E.A. Sports Today

Matt on the move

Oxford wrestling coach Tanner leaving for South Georgia, reaching out to attract a quality successor to keep program moving forward

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – Among Matt Tanner’s final formal acts as wrestling coach at Oxford High School was handing out medals and overseeing the rolling of the mats for the Alabama 14U and Cadet State Championship Saturday in the Oxford Sports Arena.

While the mats may have gone up for the season, Matt says he will always be there for his wrestlers, although in a couple months they’ll have to find him in another time zone.

At the end of the school year Tanner is headed to South Georgia for new challenges. He expects to be coaching again and has a few unspecified “irons in the fire,” including one that involves restarting a once-glorious program, but come next fall the Yellow Jackets will be under new direction.

“My family’s in South Georgia, my wife’s family is in South Georgia and we’re just headed back,” he said.

He’s trying not to leave the program in a bind. Since his intentions became known within wrestling circles he has reached out to all his coaching contacts in hopes of attracting a quality successor to “continue what we’ve been doing.”

In his three seasons with the Yellow Jackets, Tanner has produced two individual state champions and 11 state placers, a Calhoun County team champion (2015) and back-to-back South Sectional champions the last two seasons. His teams at the state championship placed seventh, third and tenth this year partly due to a less ambitious schedule that prevented them from seeing some of the best talent in the state.

“We’ve got a young team, we’ve got a lot of potential,” Tanner said. “I think they can actually win it – the state championship — within the next couple of years.

“It’s bittersweet. I get to go back to family, but I’m also leaving family. That’s always tough, especially knowing what they can possibly do. I know what they can do and I think I’m the best person to get them there but I can’t be here, so I’m trying to find and make sure the right person is here, the right people are here, because that’s what these boys deserve.”

Before coming to Oxford, Tanner spent two seasons at Wellborn where he produced six state placers.

All the potential coaching prospects Tanner characterized intrigue him, but the idea of restarting a program is particularly appealing.

“There are challenges in everything,” he said. “When you come into one, everything is kind of established, then you get your kids and you build them up and it’s your identity.

“When you start a program you can do it the right way or the wrong way. If you do it the right way … it’s a process of about six to 10 years. It’s a challenge I wouldn’t mind having, but it’s also a challenge.”

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