The Tom Brands question

I noticed right after the first round in which Iowa lost Nick Moore and Ethen Lofthouse to the back side of the bracket at nationals, a few fans were questioning the effectiveness of Tom Brands. I realize that most fans were reacting in the moment, and probably don’t believe Iowa should look for other coaching options outside of the Brands brothers. I believe this first and foremost because the question Brands loyalists would respond with is, “Well then who should Iowa sign as their head coach?”. The answer to that question right now is no one. There is no one up-and-coming coach in the NCAA that is ready to take on a dynasty program like Iowa and have the expectations of winning a NCAA title every year. Even Doug Schwab, who had a great season at UNI and is a former Iowa assistant, probably wouldn’t be a flashy enough hire. There just isn’t a coach out there that has had enough success at their current program that you could make the argument they are a better coach than Tom Brands. There are three key questions I am going to address and try and answer. The first is: Why isn’t Brands developing talent? The next question is: Who should Iowa get to replace Brands? The last question would be: Maybe we should replace our assistants?

Why isn’t Brands developing talent?

Just what was so bad about Tom Brands finish this weekend? One argument that could be made is that perhaps Brands cannot develop the talent he has in the room right now. After all, Nick Moore was a top ten high school recruit and Ethen Lofthouse was a two time All American and neither made the stand. I don’t see that those two are directly the result of talent devlopment. To throw out the often overused phrase, you need to buy into the program if you want to achieve success. Therefore, I believe that it is a matter of bringing in recruits that you think will fit that profile. I for one think that Lambotte and Gross fit that mold, but I will dive deeper into them later this off season. For now we can look no further than the current squad. There are two members in the lineup that appear to have bought into this Tom Brands program and appear to be heading in the right direction.

Let’s start at 149 Brody Grothus. Brody was a guy who spent the better part of last season as a split starter with Mike Kelly, failing to even register a win in Big Ten duals. The Kelly and Grothus combination was considered so poor that Brands opted to go with his 141 pounder Josh Dziewa at the conference tournament to try and hope for a change of pace being the answer.

But now, as a sophomore, Grothus was able to score wins over top opponents (including wins over the NCAA champion and runner up) and finished 5-3 in Big Ten duals. So while you can say that the improvement is attributed to Grothus putting in the hard work to make himself better, a part of his success has to be credited to Brands for being able to channel Brody’s motivation by “buying in to the program”. Last season we saw Brody use his setups and holds to try and work a throw or a big move against his opponent. It was a very successful strategy in high school and there are several wrestlers who can make it work in college, but it was obvious early on that Brody only using throws wasn’t going to work for him. This past year Grothus added a shot to allow him to score, and as we saw in the Grajales match, he can be a hammer on top and turn opponents.

The list doesn’t stop there. Nathan Burak was a wrestler who when he joined the program you could tell he was still very raw and while he had potential to be a good wrestler, there was a lot of work that needed to be done. As a freshman Burak was pretty average in the Big Ten, he finished with a 4-4 record in the duals and had a great tournament run at conference to finish 4th and a 3-3 performance at NCAAs. As a sophomore Burak improved to a 6-2 finish in Big Ten duals, and while he may not improved on his conference finish from the previous year, he did finish an All American in his second trip after being seeded 11th.

Not that this can debunk the notion that Brands isn’t getting all of his wrestlers to develop the proper way. I know because I was a huge Nick Moore fan in high school the way he absolutely destroyed his competition. What you can’t say is that Brands is failing at his job, because he has obviously been able to develop talent of wrestlers who could be considered “diamonds in the rough” and he has also had a national champion almost every year dating back to when Mark Perry won his first title over Hendricks.

Who could replace Tom Brands?

The next pressing question one could have is who is available to replace Tom Brands. There are several interesting names out there, off the top of my head I can think of Kevin Dresser, Doug Schwab, and maybe Mark Perry.

Kevin Dresser is fresh off a top ten performance for his Virginia Tech squad finishing 8th. Dresser was an Iowa wrestler back in the 1980s and even wrestled on the team with former Iowa head coach Jim Zelesky. Dresser then took a job coaching a power house high school team in Virginia before landing the VT job. The problem with hiring Dresser is that he has already been the answer to Tom Brands. When Brands left VT for Iowa, Dresser was who they brought in. I am not sure that Dresser would even really be in consideration for the Iowa job if they actually wanted to replace Brands, but based on his Iowa connection I figured his name would be brought up. I still don’t think Dresser has done enough with his terrific talent on his own team to justify he could do better with Iowa’s talent.

Next would be Doug Schwab, another Iowa alum and former assistant coach, Schwab got a lot of love for Iowa fans because he played an integral role in Iowa’s recruiting. While Schwab had a fantastic season at UNI finishing second in the MAC tournament, and undefeated dual season, and a top 15 finish at NCAA’s, there too would be questions about Schwab’s ability to develop talent if he were brought in. I am not sure how an AD could justify getting rid of Brands to replace him with a guy who got a top 5 HWT recruit (Cody Krumwiede) who hasn’t produced for his team, and his 2013 184 pound All American, much like Iowa’s, failed to make the podium this year. It wouldn’t make sense to hire Schwab right now because he isn’t necessarily the perfect answer. Replacing Brands would have to be a perfect hire, because you can’t fire a top three/four coach in the nation to take a shot on someone who is not proven to be a top five coach.

Finally,Mark Perry is about the only other interesting name to consider. Perry doesn’t quite have the experience that Brands brings to the table, but he has spent time at Cal-Poly, Penn State, and now Illinois. He is also interesting because his jobs have had him work in California and Pennsylvania two rich high school talent states. He is from Oklahoma, wrestled at Iowa and is now at Illinois, so he has Midwest experience. He also competed for New Jersey powerhouse Blair Academy. All of those nice things said about Perry, he is still pretty green in coaching. At least in terms of him taking over the dynasty program of Iowa. Considering Brands has been able to bring in starters on his current squad from Utah, Colorado, Pennsylvania (2), Delaware, and Illinois to say that Brands doesn’t have the ability to reach out and grab highly regarded recruits from places other than Iowa.

Possible assistants?

The assistant question is also a tricky one. I will start by saying replacing Terry Brands would be a mistake, so entertaining getting rid of him won’t be mentioned too much. Not only is Terry one of the greatest assistants in the NCAA, he could probably go be a top ten head coach if he wanted to leave his native state (thank god he doesn’t). If you have an assistant coach who is good enough to be a head coach, you don’t get rid of him.

Next is Ben Berhow who is actually a volunteer assistant coach. I think you only need to take a look at how Bobby Telford was able to defeat Tony Nelson for the first time in three years (and improve his NCAA placement from his first two seasons), and the fact Nathan Burak made the stand, as plenty of evidence that Berhow is doing an excellent job with the upper weights.

That leaves Ryan Morningstar and “Uncle” Luke Lofthouse. I don’t know a ton about what either truly brings to the program. Ryan is an assistant coach, looking at Nick Moore’s in season success you could say that Morningstar did a lot for Moore turning him from a tentative wrestler into a regular season scoring machine. Since you wouldn’t replace Morningstar with a big name hire (the money just isn’t there for another top assistant) I would say on the surface Morningstar is doing a fine job. I am not privy to the knowledge about how much body fat our wrestlers have, so how much muscle should they be able to have, but the Iowa wrestling program doesn’t have Lofthouse on their staff as strength and conditioning coach as a favor, he must have a sense of what he was doing. Additionally, former Hawkeye standouts

Matt McDonough and Brent Metcalf, two popular names when assistant coaches replacements is brought up, are actually already in the room “for free”. They wrestle for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club so technically those guys are already in the room making our wrestlers better. Maybe in a few seasons I could live with giving an assistant position to one of Metcalf or McDonough, but seeing as both are focused on international competition, there is no reason to open that door right now.

Wrapping up

So while it wasn’t the tournament we all wanted, or even what some were expecting, there are still some things we can be happy about. For the first time since 2010 Iowa qualified all ten starters for the national tournament. Of those 10 qualifiers, 6 of them finished as All Americans. Of the 6 All Americans who made the stand 4 of them will be returning starters (that is the same number for PSU as well who will return 125, 141, 174, and 197). Of Iowa’s 6 All American’s 4 of them wrestled higher than their seed (of the returning 4 only Evans failed to improve upon his seed). While Iowa may be losing 2 All Americans and three starters from their lineup, they are returning 70% of their lineup which finished fourth and two of the wrestlers who will presumably take starting spots (Thomas Gilman and Sammy Brooks) spent a majority of the season in the starting lineup. When considering a college national title run in any sport, one of the most important factors about a team is how much of the returning lineup does one team field. Iowa has a great number in terms of returning starters and their replacements have more experience than the average replacement. Penn State will be graduating their 149, 165 and 184. If you factor in how many points Iowa graduated: Ramos (20), St. John (13), and Lofthouse (1.5) and compare it to what PSU is graduating: English (6.5), Taylor (27), Ruth (24.5) you see Iowa is graduating 23.5 less points. The difference in team scores was 31. While the graduating of points doesn’t close the entire gap for Iowa and Penn State, it certainly levels the playing field. As listed above Tony Ramos scored 20 points by winning a NCAA title and failed to score any bonus points. Which means that Taylor and Ruth scored an additional 11.5 bonus points (essentially they were worth another All American).

All of this isn’t to say that Penn State is guaranteed to come back down to the rest of the field, but without them having two of the greatest bonus point scorers in the history of the NCAA certainly opens the door for other teams. Penn State was on a historic run and happen to have two of the greatest wrestlers in history on their team at the same time, now we will see how Cael can respond in his first year now that his two prized thoroughbreds have moved on to bigger things. Tom Brands is a coach who has won three consecutive national titles. He has pulled in numerous top recruiting classes including several #1 overall. He finished the season with six All Americans (one less than PSU). I am not saying Brands has been perfect, but this is hardly the time to be calling for a change at the helm, we need to take a step back and assess the situation entirely.

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