Pitt-Johnstown wrestlers pose with coach Pat Pecora, center, after beating Mercyhurst and giving Pecora his 617th career win, breaking an all-time NCAA record, in Johnstown, PA., Friday, Feb.7, 2020.

No coach in college wrestling history has won more dual meets than Pat Pecora.

The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown coach watched his Mountain Cats defeat Mercyhurst, 22-12, last Friday – giving him 617 career victories, one more than Dale Thomas of Oregon State.

The man who said he always thought of coaching as a family was surrounded after the match by current and former wrestlers who helped him reach that remarkable wins total.

“When I started coaching, I was 22 years old. What did I know? I never was even an assistant coach in my life,” Pecora said at the UPJ Wellness Center.

“I ran a team like my parents raised a family. That’s all it was. That’s what I try to do in everything I’m in.”

Pecora arrived at UPJ in 1976 to take over a young Mountain Cats program, and his first team went 4-12.

But the Cats have had only one losing season since, and have rolled up 29 straight winning campaigns.

Pecora has coached two teams to national championships, and has had 14 of his wrestlers win individual NCAA titles – with 22 gold-medal finishes combined.

“I don’t think you realize it when you’re there until you step back a few years and you see, one, Pat is the ultimate motivator,” Sean Isgan, a national finalist in 1981, told reporter Mike Mastovich.

“But he does it because he genuinely cares about every single kid on that team. It’s evident. The kids feel it. He will go to the wall for you.”

This year, the Cats are 20-3 and ranked No. 4 in NCAA Division II.

Senior and two-time national champion Chris Eddins contributed to the record-setting win with a major decision, then praised his coach as a mentor and leader.

“I just like being a part of Coach Pecora’s journey,” Eddins said.

“I’m trying to make him proud every time I step on the mat.

“Everybody that comes through here, we’re all ‘Brothers for Life.’ He’s the dad of the team. ... He does everything a father does. He’s always on you. He always pushes you to be your best. It’s tough love but it’s good love.”

The moment earned the UPJ program and its coach national media attention – and even a spot on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”

Pecora enjoyed sharing his milestone with those “sons” – wrestlers from throughout his 44-year career – and the ones on this year’s strong team.

“It’s not a single person’s record,” Pecora said. “It’s hundreds, maybe thousands, of young men who put on a UPJ singlet. They were all part of it.”

We add our congratulations to the many voices praising Pecora’s accomplishments as a coach. He is an icon in his sport and also in our community.

The Mountain Cats coach has reached the top of the mountain.

But we know he’ll keep right on climbing.

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