The Iowa wrestling program failed to win a team national championship for the seventh-consecutive season, matching its longest title drought since 2001-’08. Of course, it’s a departure from the Gable days, and it’s only fair to preface this post with the annoying reminder of Penn State’s dominance in the new decade.
With the basics out of the way, let’s talk. We’ve all heard at least a rumbling or two about a potential coaching change at the helm of the Hawkeyes. Would the end of Brands’ tenure be beneficial or hurtful for Iowa’s program? Here are a few reasons for each.
The Case Against A Change
First and not necessarily most important, but also kind’ve most important — who’s going to replace him? Who would you want to replace him? Cael Sanderson’s not leaving (you’re lying if you wouldn’t take him), John Smith’s not leaving, I’d argue it’s highly doubtful Tom Ryan’s leaving Ohio State, if you’d consider him an upgrade.
It’s not that the Iowa job isn’t coveted and AD Gary Barta couldn’t pick whoever he wants — it is and he could save for those two or three — it’s that the top-tier of wrestling coaches in the land includes Brands. Maybe that’s not the case down the road and then it’s time for a change. Maybe then you throw briefcases full of money and resources to the guy who has supplanted a coach from the current upper echelon. Until then, it doesn’t make sense to bounce Tom.
Moving along, let’s take a brief look at the recruits Brands has set to come in. The future got a little less bright — on paper — with Gavin Teasdale flipping to Penn State Tuesday (more later), but it’s still damn good. Spencer Lee should be a force. Aaron Costello will be awesome.
We get three more years of Michael Kemerer and four of Alex Marinelli. Sam Stoll will be around and I can’t believe I’m saying it — Cash Wilcke was a win away from All-Americaning a weight up as a freshman. There’s reason to believe Iowa will have the horses to get back to the mountaintop within the near future. “Just go out and do it,” as Brands would say.
And finally, Brands is the face of the program, and does a pretty damn good job representing the University of Iowa. He’s a good guy, he’s charismatic and likable, he’s strong in the community, he runs a clean program, and he’s a winner. He’s an Olympic Gold Medalist, and nearly everyone involved in the program in any way likes him. He does a good job mentoring and keeping success in the HWC.
Why screw with a guy like that?
The Case For A Change
Here’s why — the drought! It was mentioned above, but let’s dig a bit. Coming into this season, the Hawkeyes not only finished relatively poorly, but didn’t have a single individual national champion. This year, a lousy semifinal round and an incredibly gritty Cory Clark performance stopped that trend from continuing.
Since 2012-2013, Iowa’s seen only one finish above fourth place — a really disappointing second-place when Sanderson punted a season to redshirt his top guys. That 2014-15 campaign was there for the taking. Thomas Gilman, Clark, and Brandon Sorensen were great young guns. Sammy Brooks complimented Mike Evans, Nathan Burak, and Bobby Telford nicely at the back end of the lineup. A large number of those grapplers underperformed when it counted. To be fair, wrestlers wrestle, but looking back on a poor performance in Iowa’s best shot at a national title hurts.
In that five-year run, the Hawks have only managed five Big Ten Champs and three NCAA winners. That’s not where this program should be.
Shifting gears quickly, Jim Zalesky went six years without a title and got fired, why shouldn’t Brands? Granted, we’re not at a point where Iowa’s placing seventh at NCAAs with a follow-up year of 11-7 and a fourth-place finish, that’s why. But, the past few seasons have been some of the worst of Brands’ head-coaching tenure at Iowa, at what point does this relative mediocrity become enough?
Finally, Brands has consistently lost to Sanderson since the Penn State reign began, arguably without any form of progress. Look no further than this season. Sorensen couldn’t beat Zain Retherford, Michael Kemerer couldn’t beat Jason Nolf, Brooks couldn’t beat Bo Nickal.
The Nittany Lions went 5-for-5 in the finals, for christ’s sake. Iowa isn’t close to that. If the current coach isn’t getting the job done, perhaps it’s time to find one able to do so.
What’s (not) Going To Happen
Tom Brands isn’t going to get fired. Not this year, not next year, not the year after.
Frankly, I find it funny we’re even entertaining the thought of Gary Barta calling in Brands to deliver that news. (Hey, we have to talk about something, right?)
If things are still in the relative dumper after this promising (on paper) squad of the future has a legitimate chance to get their licks in on the Nittany Lions, then this conversation becomes legitimate.
Whether letting Brands go would be a good or bad thing for the health of the program is for you to decide. The only definitive thing we can say for now is that Tom Brands will be in the Iowa corner for the start of 2017-18, and likely beyond.
On a sour note, the case for those future national title hopes under Brands got a little less easier with the de-commitment of 2018’s No. 2 recruit, Gavin Teasdale Tuesday night. Teasdale would’ve projected to slot in nicely in the 133-149 (on the high end) range for Iowa, but will do that for the Nittany Lions now.
As we were a year — likely two — from seeing the three-time Pennsylvania state champion on the mat in Carver, there’s time for the Hawks to fill the holes. Regardless, this certainly doesn’t feel great given recent circumstances.
Not sure if Teasdale has a Twitter account, but here’s your friendly reminder not to Tweet at recruits. Knew a notorious recruit tweeter and he got audited by the IRS last year. Don’t be that guy.
As a wise man once told me, ‘Wednesday’s here, the week’s over.’