Earlier this offseason, volunteer assistant coach Kurt Backes left the Iowa wrestling team to pursue a job outside of sports, making use of his undergraduate degree in Finance to take a job at Wells Fargo in Des Moines. Backes, a former two-time All-American and NCAA runner-up at Iowa State, had primarily worked with the wrestlers at the upper weights at Iowa.
The upper weight wrestlers have been a bit of a mixed bag ever since Tom Brands assumed the head coaching job at Iowa. The lower weight wrestlers, guys like Brent Metcalf, Matt McDonough, and Tony Ramos, have tended to gobble up most of the attention and adoration, and for good reason: since Brands returned, Iowa wrestlers from 125-157 have made 12 appearances in NCAA championship matches, winning five of them. The upper weights have struggled a bit more, with only Mark Perry and Jay Borschel appearing in NCAA championship matches (3 of them combined, all of which were Hawkeye triumphs).
Backes didn't completely turn things around at that part of the Iowa line-up, but especially last year it looked like several of his charges were really firing on all cylinders at the end of the season. Ethen Lofthouse (184) and Nathan Burak (197) put together season-best performances in March, leading to a trip to the podium for Lofthouse and a near-miss for Burak. After returning from a bout of illness in January, Bobby Telford (285) was wrestling at arguably his highest level in his time at Iowa, until an untimely knee injury in his first match at the NCAA Tournament ended his season. How much of those performances was due to Backes versus their work with other coaches or workout partners or their own drive to succeed is unclear, but he probably deserves some credit. So we wish him well as he trades the wrestling mat for the boardroom.
But who's replacing Backes as the volunteer assistant coach* on staff? Well, that would be another upper weight wrestler from a rival program. This time, instead of poaching a coach from Iowa State, Brands is grabbing one out of Minnesota -- Ben Berhow. Berhow was a three-time NCAA qualifier at 285 for Minnesota, although he was never able to make All-America status. As a senior, he lost his spot in the lineup to rising stud Tony Nelson. There didn't seem to be any sour grapes about that development, though -- after graduation, Berhow made the transition from active wrestler to coach (administrative assistant, technically) and one of his primary tasks was working with the Gopher heavyweights. Considering that Nelson has won back-to-back NCAA championships, I'd say he's doing something right. And I'm guessing Nelson would agree:
Minnesota's two-time NCAA champ Tony Nelson said Ben Berhow was his training partner and impacted his development.— K.J. Pilcher (@kjpilcher) June 18, 2013
I think this move can be a real positive for Iowa's upper weight wrestlers, especially Bobby Telford. Berhow knows Nelson inside and out; if anyone's going to be able to give Telford a tip or trick that he can use to finally beat his longtime nemesis, Berhow seems like the guy. Given the paucity of bodies Iowa has at the upper weights, at the very least Berhow will provide a quality training partner for guys like Telford and Burak. So welcome aboard, Mr. Berhow. I'm glad you saw the light and decided to leave Gopherland.
* It's worth noting that while his official title is "volunteer assistant coach," that doesn't mean that Berhow is working at Iowa for free. It just means that he's not an official member of Brands' staff, like Terry Brands or Ryan Morningstar and not being paid by the University of Iowa athletic department. Rather, he's paid by the Hawkeye Wrestling Club.