A day with Tom Brands

Wrestling coach's days are not complete unless work gets accomplished

Published: March 4 2014 | 4:04 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:09 am in

IOWA CITY – The sun had not completely emerged to brave the sub-zero temperatures of a brutal Iowa winter morning.

The doors of the University of Iowa Athletics Department offices at Carver-Hawkeye Arena remained locked to the public.

The day for Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands, however, was already hours old. By the time the day ended at Carver, it would be even darker than when he arrived. It is one example of the tireless work of Brands and his staff to get the best out of the wrestlers and maintain the Hawkeye tradition.

Brands' day opened in his office. The quaint room is large enough to hold a few seats and a small round table. His L-shaped desk has a computer monitor that is flanked by a large picture of his three children – Madigan, Kinsee and Tommy.

Another part of his desk faces the office's main space and a large picture of Iowa’s former two-time NCAA champion Brent Metcalf. Brands has a multi-colored print of Dave Schultz, as well as photos of Jay Borschel, Montell Marion and Ethen Lofthouse, appearing to have a defensive fall against Oklahoma State’s Chris Perry.

They faded into the background as Brands turned on the flat screen in the upper corner of his office to get a better view of the video being played from his computer. It is 7:15 a.m. and his mind had raced since Iowa finished its home schedule with a 26-6 win over Michigan the day before, serving as the home finale for seniors.

Brands focused on 141-pounder Josh Dziewa’s loss against the Wolverines’ Stephen Dutton, at first. He watched Dutton’s winning takedown in slow motion three to four times. Brands eventually moved on to a win by 184-pound red-shirt freshman Sam Brooks and Nathan Burak’s win at 197. The finer points of the Burak match resurfaced throughout the day.

“Stay in there,” Brands said out loud. “Keep firing.”

Brands left the office for the wrestling room, meeting with a couple wrestlers going through workouts. One of them was Dziewa, who Brands addressed for a short period with a direct, yet personable, tone. Later, Brands put it in perspective, shining a light on a personal and professional tenet that has guided eight national champions, 38 All-Americans and 62 NCAA qualifiers and three NCAA and Big Ten titles during his first seven years as Hawkeye head coach.

“The high standards have to prevail,” said Brands, a three-time NCAA champion and four-time All-American for Iowa from 1989-92. “If it does not, then you need correction.”

Brands supported and motivated wrestlers as they went through a cardio workout and then a weightlifting session, including four-time Iowa state champions and Hawkeye freshmen Brandon Sorensen and Jake Marlin.

“Put it in orbit. That’s how you win matches,” Brands said to Sorensen and Marlin working out with a weighted ball before quoting former Hawkeye national champion Royce Alger. “(Alger says) you never win big matches by wrestling. You win them by fighting.”

Brands returned to the office, crossing paths and talking Olympics with Iowa wrestling’s Director of Operations Luke Eustice. Even the Winter Olympics appeal to Brands, a 1996 gold medalist. Brands paused in front of a television and caught a quick glimpse of speed skating events earlier, admitting he prefers the shorter, faster races.

He spent time watching the Olympics with his family the previous night, squeezing it in between the viewing of a couple duals with them. He planned to watch more with them this night at home. It will be cherished time together, since Brands normally heads to the office while they are still asleep.

Brands shares an interest in the Olympics and wrestling with his children, but they have some fun at their intense dad’s expense, joking at his tendency of trying to point out things to them while fast-forwarding matches. In the past, he has said they are a regular source of satisfaction when he arrives home.

“They’re good kids,” Brands said. “I’m pretty damn fortunate.”

Brands also praised his wife, Jeni, who is a key contributor to his success. She’s a leader of their family.

“She’s awesome,” said Brands, who started the day with a regular order of eggs she prepared.

The day following a dual is a little slower, and this week was especially short with a quick turnaround for an upcoming dual at Lehigh. Administrative duties occupied much of this Monday.

At 9:20, Brands and assistant coach Ryan Morningstar met to talk about the Lehigh dual and matchups. He took a moment to show Morningstar video of Burak’s Michigan match, touching on those intricate details he noticed in previous viewing.

Ten minutes later, Brands met with facilities staff to go over plans for improvements to the program’s sauna. They pored over details of the sauna, like which direction panels should run, what type of wood to use and the heat source. Brands knows a ton about saunas, even though his brother, Terry, and former coach Dan Gable may know a little more. Brands showed his sense of humor during the meeting.

“I could be wrong … for the first time in my life,” Brands said with a laugh.

The first of two sauna conferences concluded, and Brands was on to a 50-minute workout. After his time on a stationary bike and treadmill, Brands had another meeting. This time with Sports Information Director Chris Brewer, inquiring about the lineup for his weekly news release with notes.

Brands praised the work of many people the common Iowa fan would never recognize. He knows exactly what a good staff, including coaches, managers and trainers, mean to a successful program. No one fits that bill like Secretary Kim Klein.

Brands raved about her impact on the office after she popped in his door to provide a brief update. He said she is exceptional, because she is a good person at heart.

“I don’t think you can beat Kim Klein. She is essential to running this office,” Brands said. “She is a great ambassador to the Athletics Department. It’s important we keep the best people around.”

Time for lunch, and the call went out throughout the wrestling offices. Brands headed out with Morningstar and Eustice, his mind still racing with thoughts of the Michigan dual. He actually demonstrated how Burak needs to work on popping his opponent’s elbow and clearing the arm so he can penetrate on his takedown attempts on Morningstar as they were walking out.

Brands stopped and talked with a man in the Carver parking lot on the way for breakfast food at Bluebird Diner about 11 a.m. The coaches talked about the Hawkeye Wrestling Club’s Polar Plunge and national results.

Then, Brands headed to a speaking engagement with the Monday Morning Quarterback Club. He could be considered for “rock-star status” in these circuits. He mingled with many in the crowd when he arrived, smiling and nodding his way through the room.

“Way to go, Coach,” a member of the crowd said.

Another said, “He is a great speaker. I think people look forward to him more than (Iowa football coach) Kirk Ferentz.”

Brands entertained the group, talking about the latest dual and sharing stories about fights with his twin brother as a youth. He noted that the competition between the two have been heated and even over the years.

“We’ve been fighting since we were in the womb,” said Brands, drawing a large laugh from the crowd. “He said he booted me out and I say I beat him out.”

After taking some questions, Brands returned to the office. Another staff meeting that addressed the Michigan dual, Lehigh and even the application of rules in competition. The staff, including the Brands brothers, mix intensity and humor with their comments.

Brands shared the plans for sauna renovations and received feedback, including input from Terry Brands. The conversation was interrupted when Brands told Terry Brands that his children were curious about their uncle’s Olympic experience.

“They asked about your Olympics,” Brands said. “I was telling them and they couldn’t get enough.”

Brands, whose day also involved sifting through hundreds of spam emails and even handing out paper printed off by another coach, is hands-on with just about everything.

At 2:50 p.m., he passed on the final suggestions concerning the sauna during his second meeting of the day with facilities.

The time for practice arrived.

He started with video, using the wireless keyboard and tools for the television in front of the bleachers of the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex in the belly of Carver. He turns into teacher, going over video with Brooks, Burak, volunteer assistant Ben Berhow and others.

“You watching this, Nick,” Brands said to Nick Moore. “When you go there, run the pipe and take him to the other hip.”

Brands then demonstrated it multiple times.

Brands talked to the team stuffed into the bleachers. He alternated between calm and thunderous tones. They break into a quick workout. Things are a little different the day after the meet and a lighter workout is the norm.

He talked with some guests observing practice, turning his attention back to the wrestlers going at it on the mat. Red-shirt freshman Alex Meyer (174) and Morningstar were wrestling.

“Keep wrestling Meyer! Head up, Meyer! Keep wrestling,” Brands yelled from the far end of the room before instructing him on how to finish a single-leg takedown and getting on the mat to work with him.

Iowa’s Phillip Laux was working out for the second time of the day and Brands spoke up while he was wrestling with former Hawkeye and HWC member Matt McDonough.

“Are you a straw house or a brick house?” Brands said. “Then don’t fall to your belly when he blows on you.”

The attention turned to Burak near the end of practice. Brands showed him how to pop the elbow and clear the arm, which he had had in his mind all day. Burak executed it a handful of times on Brands.

By 6 p.m., the wrestlers filtered out of the wrestling room. Brands is one of the last to leave. Family time, including the Olympics telecast, was on the docket. Just another long day for Brands, who has made a name by out-working others.

“I feel like we got things accomplished and that’s important,” Brands said. “Every second of every day … Never walk away until things are accomplished.

“You do what is the right thing all the time. When you have a choice, do it right.”

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