ST. LOUIS -- Maryville (Mo.) is starting a varsity wrestling program next season and has hired a reigning national championship coach to lead it.

Maryville announced its new team will compete as a Division II independent beginning with the 2011-12 campaign and has signed former Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Denney as its inaugural leader.

Denney’s former program was eliminated in March shortly after it won a third consecutive Division II national championship. Nebraska-Omaha dropped wrestling and football as part of the school’s intention to reclassify to Division I.

“Maryville is faced with an extraordinary opportunity, to say the least,” said Maryville President Mark Lombardi. “To create a new varsity athletics program and turn it over to the best coach in our nation is certainly a coup for our university. We enthusiastically look forward to the beginning of a winning wrestling tradition.”

Denney, a four-time national coach of the year, was at Nebraska-Omaha for 32 seasons. He owns seven national titles (1991, 2004-06 and 2009-11) and his teams finished in the top 10 in all but one season during his tenure. UNO’s 31 top-10 finishes are more than any other Division II school, and his teams compiled more than 300 dual-meet victories, with more than 175 Division II All-Americans and 30 national champions dotting the roster.

“It isn’t every day that an experienced coach gets the chance to create a college wrestling program from scratch, but that’s exactly the opportunity I’ve been blessed to receive at Maryville,” Denney said. “I’m excited to move to Maryville, along with many of my current student-athletes, so we can replicate the type of success we’ve had in Omaha in St. Louis.”

Denney was a four-year starter in football and wrestling at Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell, S.D. He was inducted into the Dakota Wesleyan Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988 and NCAA Division II Hall of Fame in 1999.