Kurt Backes faced a dilemma that led to a tough decision, but it was one he said he had to make.
Backes confirmed Tuesday that he will be leaving his position as volunteer assistant after three seasons with the University of Iowa wrestling program to pursue another career option. His last day on staff is May 31.
He helped Iowa to a 49-7-1 dual record. The Hawkeyes have had two NCAA champions, 15 All-Americans and four Big Ten titlists during his time with the program.
“I can’t compare the relationships I’ve built here in Iowa City between the athletes and coaches to anywhere else,” Backes said. “It’s really tough to leave a program like this to go into other opportunities, but it’s the best move for my family.”
Backes graduated from Iowa State University in 2007 with a degree in finance. He will begin a new position June 10 with Wells Fargo in Des Moines. A promotion of his wife, Mandy, prompted a move to Central Iowa, and it was a chance the family couldn’t pass up, according to Backes. The couple has a son about a year old.
Backes was a two-time All-American for the Cyclones, winning Big 12 titles at 184 and 197 pounds. He won 109 matches in his career with the Cyclones.
Iowa Coach Tom Brands said Backes shared the same ideals of the Hawkeyes program, but he had a different way to convey it to wrestlers.
“I think he brought the same philosophy with a different method,” Brands said. “It’s always good.”
The New Jersey native was an accomplished freestyle competitor, reaching the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials finals and travelling to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, as an alternate and training partner. He claimed the U.S. Men’s Freestyle championship in 2007 and placed third at the U.S. Open that same year.
The future could lead to coaching at the club or high school level, noting he might enter the media working with Takedown Radio’s Scott Casber. After all, wrestling has been a key component of his life for the last 24 years.
“I’ll be involved in wrestling on a different plane,” said Backes, who also served as a volunteer assistant at Virginia Tech and a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Missouri before arriving at Iowa. “It’s always exciting to go into different things. I’m just entering a new chapter in my life. It’s going to be hard to replace wrestling.”
Backes was one of the few to bridge the two rival programs, gaining acceptance from Hawkeye fans despite competing for the in-state rival. He has a deep affection for both programs and will remain a Hawkeye fan. Backes is grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Iowa program.
“The way I feel about both programs is personal,” Backes said. “I graduated from Iowa State, training and competing for the university and Cyclone Wrestling Club. Then, coming here for three years and meeting different people in the Hawkeye community, the coaching staff and athletes, I’m always going to be a Hawkeye fan.
“Does one trump the other? No, but right now I’m a Hawkeye and a big fan of the team, because I have time invested.”
The process has already started to find a replacement. There is no current timetable for a hire. Some candidates may still be active wrestlers and contact may be delayed until after upcoming competitions.
“We’re working on that now,” Brands said. “We’re not going to just jump into it. … We’ll see how it goes.”
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