Finley leaves lasting legacy as Southwest wrestling coach

Aaron Finley’s ability to speak words of encouragement to hundreds of students helped him leave a lasting legacy in Southwest High School’s wrestling room.
Finley announced this spring that he would step down as head boys wrestling coach after 22 seasons. He founded the program when Southwest first opened its doors in 2002, and he has remained a trusted mentor for many Silver Hawks ever since. Even though he is stepping away from coaching, Finley will remain chairperson of the school’s world language department and continue to teach German classes.
Terry Morrow has had a front-row seat to Finley’s positive actions for the past 17 years. He joined Southwest’s coaching staff in 2007 and watched Finley teach wrestlers the vocabulary of hard work, dedication and perseverance.
“I mean, the significance of his tenure in this program is tremendous,” Morrow said. “I think he’s built up a great wrestling program that’s well known in Class A where we’re always, always tough to beat, and that we’re always going to give you our best.
“And Aaron’s passion and dedication to the sport, not only just the sport but in teaching also, it goes hand in hand with him. He brings his teaching in here. Sometimes he’ll speak in German, so it’s fun, but, you know, just his passion, his dedication, his will to always make people better, make everybody around him better.”
Southwest students Titus and Cole both said Finley made major differences in their lives. Titus enjoyed both academic and athletic success while wrestling under Finley the past four years. Cole soaked in a full array of lessons from the veteran coach during his sophomore season.
“I mean, he’s the type of guy that just keeps his cool when he needs to,” Titus said. “He doesn’t get too fired up unless he has to, but he knows when to get fired up and he knows when to motivate.
“And I think that he showed me what kind of a good leader is like, level-headed and just passionate where you need to be, but also he can be there for you emotionally when you’re going through something, or he’s there for you when you just won a big match and when you just want to hug somebody and give somebody a high five, you know? So, he knows how to be with kids. And he’s had a great impact on me as a person. He’s taught me hard work.”
“He’s always positive and always wants the best for everyone,” Cole said. “He always assures that he can get everyone on the mat by taking care of everyone, and if they need something, he takes care of that too.”
Finley came to Southwest after spending five years on Brad Hildebrandt’s staff at Omaha Skutt. He helped the Skyhawks win four straight Class B team titles from 1998-2001 before learning about the head coaching opportunity in Lincoln.
While success on the mat has been important – Justin Ferguson (2008), Kenny Martin (2013) and Connor Clanton (2017) have all won state titles at Southwest – Finley said that hasn’t been the primary objective. His top goal has been helping students become fluent in an entire set of lifelong skills.
“It’s never really been about wins and losses. It’s just been about the process,” Finley said. “And I know that’s kind of a cliché thing to say, but that’s one thing that Brad always said. And this is a guy that won 21 state titles in Class B, so success is always about more than wins and losses. We would joke around with kids like, ‘If you leave here with anything, it’s just that you know how to be like, a real person.’ So, I mean, it’s just life lessons. It’s things like that.”
Finley said he has enjoyed coaching in Southwest’s close-knit community. He said the support from parents, teachers and administrators has not gone unnoticed. He believes that encouragement will continue under Pat Miron, who will become the new head boys wrestling coach next year. Miron was a volunteer coach on Finley's staff last season.
“Here at Southwest, it’s different,” Finley said. “There’s still about a dozen of us that opened the school here, so I just feel like it’s a different place to be. We’re all interested in each other’s activities and the things we’re coaching and sponsoring. So, it makes it a lot of fun to be here because people sincerely care about what’s going on. And that’s not just with me, but that’s everything, really, from Science Olympiad to the theater program to music to athletics to whatever.”
Finley’s dedication to students has also extended beyond the wrestling mat. When he learned Titus wanted to enroll in the construction management program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he wrote a recommendation letter full of praise and support. The letter helped Titus earn a full-ride scholarship.
“Oh, it was huge,” Titus said. “I needed someone to write it for me, and it was during wrestling season, and I was like, ‘Finn, you know me the best.’ So, he wrote a letter and yeah, it paid off. Thank you, thank you.”
Finley said those moments are why he has enjoyed speaking words of life and learning to Southwest wrestlers.
“Only a certain number can ever be on varsity. Only a certain number will ever go to the state meet or be a state medal winner,” Finley said. “But our goal was to coach them all and for everyone to take away something. And I feel like, obviously that’s not going to happen with 100 percent of everybody. That’s just an unreasonable thing to think. But we certainly tried, I feel like. I kind of left it up to them to take away something from this program. And in most cases, they did.”

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Published: June 5, 2024, Updated: June 6, 2024

Aaron Finley reacts with joy after watching one of his wrestlers win a match this past season. Finley is stepping away from coaching after 22 seasons leading Southwest High School athletes. He founded the boys wrestling program when the school opened and has helped hundreds of students during his tenure. He will continue to teach German classes at the high school.