To start with– what the heck are you up to now?– Since you were very young wrestling has been a huge part of your life– 2 State Titles at Eagle Grove– 2 time NCAA All American at the University of Iowa including a National Championship in 1991, and 19 years of High School Coaching at Iowa City West that resulted in 7 State Team titles and 26 Individual state Champs. What consumes your time now?
I get to spend more time at the MRS Appraisal office and at home. Unfortunately, that means some ‘honey to do’ lists, but I figure out how to survive. I am still involved with wrestling, as I sit on the Board at USA Wrestling, and serve as the State Chairman for Iowa USAW. That tends to keep me busy during the spring and summer.
So with all that success– where do you keep all the medals, brackets trophies? Do you ever look at them?
The only awards I have in my house are the Junior National and Espoir National plaques, the Big Ten Plaques, and the NCAA plaques. Most everything else is stored at my parent’s house, I think. I get a more significant satisfaction looking at the state champion photos that I coached over the years.
As mentioned above, you had have a LOT of wrestling success at every level over a long period of time–what changes have you seen in the sport of wrestling over the years?
It has been a strange evolution of our sport, I think. Right now, see kids coming out of High School that are so far advanced. Many kids are ready to step in and compete at a high level right away. This wasn’t the case 20 or so years ago. But as I say that, I think the gap between the good and the average wrestler is widening. In looking at the wrestling in the state of Iowa, I don’t believe the depth of talent is as deep as it was. I think this is in part to participation numbers dropping and the farm families shrinking. Farming helped grow tough hard-working kids. Today kids have too many distractions, whether it be social media, internet, or video games.
Let’s roll the clock back to your days competing at Iowa- who were your main work out partners- who was in the HWC back then?
When I first got to the University, the practice room was insane. My first year in the room, I got to wrestle guys like Kevin Dresser, Jim Heffernan, Marty Kistler, Rico Chipparelli, and Duane Goldman. Plus, we had Brad Penrith and Royce Alger on the team as seniors. It made for some long weeks of practice back then.
You were a National Champ at the University of Iowa in 1991– Put in perspective how hard it is to win one of those titles.
We didn’t think of it in those terms. I think for our group, we expected to win national titles. Gable had a unique ability to get us to believe in ourselves at the right time. But he also convinced us that we worked harder than any other team around. I am not sure if it was true, but we certainly believed him. When you have that belief, winning comes with that hard work.
As you know, my primary role is to help raise money so we can support the men and women of the HWC. How important is it to have the post-grad elite athletes around for the collegiate team?
I think that is a huge advantage. I remember when I first got into the Iowa Wrestling room, watching how the post-grads conducted business had a massive effect on my training. These were guys I watched and looked up to when I was going through high school, so it was a dream come true to be practicing side by side or with those guys. The new guys need to understand the history of the program. The more guys we have in the room looking for World and Olympic titles, the more it will rub off on the next generation.
So let’s shift to your coaching career– why did you retire?
I think it was a combination of things. Physically, my aches and pains don’t allow me to coach the way I was accustomed to. I believe those aches started to get to me mentally to where I wasn’t excited to go into the practice room anymore. I loved the competitions. I loved putting my guys on the mat to see what they could do. But when a coach no longer enjoys going into the practice room to get the work done, it is probably time to find someone else that is enjoyable. I had a high standard for myself as a coach, and I didn’t feel I was hitting that standard anymore and thought I should step aside.
As a fan of any sport, the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” are emotional highs and lows –especially wrestling. How do you balance that as a coach sitting there in the corner– The highs are obvious– how do you deal with the unexpected, tough, controversial losses. How hard is it to know what an athlete needs after one of those scenarios?
Those situations are obviously hard. I likely had more of the agony than the thrill as a coach. You always want the best for each athlete. You know what they have invested in getting where they are. You hate to see them fall short of their goals. The big thing when dealing with those hard times is to make sure the athlete knows you care about them, not the wins. You need to tell them that one match won’t define them, and there will be bigger things ahead. But it is really about the relationship you have with them. As long as they know you care, they can usually handle the situation.
You were fortunate enough to coach some great wrestlers– One of those wrestlers is the son of one of our coaches( Coach Terry Brands), who happens to be a two time NCAA champ, two time World champ, and Olympic bronze medalist.– He also was a college roommate of yours– How was that experience coaching Nelson. I have heard that Coach Brands was very hands-off?
It is crazy to say, but Terry Brands was an ideal parent. I say crazy because he was hands-off. You see Terry on the sidelines, and he is anything but relaxed. With Nelson, he would only coach Nelson if Nelson asked him to.
I had called Terry one time to get some input from him. I had a game plan for Nelson in a match with a kid he had never beaten. I wanted to see what his take was on the match.
Terry’s response was, “You are the Coach. I agree with whatever you decide.”
This guy wrestled and coached at the highest level but doesn’t want to step on my toes. He eventually gave me some input. But to think it was like pulling teeth to get input would not be something most people would understand.
Lastly– I know you have been in Carver for some BIG meets both as an athlete and as a fan– what the loudest you remember it?
Likely my favorite moment and it was pretty loud that night was my true freshman year, I don’t believe we had lost in Carver yet as a team, ever, and coming down to the last two matches against ISU, Brooks Simpson had to wrestle Eric Voelker, the returning NCAA champ. We had to win the last two matches to win the meet, and Simpson found a way to put Voelker on his back and get the fall. That was some unbelievable noise.
High School: Eagle Grove
Coach: Marv Reiland
1984 Fifth at State
1985 State runner-up
1986 145 lb State Champion
1987 155 lb State Champion
College: University of Iowa
Coach: Dan Gable
2-time All American
NCAA Champion as Junior
Two Traditional team championships
Five Dual meet team championships
22 State Champions
84 State Place Finishers
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