Former Hawkeye wrestler Matt McDonough joins Chris Bono’s Wisconsin coaching staff

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

Another former Hawkeye wrestler has joined the collegiate coaching ranks.

Matt McDonough, a three-time NCAA finalist and two-time champ for Iowa, has been hired as an assistant coach at Wisconsin. He will work under newly-hired head coach Chris Bono, a former Iowa State wrestler who got the job after a successful stint at South Dakota State.

“It’s a great opportunity and something I saw a bright future in,” McDonough told the Des Moines Register this week. “I’m just thankful for my time here, the decade I spent at Iowa. I had great coaches, great leaders.”

Matt McDonough, a former Iowa wrestler, was hired as an assistant at Wisconsin under Chris Bono. McDonough was a three-time NCAA finalist and two-time champ for the Hawkeyes.

McDonough joins a staff that includes Jon Reader, another former Cyclone wrestler who worked under Bono at South Dakota State. Their hires were announced earlier this week.

“It's the mentality of the work ethic and how he's thinking,” Bono said of McDonough in a release. “We’re on the same page for how we should train athletes and how the recruiting goes.

“He comes very highly recommended by a lot of people and I'm excited to get him here.”

Bono tried hiring McDonough before …

Bono, a three-time All-American at Iowa State and the 1996 national champion at 150 pounds, originally tried to hire McDonough when he first became the Jackrabbits’ head coach in 2012. He reached out after McDonough had finished his senior campaign.

“Everything about Matt is what I think about in a wrestling program,” Bono said, “so it was a no-brainer to go after him.”

But McDonough said no, instead continuing his competitive career with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. After a collegiate career that featured 122 victories, he set his sights on international success. He won bronze at the 2014 University World Championships in Hungary.

McDonough then turned his attention to the 2016 Olympic Trials, but tore up his knee during a practice in fall 2015. He faced a difficult decision — to let his knee heal and try to make a run at the trials, or get surgery and miss the trials altogether.

He chose the latter.

“It was like ripping your guts out,” said McDonough, a three-time state champ for Linn-Mar from 2006-08. “That was one of those really tough life decisions.

“But the Lord works in mysterious ways. You have an injury and it really bums you out, but you have an opportunity on the other side, and that’s to get into coaching.”

Former Iowa wrestler Matt McDonough won a bronze medal at the 2014 University World Championships.

'Circumstances change, and so does perspective'

McDonough, now 27, threw himself into coaching full bore, joining the staff of the Eastern Iowa Wrestling Club. He coached kids from Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and the surrounding areas. This past year, he became the club’s director. He loved it.

“It actually made my decision a lot harder because I fell in love with it so much,” McDonough said. “It’s so pure. You’re coaching kids, and some of them have never wrestled a day in their life. Some of them are in a place that makes you remember your own past.

“You’re just trying to harness their love for the sport of wrestling and help that grow and get them to a level where they are fanatical about wrestling and want to do it all the time.”

Just a week after the 2018 NCAA Championships, Bono was hired at Wisconsin after six years at South Dakota State. He had coached 24 NCAA qualifiers, five All-Americans and one NCAA Champion in Seth Gross, who won the 133-pound title this season.

Bono again reached out to McDonough, who was more open-minded this time. He went to Madison, Wisconsin, to meet with Bono, then returned home to discuss the opportunity with close friends and colleagues.

He felt he was ready this time, and told Bono yes.

“Circumstances change, and so does perspective,” McDonough said. “I get along with the coaching staff very well. Their mindset and philosophy on how to have success at this level, but also, the campus — I was recruited there as a wrestler a decade ago, and I loved it then.

“It was a really good situation. I liked everything about it.”

Iowa's Spencer Lee chats with Matt McDonough before practice at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018.

'I feel very blessed'

McDonough said he’ll likely return on recruiting trips, as Bono likes Iowa kids — Henry Pohlmeyer, a former Johnston wrestler, was South Dakota State’s starting 141-pounder this year, and went 1-2 at the NCAA tournament. (Another Johnston standout, Zach Price, signed with the Jackrabbits last November.)

But overall, McDonough is excited for the opportunity. He is thankful for his time at Iowa, and can’t wait to see what’s next.

“I want to try and learn, and then inject my energy into the situation the best that I can,” he said. “I feel very blessed to have had a long history at Iowa with a lot of high-level people and high-level thinkers surrounding me that gave me a lot of knowledge.

“I learned as much as I could, both the hard way and the easy way, and I want to take those tools and the knowledge I gained and give it to another group of guys. That’s the ultimate goal, to bring what you know to where you’re at.”

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

Tom Brands’ coaching tree

Many former Iowa wrestlers have since turned to coaching. Here’s a small list Tom Brands’ former athletes who are now assistants at various collegiate programs.

  • Josh Dziewa, Drexel
  • Mike Evans, Campbell
  • Ethen Lofthouse, Utah Valley
  • Matt McDonough, Wisconsin
  • Brent Metcalf, Iowa State
  • Ryan Morningstar, Iowa
  • Tony Ramos, North Carolina
  • Derek St. John, Iowa State