Hawkeye coaches discuss successes at Washington County I-Club Banquet
RIVERSIDE — By the time Tom Brands got his turn to speak at Tuesday evening’s Washington County I-Club Banquet, which was held at the Riverside Hotel and Golf Resort, former Iowa football defensive coordinator Norm Parker, assistant women’s basketball coach Shannon Gage and even emcee Phil Haddy had given the University of Iowa’s head wrestling coach a hard time.
“They’re probably picking on me, but I can take it,” Brands said.
What Brands can’t take — and what Haddy, who recently retired after spending 41 years in Iowa’s Sports Information Department, needled him about — was finishing fourth at the NCAA Wrestling Championships. The Hawkeyes have a history of winning the tournament — with 23 national championships to show for it — but they haven’t won it since 2010. To do so, Brands wants to have quality wrestlers at each of the 10 weights.
“We want to have firepower at every weight class and every time out,” he said. “Is that asking too much? I don’t think so.”
Brands was intense, but not as fiery as he has been in previous Washington County I-Club Banquets. Four years ago, he forewent the stairs and leapt onto the stage for his speech. Two years ago, he was so angry about his team’s third-place finish at the NCAA Championships that he tore his shirt off, sending buttons flying. (Note: That shirt was sold at auction on Tuesday night, along with Hawkeye wrestling tickets and a photo of Brands, for $1,050.)
Instead, Brands reflected on the past season, talking about 157-pounder Derek St. John’s national title.
“There’s not a lot of emotion from that guy, but he’s smiled a lot this offseason,” Brands said. “If you saw his interview from Des Moines, he was live in front of 15,000 people, and they wanted a long, flowery speech. He just said, ‘How ‘bout it,’ and walked away.”
With St. John and many other key Hawkeye wrestlers returning next season, Brands is looking forward to getting back to the top next year.
“We have great guys,” he said.
Iowa’s basketball coaches, head men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery and Gage, both discussed successful seasons.
The Hawkeye men finished the season with a 25-9 record, their first 20-win season since 2005-06. And even though Iowa missed a berth in the NCAA tournament, they reached the NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden in New York City. McCaffery felt that with the way his team was playing at the end of the season, the Hawkeyes would have made some noise in the bigger tournament as well.
“I’m not so sure if we would have gotten into the other tournament we would have gotten beat in the first round,” he said. “We beat some of those teams that made the tournament.”
Following the Hawkeyes’ run in the NIT, they have been mentioned in several 2013-14 preseason polls.
“One guy had us in the top five, which I thought was a little much, but I welcome the challenge,” McCaffery said.
There’s a reason to feel the Hawkeyes could be headed for big things next season: everyone but graduating senior Eric May will be returning for Iowa. Also, freshmen Mike Gessell and Adam Woodbury will only get better.
“Mike Gessell is a tremendous ball player,” McCaffery said. “He and Adam Woodbury are going to go down as two of the best to wear the black and gold.”
McCaffery will add Jarrod Uthoff, who transferred from the University of Wisconsin, and Iowa’s Mr. Basketball, Peter Jok, to his roster next season as well. Also, he expects 3-point specialist Josh Oglesby, who shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc this season, to find his shot before next season.
McCaffery said that his team will take the momentum from its NIT run, including a key win at Virginia in the quarterfinals of the tournament, into next season.
“Up until that point, we didn’t have a signature road win, and [Virginia] hadn’t lost at home in the ACC,” he said. “I wish you all could have been in that locker room before that game. There was no way we were losing that game. And we won it convincingly. I think that will propel us into next year with what we have coming back.”
While McCaffery hopes to guide the Hawkeye men’s basketball team to its first NCAA tournament appearance in eight seasons next year, the Iowa women’s basketball team made its sixth straight NCAA tournament this season.
“We are the only Big Ten team to accomplish that feat,” Gage said.
And with 10 players returning next season and Iowa’s Miss Basketball, Ally Disterhoft, joining the fold, the Hawkeyes hope to make it seven straight next season.
While McCaffery, Gage and even Brands discussed the success of their programs, Parker talked about the challenge of returning the Iowa football team to prominence after last season’s 4-8 campaign.
“We’re going to be better in football,” Parker said. “4-8, that ain’t worth a [hoot]. We’re embarrassed. The players are embarrassed. The coaches are embarrassed. They can’t wait to get going again. You fans deserved a better football team than you got last year.”
Running back Mark Weisman, who began last season buried on Iowa’s depth chart but made his way into the lineup and rushed for 815 yards and eight touchdowns, will be one of the Hawkeyes’ key returners this year.
“That Weisman is one of the slowest good backs I’ve ever seen,” Parker said. “He’s about as fast as Brands. But he finds the hole and runs hard. He’s not fancy.”
With Weisman and several other key Hawkeyes returning, Iowa should improve upon last season’s 4-8 mark, Parker said.
“I’ve watched some practices, and we’re a heck of a lot better football team now than we were last year,” he said.
“[Iowa head football coach] Kirk Ferentz, when he’s backed into a corner, that’s when he’s most dangerous,” Haddy added.
The Washington County I-Club Banquet was the first stop of many for the Iowa coaches.
“This is I-Club No. 1,” University of Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta said. “We’re going to do 28 of these across the nation the next few weeks.”
But the Washington County I-Club is a special stop for the Hawkeyes. Not only is it close to Iowa City, but its fervent fan base helped it be recognized as the I-Club of the Year this past year. The auction at Tuesday’s banquet raised a record $7,000.
“This is an amazing I-Club,” Barta said. “This is the only I-Club, I can imagine, that would pay $1,000 for Tom Brands’ shirt.”