Published: June 26, 2013
When Matt Brickell first told friends he was walking away from his life in wrestling, they warned him.
"You're going to miss it," they said.
He never found out if his friends were right. Brickell retired in February after 23 seasons as Coronado's head wrestling coach.
He returned last week.
Early in a discussion with Brickell about his decision to end his ultra-brief retirement, he insisted his return would only be for one season. But the more we talked, the less precise he became about his plans to permanently depart.
This could be for one last wrestling season. Or it could be for more.
Cam McElhany understands. He has worked alongside Brickell for years as a volunteer assistant. Cam's son, Carter, won two state titles under Brickell's direction.
Wrestling, McElhany said, has this way of grabbing a strong hold on your soul.
"When you're in wrestling, you feel like you're trapped in it," McElhany said. "You can never get out of it, but you wouldn't want it to be any different. Once it's into you, you can't get it out of you."
Brickell never intended to coach. After graduating from Nebraska, he planned to work in wildlife management, but ended up teaching high school in Milford, Neb., where the wrestling coach asked if he would help with the team. He said yes.
The wrestling coach soon resigned, leaving Brickell as head man.
"I just had a little knack at it," he said.
That was a long time ago, and Brickell knows it. He's 55, and he no longer battles on the mat with his Coronado wrestlers.
"Wrestling is a young man's game," Brickell said. "Those kids - oh, they'd break me in two. It's not like golf."
He's right. Wrestling is nothing like golf. Brickell has long excelled at persuading young men to make the immense sacrifices required to excel in this primal, brutal sport.
Brickell loves his job. That's obvious when you watch him at work. And he was never comfortable with the idea of walking away from the mat. He wanted to want to retire. He really did.
But he never quite convinced himself.
"I didn't want to say I was going to retire," Brickell said before laughing for several seconds.
"Here's the big deal about it. As we get older, if you can stay involved with kids, they keep you younger, I really believe that. Just to be able to work with kids, it keeps you vibrant, keeps you younger."
Brickell keeps intensely involved with his athletes. After a tough day of practice, a wrestler might get an encouraging call from Brickell. "I'm proud to have you on my team," he will say. He keeps up with injuries. He's interested in the potential state champ and the struggling athlete who is just happy to be part of the team.
There's a reason for his empathy with those who struggle.
Brickell was a good, not great, wrestler at Denver's Thomas Jefferson. He never competed in the state tournament. This is partially because he also competed on TJ's powerful soccer and lacrosse teams.
"There's no ego involved when you weren't that good," Brickell said. "You just want your kids to have success. That's it in a nutshell."
So he's back.
For how long?
Don't ask Matt Brickell. He loves his sport too much to be sure.