-0 mark at the Lone Star Duals in Dallas, Tex. Later that same month, Robinson again led the Golden Gophers over Penn State, this time beating the 16th ranked Nittany Lions 20-19 in State College, Pa. Just two days later on Feb. 1, the Golden Gophers were on the road again, this time in Columbus, Ohio, but the results was same at Robinson and Minnesota scored an 18-16 win over #5 Ohio State. As the Big Ten season continued, the wins kept coming. On Feb. 8 Minnesota topped #16 Northwestern 18-16, before ending the regular season with a 22-13 victory at home over an 18th ranked Indiana squad.
Also in 2008-09, Robinson saw Ness become the Minnesota record holder for career pins as he racked up 19 on the season to total 54 heading into his senior season. As a sophomore in 2007-08, Ness was the highlight of the season as he notched 20 falls, to tie former Golden Gopher, and former assistant coach, Marty Morgan for the single season record. The top-ten in career pins and the top-three in single season pins have all performed under Robinson.
Three seasons ago, he led the Golden Gophers to a second place tally at the Big Ten Championships and a 10th place finish at the national championships. 2007-08 capped a decade long run that saw Minnesota finished first or second in the Big Ten in every season and finish among the nation's top three seven times. Six times in that span the Golden Gophers won the Big Ten title, and three times Robinson guided his team to a National title.
The most recent national title came following the 2006-07 season, as the Golden Gophers stormed to a 20-1 regular season dual meet record before winning both the Big Ten and NCAA Championships. Five Gophers earned All-American accolades at the NCAA championships, including Roger Kish, Cole Konrad, C.P. Schlatter, Dustin Schlatter and Jayson Ness, with Konrad earning his second straight individual national championship. Additionally, Konrad, Ness, and C.P. and Dustin Schlatter all won Individual Big Ten titles, marking the second consecutive season - and third time in his tenure - that Robinson had coached at least four individual Big Ten champions in a single season.
The first time, was during the 2001-02 Big Ten and national championship season when a record five of Robinson's wrestlers won individual Big Ten titles. Luke Becker, Owen Elzen, Damion Hahn, Ryan Lewis and Leroy Vega all brought home conference crowns leading the Golden Gophers to a dominating 45-point margin of victory and the Big Ten Championship meet. It was the first individual Big Ten title for each, with Becker and Hahn continuing on to defend their titles the following season.
In 2003, Becker, Hahn and Jared Lawrence - who also won his second Big Ten championship - became the sixth, seventh, and eighth wrestlers under Robinson's tutelage to win multiple individual Big Ten Championships. Hahn would eventually be the second of Robinson's wrestlers to win three individual conference titles as he joined Tim Hartung (1997, '98 & '99), while both would be joined as three-time winners in 2007 by Cole Konrad (2005, '06 & '07). Throughout his career, Robinson has now coached eleven of his athletes to multiple individual conference titles.
The 2006-07 season also brought with it a 20-1-0 record in dual meets, marking the second straight season of such a record, with both stand as the second highest win total in program history. The single-season win record comes from the 1992-93 season where Robinson led Minnesota to a 21-3-1 mark in dual meets. Robinson has led his teams to 20-win seasons on four occasions with 1993-94 (20-2-0) joining 1992-93, 2005-06 and 2006-07.
Only once in the illustrious history of Minnesota wrestling have the Golden Gophers ended with an unblemished record, and it happened with Robinson at the helm. After winning their first national title in 2001, Robinson led Minnesota to a perfect 19-0-0 mark on their way to their second straight NCAA crown.
The stage was set for the 2007 NCAA title run in the 2005-06 season as the Golden Gophers ran to a 20-1-0 record and the Big Ten title. At the NCAA's the Golden Gopher's finished as runner-up for the fourth time under Robinson, which was topped off by a pair of national champions. Robinson led Cole Konrad to the first of his two titles at heavyweight, while Dustin Schlatter became the first freshman in Golden Gopher history to earn a NCAA championship.
Konrad and Schlatter were part of four All-Americans on the 2005-06 squad, a virtual standard for Robinson teams. Since 1997, the Golden Gophers have notched four or more All-Americans on 12 different occasions, but none more than in the 2000-01 season. In earning their first national championship, Minnesota placed an unprecedented 10 wresters on the podium, as each of Robinson's Golden Gophers earned All-American honors.
Robinson's tenure at the University of Minnesota began with the 1986-87 season and he immediately led the Golden Gophers to a finish in the top-20 at the NCAA Tournament, something not seen in four seasons, and a far cry from the 44th place finish just two years prior. By his third season at the helm, he had Minnesota placing in the top-10 for the first time in a decade, as well as earning a second place tally at the Big Ten Championships. That 1988-89 season also saw a then record four Golden Gophers named All-American.
One of the All-American's in 1988-89 was Marty Morgan, who in 1990-91 became Robinson's first three-time All-American and first national champion. After beginning the decade with his first national champion and All-American, Robinson ended the 1990's with his first two-time national champion and four-time All-American. In 1999 Chad Kraft became the first Golden Gopher ever with earn four All-America honors and Tim Hartung became the first modern wrestler to win two national titles. Robinson has since led more of his athletes to the exclusive clubs as Damion Hahn and Cole Konrad each won two NCAA championships, and Luke Becker, Jared Lawrence, Hahn and Konrad all became four-time All-Americans.
Robinson's efforts have not gone unnoticed by his peers in the wrestling community. In June of 2005, Robinson earned the ultimate honor as he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in a ceremony held in Stillwater, Okla. He was named the 1998, 2001, and 2012 Dan Gable Coach of the Year by Wrestling Insider News (WIN) Magazine and earned the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Coach of the Year award in 2001 and 2012. Robinson also has earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors seven times in his career, more than any other coach in the conference's history. At the 2002 National Duals in Columbus, Ohio, he was awarded the 2001 Amateur Wrestling News Man of the Year award for his work and support of wrestling at all levels.
Five times during Robinson's tenure, the Golden Gophers have reached the summit at National Duals competitions. In 1998, Minnesota won the National Duals title over Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, becoming only the second team to defeat the Hawkeyes in their own building. In 2000-01, Minnesota defeated Hofstra, Nebraska, Iowa and Oklahoma State on their way to the team title in University Park, Pa., and in 2002, the Gophers dominated the competition in Columbus, Ohio, to win the school's third National Duals crown.
The basis for Robinson's success comes from his ability to bring some of the greatest talent in the world to the University of Minnesota, and then cultivating that talent. In 1997, Robinson and his staff landed Garrett Lowney, considered to be the No. 1 recruit in the nation by many of the top programs. A native of Freedom, Wis., Lowney was a three-time Junior Freestyle National champion and the nation's top-ranked wrestler. Minnesota has landed the nation's top recruit five times in the last ten years, including Roger Kish and current Gophers Dustin Schlatter and Zach Sanders.
While landing the No. 1 recruit in the nation is an accomplishment, eight of Robinson's Minnesota recruiting classes have earned the No. 1 ranking from Amateur Wrestling News in Robinson's 22 years in Gold Country. In 1997, the Golden Gopher coaching staff inked the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in the nation and followed it with another top class in 1999. In 2003, the Gophers welcomed the nation's top recruiting class for the sixth time during Robinson's tenure. The group included two of the top three recruits in the nation in Kish and C.P. Schlatter and also featured the first blue-chip recruit out of the state of Iowa in Mack Reiter. In 2008 and 2009 Robinson landed back-to-back No.1 recruiting classes according to Wrestling Insider News (WIN) magazine, and in 2009 he was again able to dip into Iowa as he signed Mack Reiter's younger brother, Bart to the Golden Gophers.
In addition to his stellar coaching resumé and unprecedented success at the University of Minnesota, Robinson has also been a pioneer in the marketing and promotion of the sport to which he has dedicated his life. Under his guidance, Minnesota has established groundbreaking events at the 'U' which have caught the eye of the wrestling community around the country. Most notably, Robinson introduced the Border Brawl, an exciting and entertaining dual meet event between Minnesota and arch-rival Iowa that featured an in-arena master of ceremonies, interviews with wrestlers, coaches, fans and local celebrities, highlight videos, instant replays, pyrotechnics, and much more.
The first Border Brawl at Target Center in downtown Minneapolis proved to be a success as top-ranked Minnesota defeated Iowa, 22-15, in front of 15,646 fans on Feb. 1, 2002. The meet set an NCAA attendance record for a collegiate wrestling dual meet. In 2003, Robinson expanded the concept to include a home-and-home dual meet schedule with Iowa, including the season-opener at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and a battle against Oklahoma State at Target Center. The Golden Gopher-Hawkeye matchup attracted 12,180 fans to St. Paul.
In recent years, Robinson has also helped promote wrestling around the country. In 2010-11, Robinson and the Gophers traveled to California for duals against Cal State Bakersfield and Cal State Fullerton in a mutual effort to grow the sport along the West Coast. This season will also see the Gophers return to the Southeast region of the country when the Gopher participate in the Southern Scuffle. In 2005 and 2006, Robinson took his program to the Northeast Duals to help promote wrestling in the state of New York, and in 2007, Robinson and the Golden Gophers helped organize the first-ever Northern Quad meet in Rochester, Minn. to bring college wrestling to the southeastern part of the state.
Prior to taking the head coaching position at Minnesota, Robinson served as an assistant coach at the University of Iowa from 1976-84. During that span, the Hawkeyes won seven NCAA, and eight Big Ten crowns. He served as an interim head coach during the 1983-84 season and led the Hawkeyes to Big Ten and NCAA titles.
Regarded as one of the top coaches in the country by student-athletes and peers, Robinson has also been involved in coaching on the national and international level. He served as an assistant coach on four consecutive U.S. Olympic squads - 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988 - and was the head coach for the United States at the 1983 Pan American Games.
As a wrestler, Robinson competed on two World teams, placing fourth in 1970 and fifth in 1971. He represented the United States in the 1972 Olympic Games and was named to WIN Magazine's All-Olympic team of the century. Robinson captured four national titles during his amateur career, two in freestyle and two in Greco-Roman.
Robinson earned his bachelor's degree from Oklahoma State in 1969, before beginning his service in the military. While at Oklahoma State, he was in the ROTC program and left as a Distinguished Military Graduate, Distinguished Military Student and was offered a Regular Army Commission as a Second Lieutenant in June 1969. Robinson then attended Airborne and Ranger School, as well as Jungle Warfare School, before beginning his tour in Vietnam. His accomplishments in Ranger School included becoming an Honor Graduate, and his first duty station was the officer in charge of the small arms department.
In late 1970 through early 1971, Robinson was attached to the United States Military Academy in the Athletic Department. In February of 1971, he left for Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and then served with the First Cavalry Division as the Information Officer for the Third Brigade. A year later, in February of 1972, Robinson returned to the United States and wrestled for the Army. He would eventually be named to the 1972 Olympic Team, competing in September of 1972. In December of the year, Robinson resigned his commission and began work on his master's degree at the University of Iowa.
In the fall of 2000, J married Sue Rubens. J's son, Jeb, and daughter, Jordan, both work and reside in the Twin Cities.