Tom Borrelli celebrates over two decades of success as coach of CMU Wrestling

Wrestling coach Tom Borrelli poses, Nov. 10 in the Wrestling Practice Facility on the campus of Central Michigan University. Josh Barnhart | Freelance Photographer

In 1991, gas was $1.12 per gallon, the Silence of the Lamb was released in theaters, and bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were starting to break through the music scene. 

As for Central Michigan, the Chippewas hired Tom Borrelli from Lake Superior State to take over the wrestling program – and the rest is history.

“I saw potential in the (CMU) program,” Borrelli said. “After coaching at Lake Superior State University for five years, I was looking for the opportunity to move up to division I."

Borrelli said he knew he had a great opportunity at Central Michigan, but there were some issues.

“The program wasn’t fully funded,” he said. “We didn’t have full allotment of assistant coaches. There was a lot of potential to grow." 

Borrelli is now in his 25th season as the wrestling coach at CMU and his pedigree is anything short of legendary.

Under Borrelli, the Chippewas have won 13 Mid-American Conference titles, including 11 straight from 2002-2012. Borrelli has been named  MAC Coach of the Year 12 times, seven more than the next closest coach.

“It was an exciting time” Borrelli said. “We didn’t lose a lot of MAC duels and won 11 straight MAC tournaments.”

On top of the team success, Borrelli has coached 40 All-Americans, which ranks eighth among Division I coaches all-time, 81 individual MAC Champions, 41 MAC first-team all-academic wrestlers, and 10 MAC Freshman of the Year award winners.

Every coach has their own formula to success. Some scream and shout while overcome with emotion. Some are quiet and show little signs of life. 

Assistant coach and former four-time All-American Ben Bennett said what separates Borrelli from other coaches is his commitment to his wrestlers.

“Whether you’re the best or the worst he treats you the same” he said. “He helps you on the mat and in the classroom. Everyone is treated equally. You can tell that all 30 guys are important, and demands it out of the team as well.”

Fellow assistant coach and former three-letter winner Ryan Cubberly agreed with Bennett.

“I like what he shows on an off the mat, what he preaches,” Cubberly said of Borrelli. “You can think of him as a father figure. You can ask him anything and he’ll spend everyday with you if you ask him to. He really cares about the team and the program.”

Even with all the success of the past 25 years, the past four have shown that there is a new mountain to climb – Missouri. Winners of the last four MAC titles and a top five program in the nation, Borrelli said he has found a new goal to reach: competing with the Tigers.

“They have a very good team,” he said. "(We are) improving tremendously and (have) the right focus. (Beating Missouri) is not impossible. We have the right people to step up to the challenge.”

“I tell myself year to year,” he said. “When it comes to recruiting, you have to tell them you’ll be here at least five more years.”

Borrelli’s accomplishments stand out for themselves, but the leader of the CMU wrestling program won’t brag about them when asked what 25 years at Central Michigan means to him. 

“It just means I’m old,” Borrelli said. “It also means I’ve had a good run here of very good student athletes, very good help as far as assistant coaches. I have a lot of pride in our school.”