Arizona Athletics

Former University of Arizona wrestling coach Bill Nelson passed away at age 90 on Saturday

Bill Nelson (back row upper-right with black shirt) with his 1970 Wildcat team (UA Special Collections)

Former University of Arizona wrestling coach Bill Nelson passed away on Saturday, Sept. 23, at the age of 90.

Nelson won a high school state championship in 1945 and three NCAA titles at Northern Iowa in 1947, 1949 and 1950. The school used to be named Iowa State Teachers College. He also competed in the 1948 Olympics.

“As I reflect back on the years that I wrestled, I probably never wrestled a match that I hadn’t already wrestled 100 times in my mind,” Nelson said to Dan McCool of the Des Moines Register upon his inclusion in the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.

“In my mind, wrestling these matches, I never lost.”

Nelson had various high school coaching stops in Colorado, Iowa and Michigan before he was hired to coach at the University of Arizona from 1963 to 1981. He was inducted into the Arizona Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1977 and Michigan included him in their Hall of Fame a year later. Nelson was inducted into the National Hall of Fame in 1980.

According to USA Wresting, Nelson coached six All-Americans at Arizona, and led the Wildcats to seven Top 20 finishes at the NCAA Division I Championships. He brought the NCAA Division I Championships to Tucson, Arizona, in 1976, the only time the national tournament was held in the Southwest. He created the Arizona Invitational Wrestling tournament, which became the largest preseason tournament in the country.

A local memorial service is scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m. at the Christ Church United Methodist on Craycroft.

Cards can be sent to the family at 10334 W Willowbrook, Sun City, AZ 85373.

Services for William J. Nelson will be held Monday, Oct. 2 at 11 a.m. in his hometown of Eagle Grove, Iowa at the United Methodist Church, 421 West Broadway Street.


Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014 and he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017 and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on Andy was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Contact Andy Morales at



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