Saying the Penn State coaching family has been spoiled with the overall success of its various athletic programs is evidenced by the fact that coaching milestones have become commonplace, if not slightly ho-hum.
Three current members in the group, Bob Warming (men’s soccer), Charlene Morett (field hockey) and Robin Petrini (softball) have all eclipsed the 400 wins plateau in recent seasons.
Women’s volleyball head coach Russ Rose has nearly tripled the 400-win milestone, fast approaching 1,100 career victories.
Joe Paterno won his 400th game in 2010 and had the most victories in Division I history, until all wins from 1998-2011 were vacated this summer.
Calculating, crunching and analyzing all of those career victories could leave any mathematician in a state of exhaustion.
But other Penn State coaches are fast approaching big, round numbers.
The next coaching milestone on the horizon is sure to belong to fencing coach Emmanuil Kaidanov, who’s got win No. 800 squarely in his line of sight.
That’s like asking 40 different people to count out each of their fingers and toes.
“In our sport, those numbers [in wins] aren’t as meaningful as in say, football for example,” said Kaidanov. “Comparing wins in our sport to another sport is like comparing apples and oranges.”
Kaidanov estimates that this year’s team as a whole will compete in 53 to 54 matches during the 2012-13 season.
While Kaidanov admits that winning No. 800 had slipped his mind, he’s much concerned with smaller, “more meaningful” numbers, anyway.
“We have won 12 national championships at Penn State since I’ve been here and that is a more visible number than 800,” said Kaidanov. “I’ve always liked 12 but 13 is actually sounding a lot better,” he said, laughing.
Senior fencer Miles Chamley-Watson echoed the same sentiments as his decorated coach.
“Getting to that 800-win milestone isn’t something he thinks about,” said the London native. “He is much more concerned with winning national championships and helping the program succeed.”
Kaidanov handles his own coaching success with a great deal of humbleness.
After winning one of those 12 national championships on his resume, the former native of the old Soviet Union and his team were invited to the White House to commemorate the victory.
“When I first received the invite I thought they were joking,” said Kaidanov, who was vacationing in his native homeland at the time.
When it was time for the fencing squad to take a trip of its own to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Kaidanov kept vacationing, instead encouraging his victorious fencers to meet the Commander in Chief.
Victory is something Kaidanov first achieved in 1983, along the way guiding the men’s team to a nearly spotless 14-1 record.
Win No. 600 came during the 2004-05 season; number 700 followed in 2008.
“It is pretty remarkable to see a coach go from zero wins to 800 wins,” said Chamley-Watson, a freshman on the team that helped Kaidanov get to number 700. “This is a very big deal.”
Chamley-Watson is figured into another significant number on Kaidanov’s coaching ledger: 10, the number of Olympians that have fenced under him at Penn State.
An arguably even more impressive number on the fencing master’s resume is 77, the number of times his teams have tasted defeat in his 31 years of coaching at Penn State.
To say that Kaidanov has dominated his profession since his arrival at Penn State is like describing Beaver Stadium as “fairly large.”
“He will always fight for you and that makes you want to do as well as you can for him,” said Meredith Steyer, a former Penn State fencer who witnessed Kaidanov log No. 600. “You want to help him add to his legacy.”
Kaidanov’s legacy to outsiders might be built solely on wins, championships and Olympic medals, but his true essence of excellence extends well beyond the mat, and the mask.
Steyer served as a team captain on the fencing team before a back injury ended her Penn State fencing career.
While unable to compete, Steyer was always there supporting her team, at the same time her coach was supporting her through this heartbreak.
“It is so hard for any athlete to have something taken away from them before they can go out on their own terms,” said Steyer, who lives in the Boston area. “He always helped me feel like I was still part of the team.”
The only thing Steyer has done since receiving that news from the doctors is take up power lifting, complete the Boston Marathon and begin her own career as a fencing coach.
“I called to tell him I was getting into coaching and he said it was so great for me to pass on my knowledge of the game,” said the 2005 Penn State graduate. “It was so great for him to see me fence again.”