Tom Brands named WIN Magazine Coach of the YearUniversity of Iowa coach Tom Brands said he's "fanatical" about a standard and has brought that standard back to his alma mater. Just finished with his second season in Iowa City, Brands' Hawkeyes have climbed back to the top of the college wrestling world for the first time since 2000.
For this year's NCAA title and their 21-1 record, Brands has been named W.I.N.'s Dan Gable Coach of the Year.
All-American Phil Keddy said he and his teammates feed off Brands' attitude.
"Coming in, everybody wants to win and says they have high goals. Gable and Brands set a completely new standard, and not just in the wrestling room. Your entire lifestyle is built toward winning and achieving your goals. Their mentality is so different and so much higher. Everybody feeds off each other and keeps getting better," the sophomore 184-pounder said.
The Hawkeyes performed fairly consistently all year, dropping only one dual. Oklahoma State downed Iowa on its home mat, Jan. 5, 19-14. Aside from that loss, the Hawkeyes won the Midlands team title, dominated the National Duals, won the Big Tens and outdistanced second-place Ohio State by 38.5 points at the NCAAs.
Keddy was asked how Brands is able to set the bar so high.
"Expectations and belief in everybody is so high, that to go out there and not win would be a huge disappointment. If you're going out there to dominate as well, you're going to win the close matches too," he said. "Everybody in the room has the same goals. Ten national champs is the goal. We're obviously going to be close if we don't achieve that."
There's certainly people in the wrestling community who would like to see anybody but Iowa back on top. And many of those same people roll their eyes at comments like Keddy's about dominating in a college wrestling landscape, which some people say has as much parity as the sport has seen in quite some time.
"People would hit me on the shoulder early in my career before they knew I was a disciple of Gable's, and they'd say, 'You'll learn to blow him off' and they'd roll their eyes at him," Brands said.
"I can't stand rolling my eyes at that standard. I roll my eyes at a substandard. You learn to either stay at that high level or conform. Brands boys don't conform. That's arrogant to say, but we were never conformists. We always looked for the high standard and the right way to do things," the 1996 Olympic champion said. He added that he knows his expectations and standard doesn't sit well with some.
"The enemy here isn't fanaticism, the enemy isn't excellency. The enemy is socialism and apathy. A lot of people don't agree with that."
The father of three points back to his upbringing with his identical twin Terry as the starting point in his attitude towards this high standard and intensity.
"His standard was right up there with mine, if not higher. When you wanted to pull the covers up and shut the alarm off, he was right there over top you. And vice versa. There was no way to hide or taking the easy way out," Tom said of his brother who is now the resident freestyle coach for the Olympic Team in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The twins pushed each other from the time they started wrestling in fifth grade. Terry won two state titles and Tom won one before signing at Iowa. Tom won three NCAA titles, Terry won two for the Hawks. They both became World champions for the first time in 1993, and Tom won the Worlds again in 1995 before winning in Atlanta in 1996. Terry settled for Olympic bronze four years later in Sydney.
But it was in Iowa City in college, being around Gable, where the twins' "fanatical" attitude was taken to another level.
"Being around Gable changes you. In the early college years, I wanted to follow in his foot steps. I wanted to not only wrestle for him, but I wanted to work for him (as a coach)," Brands said.
Gable felt Brands was the right person to receive the award named in his honor.
"Total-year consistency along with the distance between first place and the rest makes (Brands) an obvious choice. The jump we took from last year to this year was eye-opening for me a little bit. Even though that's a hard thing to say," said Gable, now an assistant to the athletic director at Iowa who's still involved with the wrestling program and the post-graduate club.
From a distance, it looks like Brands and his assistants' main job is to find kids who are willing to buy into their system and standard. Brands, who returns five All-Americans, said that's not really it at all.
"I don't care if I have guys who are bought into my program. I want guys who are bought into themselves."
Keddy feels more Hawks are "buying into themselves" now because of the head man's ability to live out his expectations off the mat too.
"He's a great coach who would do anything for you. He'd give you the shirt off his back. Everything is directed towards wrestling because he's so passionate and he loves it so much. He wants to make us the best that we can be," the former two-time Utah champ said.
Brands, a native of Sheldon, Iowa, said as a parent you also need high expectations as well. He communicates that standard from the Bible and his Christian faith.
"It's a Biblical principle to live a life towards excellency. Jesus Christ said it and God spoke through Him and his prophets. It's very important in how I live my life and how I raise my kids. When you don't feel like doing something, you do it anyway. It's a fanaticism principle," he said.
Brands also pointed out his view that many people in wrestling and life give lip service to their desire to live every facet of their lives to the highest standard (detailed in the quote at the beginning of the story), but few really do.
"People can read a quote like that and say they understand. Very people really have it with them, it's something that's ingrained in you. John Smith has it with him, Gable has it with him. We have a bunch of guys who're aspiring to that. That's exciting. That's why Tom Brands is coach of the year," he said.
After giving a lot of thought to the question about what most people don't know about him as a coach, he shared about a brief conversation at Nationals. Getting ready for the 133-pound national championship which pitted Joe Slaton against Oklahoma State's Coleman Scott, someone who could be considered an "enemy on the mat" paid a compliment to Brands which greatly impacted him.
"There's been some things that have been said to me that have meant a lot from people that would blow your mind if I told you who they were. I appreciate that. I appreciate when like-minded people say some things that are on the same plane with where I'm at. It's very, very rare," Brands said.