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For Penn’s wrestling team, an ‘innovative’ succession plan from one program legend to another

The all-time winningest Penn coach will hand the program over to the all-time winningest Penn wrestler.

Matt Valenti (left) will take over the Penn wrestling program in 2025-26, when longtime coach Roger Reina will move into an emeritus role for one season before retiring from coaching.
Matt Valenti (left) will take over the Penn wrestling program in 2025-26, when longtime coach Roger Reina will move into an emeritus role for one season before retiring from coaching.Read moreUniversity of Pennsylvania

If succession plans were always this simple, HBO would have fewer Emmy Awards in its cupboard. If college coaching transitions always went this way, free from drama and full of transparency, a multiyear timeline laid out with an announcement, message boards and Reddit threads would be boring.

Roger Reina’s first 20-year stint at the University of Pennsylvania from 1986-2005 already had him in the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame. His second stint, from 2017 until the present, has furthered a legacy that didn’t need much enhancing. On Thursday morning, the university announced a transition and succession plan to bring Reina’s time at Penn to a close. Reina, 62, will coach the Quakers next year, then move into a job the school is calling “head coach emeritus” in 2025-26, as he hands the reins of the program to Matt Valenti, who joins the coaching staff immediately as co-associate head coach.

The program’s all-time leader in coaching victories is handing it over to the wrestler with the most wins in school history in a two-year plan Reina calls “innovative, thoughtful, transparent.”

“I’ll say this, too: In a day and age where there is so much uncertainty in college athletics, for so many reasons, here’s absolute certainty that we’ve announced, with a timeline and leadership,” Reina said.

“This has been a big part of my life for a long time and something we’re very proud of.”

Reina said his contract runs until July 2026. He’ll be going on 65 by then and coaching wrestling is, he said, “a young man’s sport.” Valenti, whom Reina recruited to Penn and coached for two seasons before leaving the job in 2005, was an assistant coach at Penn from 2009 to 2015 before transitioning into an athletic administration role at the university. Reina came back to the school in 2017, after the program had cycled through a few coaches, but he began thinking a year or two ago about the future.

Valenti, a two-time NCAA champion and three-time All-American, was involved in the thinking, too. He was looking around the country trying to figure out the best fit to keep Penn’s successful wrestling program competing at the highest levels — Penn, competing with much larger athletic programs, has sent the 12th-highest total of wrestlers in Division I to the NCAA championships over the last three seasons and will host the NCAA championships at the Wells Fargo Center in 2025.

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Maybe this was Logan Roy’s biggest problem in HBO’s Succession. The best choice wasn’t already in the room. At Penn, it was.

“I don’t know that I would say that about myself because I’m not in the role yet,” Valenti said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to have a positive impact and I think I can. It’s big shoes to fill and an incredible legacy to try to follow. That’s always a challenge.”

Said Reina of Valenti: “He brings a deep institutional knowledge, a high degree of professionalism, and a high wrestling IQ.”

Valenti was once “the classic Penn student who was convinced they were going to go work on Wall Street and make millions of dollars by the time they’re 30 and retire at 35,” Valenti said. Then he got a taste of Wall Street and found that it wasn’t for him, so he went to Columbia to be an assistant coach, but really because he wanted a free master’s degree. Halfway through that program, he missed competing and moved back to Penn to coach while training for the 2012 Olympics, for which he almost qualified.

Valenti said he’ll use the next season as co-associate head coach to get back up to speed with the recruiting landscape and get to know the wrestlers in the program more. In 2025-26, the head coaching job is Valenti’s even though Reina will still be around in that emeritus role.

Penn didn’t want to call Reina an assistant coach, so head coach emeritus it is.

“It’s an interesting title, huh?” Reina said with a laugh. “It’s usually for professors or something like that.”

» READ MORE: Penn looks to recapture its NCAA baseball tournament form after rough start to season

Reina, in a lot of ways, has chaired the wrestling department for a long time. He’s the big reason Valenti came to Penn in the first place and the reason he almost left. Valenti took the year off in 2005 after a surgery. When Reina announced he was leaving, Valenti was devastated. He considered transferring.


“Roger’s leadership is a very unique leadership style and I think the way he invested in his wrestlers is what made this program so successful,” Valenti said. “The care that he showed, the way that he motivated, for me personally, it was a really impactful person to have in my life and in my corner, both literally and figuratively.”

A conversation the two had at the 2005 NCAA championships in St. Louis, while Valenti was taking the year off, changed the trajectory of Valenti’s wrestling career, and maybe more. The two watched Indiana’s Joe Dubuque, now the coach at Princeton, win a national title. Valenti had beaten Dubuque a season earlier. “If he can do it, I think I can,” Valenti said to Reina. “Well, you’re not going to,” Reina said back. There was a difference, Reina told Valenti, between thinking and believing.

“It was a really eye-opening, mind-exploding moment for me of like, ‘Oh, OK, yeah, that makes perfect sense. If I think I can, that means I have doubts. But if I believe I can, that means I don’t.’

“It was a transformative moment for me in my career.”

Valenti channeled that into his return to the mat. Reina was right, Valenti said. It didn’t matter who was in his corner. Everything he wanted was still in his control.

Reina said he was thinking Thursday night about the full-circle nature of all of this. He remembered that conversation in 2005, and said one of the hardest things about leaving the job in 2005 was leaving Valenti, who would go on to win the next two national championships at 133 pounds.

This time around, he’ll be by Valenti’s side through it all, to pass the torch. One Penn legend to another.