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An Interview with Tom Brands, Head Coach, Iowa

posted on November 29, 2006



Jim Gibbons recently traveled to Iowa City for a conversation with Tom Brands, who is the new head coach of Iowa's wrestling program. Brands had a great record as a collegiate wrestler at the University of Iowa. He was a four-time All American, three-time National Champion, and three-time Big Ten Champion.

After college, Brands won numerous honors in international freestyle wrestling. And in 1996 he won a gold medal at the Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Brands' coaching career included twelve years as an Assistant Coach at Iowa. He's coached U.S. Teams in Olympic and other international competition, and for the last two years Brands had headed up the wrestling program at Virginia Tech. On April 5 he was named as Iowa's new head coach.

Brands: I'm excited for the challenge. I'm excited for the opportunity. I'd be a liar if I sat here and told you that this isn't what I worked my whole career for. And it starts with individual championships. It starts with a team, a team unity, but then it carries over into individual championships. And that's the way I was coached: Take care of yourself; win your championship. We got ten guys thinking that way, I'll tell you what, we're going to be where we want to be shortly, shortly. I'm smiling. I'm happy inside. I may not look like it.

Mundt: Jim Gibbons sat down with Tom Brands to discuss his wrestling philosophy and his goals for the team.

Gibbons: Tell us how you got started in the sport of wrestling.

Brands: Being a twin with a person that had a very like mentality, it was pretty easy to gravitate toward that because we -- it was actually organized fighting and we were always competitive that way. And it was very positive that we got involved with something that was conducive to expending our energy in a positive way.

Gibbons: Coming to Iowa and, you know, you weren't a top recruit. You were a successful high school wrestler here, but it almost seemed almost immediately that you'd hear rumblings about the Brands are really making a difference in that Iowa wrestling room.

Brands: I think that our work ethic and our drive and probably our fanaticism and our maybe dementedness toward being single minded, toward being the very best, I think it made a lot of -- a lot of in roads with the staff here. I think I could relate very well to Coach Gable, what he was trying to do. He's the reason I came here.

Gibbons: Let's talk about the Olympic championship specifically, because that's the pinnacle. If you look at the program here now and the program across the state led by two Olympic champions, and that's exciting, but talk a little bit about what it was like to stand on that stand and represent your country the way you did.

Brands: Going into the Olympic Games, it was another tournament. That was the most important tournament at that stage of my career. It really wasn't any different than the worlds the previous years or every step that you take up to the Olympic Games because that's how you stay focused. That's how you keep things in perspective. But at the same time, because it was the Olympic Games and because there is a gold medal that you earned, it's career defining. And so it's kind of funny that way that it wasn't a big deal at the time because that's what I knew I was going to do. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I knew I was going to win. That's how I approached competition. But looking back on it, it was career defining. What about guys that are coming up that are thinking about the Olympic Games the same way that I thought about it; that that's what they're shooting for. And you know what, I'm responsible for that.

Gibbons: So it's more about, for you, about being an inspiration.

Brands: Not even an inspiration, just leadership, just being able to communicate and run a program to: This is where we're going; we're giving you the opportunity to be the world Olympic and National Champion at your weight class.

Gibbons: When did you make the decision that coaching might be in your future?

Brands: How I had it mapped out in my head was you wrestle four years and then take over for Gable. That's how I had it mapped out. It didn't work out that way, but I really could see that happening. I could really see that happening.

Gibbons: Did you and Dan have any communication about that, or is that just the way you saw it?

Brands: Not really. I mean I'm not sure at the time if I maybe really made it like -- wore it on my sleeve. I think that, you know, especially after '96 when Gable started talking more and more about getting out and I was done competing, that certainly was something that was more prevalent in my mind. Looking back on it, I didn't have a shot. I was naive. I was very naive to the political workings of the situation. And it's probably best that I didn't get it, because at that time to take over a high-level program and have success -- even having success wouldn't have been gratifying.

Gibbons: Talk a little bit about your Virginia Tech experience, because it was the first time you actually put the head coaching lenses on where you have to take a look at everything that's happening.

Brands: Virginia Tech was important because you have all these national experts out there that are passing judgment on you. And there's only one way that you're going to be defined, and that's you go out and you do it or you don't do it. So I had to get away from here. Looking back on it, I had to get away from here. I always had a philosophy. I wrote pages and pages of manuals and had always felt like I could run a program, but it's kind of a knock -- it was kind of a knock being at Iowa because it was like it was just running itself here, and that's not the case. It didn't. Unbelievable effort went into this program when Gable was the coach here and, of course, when Jimmy was the coach here. Unbelievable effort went into it. This program was not running itself any more than any other program was. It's just the level of commitment from the people involved was maybe greater.

Gibbons: You know, you left Virginia Tech. I'm sure you would have been content doing that job. And you were going at it like you were going to be there for twenty, twenty-five years in your approach to it. How -- were you surprised that the Iowa job opened up so quickly?

Brands: I'm surprised that I'm here this quick. I'm not surprised that the Iowa job opened up this quick just because of the standards set here. And it's not about, you know, whether you're fourth. It's can you do better; can you recruit better; can you run a program better; can you have people leaving here feeling better; all those things that go into it that you know from your experience as well. The thing that I'm surprised most of is that I was gone two years and now I'm where I wanted to be basically my whole life since I enrolled as a freshman here, and that is to be running this program a lot quicker than I ever thought it would happen. I always thought I would be here, but five, seven years down the road.

Gibbons: When did you -- at what point did you have any conversation with Coach Gable about getting on board?

Brands: Number one, when I was here as an assistant, I seeked his counsel all the time. Number two, I asked him to go to Virginia tech with me, and I wasn't joking. He probably thought I was joking. So it's always been something that -- never to let Gable get far from the program. I mean I had pretty good contact with him at Virginia tech. You know, never let the icon and my coach -- with that knowledge, never let him get too far away from what you're doing. And it's my program but really it's not. It's everybody's program. So what can he bring to the table? Well, can you be an assistant? It's something that Bowlsby and myself talked about. And the first conversation that I had with Gable, he was not convinced. I think that he might have wanted to do it more than he was leading on, but I think he really wanted to see really where I stood with it. And I was -- from the get-go, I was a big fan of it.

Gibbons: It is a close relationship and, therefore, one that you're willing to share the spotlight with him.

Brands: Spotlight doesn't mean anything to me. Who gets credit doesn't mean anything to me. I know for doggone sure that I can't do it myself.

Gibbons: An athlete comes into your program, spends five years in Tom Brands' Iowa Hawkeye wrestling program. What do you want him to take away from that?

Brands: Number one, independence. We want our guys to learn to become independent. That doesn't mean that they're training themselves to be national champions. That doesn't mean that they're tutoring themselves to get straight A's. That means that they're out seeking help. But we're not -- I should say we're not hand in hand with them in every step of the way. We're going to point them in the right direction, but really what we want to communicate, that it's up to you to get the job done.

Tags: colleges interviews Iowa sports University of Iowa wrestling

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