We used to say in the news business (I think they still do) that a story better have legs in order to justify writing about it four or five days later. From the perspective of a former Cal State Bakersfield wrestling beat writer, the passing of former Roadrunner coach T.J. Kerr has more legs than a prosthetics factory.
Like it would matter to the wrestling community if it didn’t. Frankly, fresh is a concept alluding many of them -- er, uh that is to say that they’ll Jones at the idea of stirring up the old days -- a Cal State takedown at the horn to beat Cal Poly or a bogus stall point to aid a loss at the downtown Civic.
Wrestlers never met a buzz they couldn’t stretch out for years, and Kerr’s legacy is evoking quite a buzz still, I’m confident, six days after his tragic passing, and will for some time.
More than the great outdoors, which he loved, wrestling has lost truly one of its greatest ambassadors -- a tireless grinder and champion of justice in the face of relentless budget cuts and formidable gender equity mandates that have crippled the sport. Few college wrestling rooms around the country aren’t aware of his court battles over unfavorable Title IX interpretations and his appearances before Congress to stem the tide of injustices against his sport.
Really, anyone playing a so-called minor sport owes a debt of gratitude to T.J. Kerr. No one can quarrel with that.
Where there’s debate is his methods. His gruff exterior and stone-cold, unbridled frankness about administrative decision makers made for great column fodder (thank you!), but rankled folks. It was his bedside manner, while refreshing in a lot of ways, that might be the reason why he won’t go down in history as one of Bakersfield’s most beloved coaches. Just one of its winningest and most relevant
Looking down, I think he’s OK with that, knowing with confidence that he had his sport’s and his CSUB program’s best interest at heart.
It often took some time for his wrestlers to figure him out. A lot never did. Eventually they would come to realize that if you worked tirelessly and loyally for T.J. Kerr, then he had your back. It was then just a matter of matching his standards for both, and that could get dicey.
Many sponsors and program supporters would feel a cold shoulder from Kerr. For whatever reason, thanking people for their support wasn’t a strong suit.
Looking down, I think he’s not OK with that.
He’d never admit it, but maybe Kerr wished he was more like his predecessor Joe Seay in that regard. Seay’s legacy unfairly dogged T.J. up until his retirement. Kerr found out what Dan Devine did at Notre Dame and what Bill O’Brien is finding out now at Penn State: you can’t replace a legend and go merrily about your business without stopping frequently to pay homage.
I liked T.J. Kerr. We had a lot of laughs, and a few battles. But I always felt welcome in his presence. The dude perservered and in the end, was a winner.
If I had to choose, I’d take the neutral position against him, knowing that he could ride just about any situation out.
-- Andy Kehe is a former Californian reporter, editor and columnist. He was a CSUB wrestling beat writer for about 10 years during T.J. Kerr’s coaching tenure. Kehe now lives in Hershey, Pa.