Before North Idaho College handled Eastern Oregon 40-9 in a wrestling dual Thursday at Rollie Williams Court, an announcer spoke into his microphone, thanking Pat Whitcomb for his highly successful coaching tenure at NIC.
Whitcomb wasn’t in the building, though.
The three-time national champion head coach was recently fired, according to sources close to the NIC wrestling program, following an external review that found possible violations of academic integrity within the athletic department.
NIC spokeswoman Laura Rumpler on Tuesday said that it would be inaccurate to say that Whitcomb had been fired. When asked Tuesday if Whitcomb would be NIC’s coach on Wednesday, Rumpler said, “Pat Whitcomb is still an employee of North Idaho College. Beyond that, I will reiterate that we have an ongoing investigation that involve multiple personnel issues.”
For the first time in 23 years, NIC was being led by another coach on Thursday, 27-year-old Brandon Richardson, an assistant of Whitcomb’s who prepped at nearby Lakeland High in Rathdrum and wrestled at Wyoming.
Richardson didn’t comment on the specifics of Whitcomb’s situation, but said his wrestlers miss Whitcomb.
“Monday was a hard day for these guys. They loved their coach,” Richardson said. “He means a lot to them, but he’s the kind of guy that is going to be in their lives.
“They knew that going in, and we addressed it (Monday). We didn’t pretend like nothing happened. It was back to work. We knew we had to move forward.”
NIC, the country’s fourth-ranked junior college wrestling program, had its way with Eastern Oregon, the No. 20 team in the NAIA.
Two EOU forfeits helped NIC take a 12-3 lead. The Cardinals won their next four matches with two pins, a major decision and a decision to breeze past the Mountaineers.
NIC standout Connor Sullivan (285 pounds) ended the dual by swiftly pinning Justin Wilson, getting back on his feet and flexing his sizable arms for the crowd.
“If anything, these guys realized that you can wrestle for more than just yourself,” Richardson said. “It’s an individual sport, but I think the (Whitcomb situation) is something that really brought our guys together.”
– Thomas Clouse contributed to this reporting
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