IOWA CITY — John Streif’s selfless devotion to Iowa athletics has become almost a marvel for Hawkeye observers.
Streif, 61, serves as assistant trainer for Iowa’s football and men’s basketball teams. But his acts of service extend well beyond the playing field. He takes on the role of confidant, friend and surrogate father for generations of Iowa athletes.
Basketball players open up with reverence for Streif. He helps them with rides to lunch or class. He brightens their day with a smile or a hand on their shoulder.
“John Streif is the best. One word,” Iowa freshman guard Cully Payne said. “You can ask all 13 guys that if they could do anything for Streif, they would. I would take a bullet for him.
“I was sick three or four weeks ago, I called him at like 2 in the morning, throwing up, and he came right over. He’s the man. He’s unbelievable.”
Streif’s humility endears him to friends of all eras. He declines interview requests to discuss himself, but never shies from questions about other people. Conversely, hardened coaches effuse praise upon Streif.
Former Iowa men’s basketball coach and Hall of Famer Lute Olson returned to Iowa City in October to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Iowa’s 1979-80 Final Four team. One of the best parts of returning, Olson said, was running into Streif.
“John has been married to this job for a lot of years,” Olson said. “It’s wonderful that a man would dedicate his life to young people to the way John has dedicated his life.”
Former Iowa All-American point guard Ronnie Lester donated $100,000 toward the Carver-Hawkeye Arena renovation project. Lester, now an assistant general manager with the Los Angeles Lakers, had one request: name the training facility after Streif.
“John Streif has been a terrific friend to me for more than 30 years,” Lester said. “He has worked tirelessly to support me and numerous other athletes for over four decades now. His dedication to the Hawkeyes is legendary, and I’m honored to name the training room for him.”
After that announcement Olson joked, “that probably should have been done about 20 years ago.”
Streif, a Manchester native, has earned a litany of awards since joining Iowa’s training staff in 1972. Among the many include Hall of Honor Award from the Iowa Athletic Trainers Society, UI Athletic Department Distinguished Service Award and the David J. Skorton Staff Excellence Award for Public Service. He also earned a game ball after the 2001 Alamo Bowl and was named co-winner of the 1997 Chris Street Award.
“All of the things that John does behind the scenes, hospital visits to countless people, this guy is just absolutely amazing,” Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said. “When you talk about a great Hawkeye, that’s John Streif.”
Yet, the honors continue to humble him. He carries on his chores inauspiciously. In 1980 he added travel coordinator to his list of duties. He finds the right hotels, food and activities for men’s basketball and football. Often he’s making Orange Bowl plans one minute and wrapping an ankle the next.
“I don’t see how he does it,” Iowa men’s basketball coach Todd Lickliter said. “You want to be thoughtful with him, too, and considerate because he’ll do anything that you ask. He’s so conscientious and wants things to go well.
“I’ve used his example many times with the team. What a great example as far as how to be a good teammate. I think being a servant is the highest form of leadership. That’s the way he sees himself.”
Streif is just as loyal to the people who work underneath him as those he works with. Valparaiso (Ind.) University associate athletics trainer Nathan Twedt, who prepped under Streif at Iowa in the mid-1990s, said Streif taught him “to always put the welfare of my athletes first.”
“He truly is a credit to the profession,” Twedt said. “I hope that I can be as good as him someday.”
Lickliter knows firsthand the type of care Streif provides. When Lickliter came to Iowa City in 2007 his son, John, was ill. Streif took him to a local doctor, then bought lunch for him and Lickliter’s wife, Joez. Earlier this month when Lickliter was recovering from surgery, Streif made multiple hospital stops.
“One day I woke up, and I just had newspapers there,” Lickliter said. “I knew where they came from.
“Love is as love does. I always remember that. That’s a pretty good line. That’s John Streif, isn’t it?”