By Mike Rudin - SPORTS EDITOR
First year-head coach Dennis Papadatos agreed to come back to Hofstra University to take charge of the wrestling team this past summer.
“I’m in this for the long haul, and my goal,” said Papadatos. “I want to be the best Division I head coach in the country and I want this to be the best program in the country. I want to win national championships and I want Hofstra to win national titles, that’s the plan.”
He’s confident that his coaching skills can put Hofstra wrestling among other nationally top tier programs, especially after the immense success he had working at Binghamton University. “Even after I left Binghamton and everywhere I went everyone only wanted to talk about my Binghamton years. [Former Binghamton head coach] Pat Popolizio and I made a name for ourselves and we brought the worst program in the country, where we finished as high as 17th in the nation. They were the worst team in the country when we got there, we busted our butts,” said Papadatos.
The former Hofstra wrestler, from 1997-2001, earned 95 wins in his career but his start in wrestling took an unorthodox turn.
“I was actually in kiddy wrestling when I was young but not [for] long and I don’t have much recollection of it. It wasn’t a part of my life [back then]… [But] the first time I actually wrestled when I knew I [enjoyed] wrestling was eighth grade,” said Papadatos.
He had two major influences during his time in middle school that helped push the idea of wrestling into his head, “My brother wrestled, and he was three years older than me so I decided I was going to do wrestling and be better than he was. My best friend at the time, he actually still is one of my best friends, wrestled, and he wrestled in seventh grade and then I decided to wrestle him in eighth grade. I don’t even remember the reason,” said Papadatos.
During that time, he participated in football and wrestling was put on the backburner for a while, “I liked football better at the time,” said Papadatos. “Until probably 11th grade, then I really got the wrestling bug. So I got it a lot later than a lot of other people, so [it] explains why I have so much fire. When I was in high school, most people classified me as a football player.”
His life motto and determination was the reason wrestling was kept on the map, during his middle and high school years. “I don’t quit when I start something. I was going to do it. Here I am all those years later still doing it. I don’t remember but it wasn’t a draw to it. There wasn’t, ‘oh I want to try that’ It just kind of happened.”
Wrestling was never considered for a career in the long run for Papadatos, “I originally wanted to go into medical school. I looked into going to medical school in exercise science. You did every prerequisite to go into med school. I was going to do exercise science, I liked that industry. I liked exercise, I liked [the science and mechanics of the] body,” said Papadatos.
It wasn’t until Papadatos started an internship in the medical field that he found out that he wasn’t a fan anymore, “I was going to be done wrestling, then I was going to go into med school. That was always my plan. Then I did my internship my senior year in cardiac rehab because I was going to be a cardiologist and I hated it,” said Papadatos. “Last thing I wanted to do was go to school for another six years, doing residency and I met a lot of cardiologists. I’ll be honest, they didn’t make the kind of money I thought you would make for the all the effort they put in. They did well but it lost its appeal fast when I did my internship.”
He graduated from Hofstra with his bachelor’s degree in exercise science in 2000 and got his master’s degree in health education in 2002. Papadatos originally wanted to earn his master’s degree in exercise science as well, “I had one more year of eligibility [for wrestling] so I stayed in and I stayed at Hofstra, so Hofstra doesn’t have a master’s in exercise science which is what I really wanted. So the closest thing was health education, I really just did it so I could be a full-time student my senior year athletically. I was already in grad school; I did it to be eligible. I was already halfway done with my masters.”
Even after his graduation, Papadatos still didn’t consider coaching as a profession but he later joined the Pride wrestling staff as an strength and conditioning assistant from 2001-2004.
Papadatos only saw it as a stepping stone while trying to reach his intended career. “It was a lot of fun because I had no intentions of ever being a coach at that time,” said Papadatos. “I started personally training. Then I had my own personal training business and then I’d had people working for me and I was doing pretty well financially. I was going to be an entrepreneur of some sort in the health industry, just be kind of involved in wrestling.”
Although during his time working alongside head coach Tom Ryan he started to find a knack in coaching, “It was just fun to kind of coach and be around Tom. It was fun to be around wrestling because I still loved it and I loved coming to practice and wrestling and not have to make weight. To coach in the corner,” said Papadatos. “To be honest, [it] sounds crazy but I realized I was pretty good at it naturally, I was better coaching than I was competing.”
Papadatos still struggled to see himself as a wrestling coach. “I fought it for a bit. I wanted to be successful in corporate America, I did a few things, I was going to get engaged and I was going to get married. I really visualized being successful was going to work in a suit and tie and a briefcase. So I did that for a bit, I made money but I was hollow inside, it was empty [work],” said Papadatos.
Once he concluded his time as a strength and conditioning assistant for the Pride, Papadatos took advantage of other coaching positions. “When I finally got married at 27, I took a job in Northern Illinois University,” said Papadatos.
Papadatos was an assistant coach for the Northern Illinois Huskies for one year then took up another opportunity as an assistant back in New York. “Then [my family and I] went to Binghamton because it was closer to home and it was more money and my wife wanted to come closer to home. It was the most important years of my coaching life at the time. It was where I grew as a coach, it’s where I formed great relationships,” said Papadatos.
He later joined the wrestling coaching staff at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Just before becoming the head coach of Hofstra wrestling, he was an assistant coach at UNC Chapel Hill for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. “I realized I really liked college athletics, that’s why I had a great experience at UNC to experience,” said Papadatos.
He helped developed the athletic program to be the in the top 20 recruiting class in his first year. Then the Tar Heels’ wrestling program improved to the top 10 the following year in 2014.
Papadatos explained all the jobs he done and how they helped him in the long run to be a head coach. “I got to experience small athletic departments, mid-size athletic departments, mid-majors, huge athletics. Different types of coaching philosophies, I’ve been a graduate assistant, I’ve been a strength and conditioning coach, I’ve been a second assistant, I’ve been a volunteer assistant, I’ve been a head assistant, I’ve been an associate head coach and now I’m head coach,” said Papadatos.
“It’s helped me a lot because I have a respect for every job does, I’ve learned little things that help me along the way, hopefully [to] be a better head coach,” Papadatos continued. “It developed me to be ready.”
Dennis Papadatos excelled both as a student and an athlete during his time at Hofstra and a key to his success was he described was his work ethic. “I’m a firm believer that you try to be great at everything you do. It was how I was kind of raised and I believed in effort and I’m a big effort guy and so I lead by effort,” said Papadatos.
He was a duel contender in the NCAA championships in his third and fourth year wrestling for the Pride. He placed second in the ECWA championships in the 1999-2000 season and won the EWCA title in 2000-2001 season. Papadatos was a three time division one all-American academic as a Hofstra wrestler.