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Legendary SOU coach Bob Riehm passes away

ASHLAND — Bob Riehm, the man responsible for building the Southern Oregon University men’s wrestling program into a national powerhouse during his two-plus decades in charge, passed away peacefully Monday, the school announced. He was 83 years old.

Riehm, who coached at SOU for 25 years, was elected to the NAIA Hall of Fame in 1988 and led the Raiders to three national championships during his tenure as head coach, having coached 100 NAIA All-Americans along the way.

Riehm, originally from Britt, Iowa, was honored by SOU in February of 2011 when the gym inside McNeal Pavilion was named after him. That is still the case today even though McNeal Pavilion no longer stands, as SOU carried over the gym’s name when they opened Lithia Motors Pavilion in the fall of 2018.

“Bob Riehm’s name and legacy is unmatched in the halls of SOU and NAIA wrestling,” SOU athletic director Matt Sayre said in a release Tuesday. “He had a huge impact on the lives of so many he coached and worked with, and that continued after his retirement. He will be remembered as one of the greatest coaches in Raider history. We’re honored to have his name grace our facility and the several scholarships he set up to support our program.”

Riehm is also a member of the Oregon chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as well as the SOU Hall of Fame. Four different teams that Riehm coached have also been inducted into the SOU Hall of Fame.

He finished his storied coaching career with a 270-71-2 record — which is still the best mark in SOU history and nearly half of the program’s total amount of victories — and was named NAIA Coach of the Year twice while coaching 13 individual national champions.

SOU finished in the top eight at nationals 18 times and won 12 regional team titles over the course of Riehm’s 25-year coaching career.

“Bob did a lot more than win national championships, and he will be missed,” then-SOU athletic director Ken Droscher said when Riehm announced he was stepping aside in June of 1994. “He is the dean of our coaching staff, and he was treated that way. He truly represents a legacy over the last 25 years.”

Riehm only had one season where a team of his finished with a .500 record — his first season in 1969-70. From then on, the Raiders posted winning records and worked their way up the national rankings into one of the most consistent programs around.

SOU won its first national title in Riehm’s ninth season in 1977-78. The Raiders then won their second national title five years later, a 12-0-1 season — the school’s first-ever undefeated season — that was capped off with wins over Oregon and Oregon State.

SOU won its third and final national title under Riehm’s watch during his last season as head coach in the 1993-94 campaign when it finished in a first-place tie with Western Montana. As Riehm pointed out after the national tournament triumph, SOU getting contributions from all 10 of its wrestlers was something that allowed them to send the legendary head coach out on a high note.

“The idea of having 10 guys score is pretty tough to do,” said Riehm, who announced that he was stepping down three months later. “We thought we might get a few more points from some guys, but instead got it from other guys.”

“The NAIA is such a guessing game,” he added. “I thought coming in we had as good a chance as four or five other teams. Obviously every fraction of a point was critical.”

The naming of SOU’s gym after Riehm was the final step in a fundraising drive in his honor that saw the school raise over $100,000 — which was put toward equipment for the gym as well as purchasing a new wrestling mat.

“First, the SOU wrestling family sends its condolences to Bob’s family,” said current SOU wrestling coach Joel Gibson, who took over for Mike Ritchey in April. “His hard work and dedication put SOU wrestling on the map and is the reason why our program has such a strong tradition. He was instrumental in shaping the lives of countless young men who came through here, and his role as a mentor will have a lasting impact. We’ll do our best to honor his legacy for many years to come.”

Reach Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Former Southern Oregon University men's wrestling coach Bob Riehm, right, gestures during a 2011 dedication ceremony at McNeal Pavilion. (Photo courtesy of SOU athletics)