Cael Sanderson came to the Bryce Jordan Center in 1999 to win his first of four NCAA wrestling championships as an Iowa State wrestler. Ten years later, Sanderson has traveled back to Happy Valley to try to win his first wrestling title as a coach.
The 29-year-old Utah native has talked a couple times about a possible move to Penn State for the last year, his father, Steve Sanderson, said Monday in a telephone interview.
"I think he looked at that as an opportunity that was beyond passing if it ever became available," the elder Sanderson said. "It kind of surprised me that he jumped so quickly. For some strange reason, it became available this year and with those kind of deals, they only come open every 10, 15 or 20 years, so you kind of have to jump if that opportunity becomes available."
After three years as head coach of Iowa State, Cael decided to leave Ames for State College, but only after much decision making and advice seeking. Sanderson said he spent a lot of time talking with his father, his wife, Kelly, and others close to him.
"He was the guy that really let me see the big picture," Cael said of his father. "He helped me realize that the timing is never going to be good and there's always going to be student-athletes that you love and you can't see yourself away from. That was the challenge and he helped me see that. Along with others, he helped me keep things in perspective that way."
Mr. Sanderson, who coached his sons at Wasatch High School, said he hadn't talked at length with his son during the final few days of the hiring process because his phone was either busy or his text message inbox was always full.
Sanderson said he had first gotten a call from Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley a week before he made his final decision to become the Lion head coach.
Among those who Sanderson informed of the possibility of coming to Penn State was his brother Cyler, who started at the 157-pound weight class for the Cyclones last season. Cael said he told Cyler about the phone call, so Cyler "had it on his mind for a week also."
Cyler will be a senior next season at Iowa State, so it is unclear whether he will join his brother at Penn State. Cyler's father said he didn't know what his son would decide, but he was "anxious" to see what he chose to do.
"I'd kinda like them together because they've always been together and been a good support group," Steve said. "That's not my decision, we'll have to sit back and watch with everyone else."
Cael said he did not know what his brother would decide, but he did say he expected most of the junior core of Cyclones to stay at their school.
"He was supportive of whatever I did," Cael said. "Obviously the timing for him isn't ideal in any way. He's got a tough decision to make. If he wants to come with me, I'll support him and love him regardless of the decision he makes. If he stays with his teammates and finishes what he started, I'm always going to be his brother. Ultimately it's whatever he decides on."
Also joining Cael will be his older brother, Cody, who was his associate head coach at Iowa State. Steve said Cody was always supportive of his brother's wrestling career, as he stuck around Ames an extra year to help Cael develop as a wrestler.
Although Cael's move shocked many throughout the national wrestling community, Mr. Sanderson said his son developed a liking for Pennsylvania when he traveled to the state for a high school all-star event, the Dapper Dan Wrestling Classic in Pittsburgh. Cael referred to the state as "wrestling country."
"The fact that they were willing to take on the rest of the United States and were successful most of the time is pretty impressive and I think that's one of the things that intrigued him," Steve Sanderson said. "These high school wrestlers are willing to take on the rest of the country."
Steve Sanderson said he was in between an earthquake drill at the school he works at during his son's press conference but watched a little bit of it online. He thought his son did OK -- his public speaking has come a long way in the last couple of years, Steve said. Curley mentioned Cael's parents Monday in his opening statement, saying he was excited to get to meet them.
"He's getting better and better all the time," Steve said. "He's realizing the things he needs to do. Penn State made a heck of a deal pulling him in, especially at this point and time because he's getting better and better as a coach. I can't see anything but good things happening there. [Cael and Cody] will be successful."