Looking Forward With Optimism

April 10, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Five All-Americans and a third place at the NCAA Tournament is reason to celebrate for most wrestling programs.

At the University of Iowa, it’s reason to acknowledge, not jump for joy.

Hawkeye head coach Tom Brands delivered a stimulating message before closing the team’s annual postseason banquet April 1 at the Coralville Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.

“Are you OK with being down a couple of notches? Are you OK with getting whipped? Are you OK with getting whipped by Penn State?” Brands asked. “If you’re not, do you have an imagination to go beyond where you are now and what you think is hard work, and what you think is the right way, and what you think is doing everything you can to really open up the flood gates to realizing your potential?”

After winning national titles in 2008, ’09, and ’10, Iowa finished third at the most recent championship March 17-19 in Philadelphia. The Hawkeyes had All-Americans in senior Luke Lofthouse (fifth at 197 pounds), junior Montell Marion (fourth, 141), sophomore Matt McDonough (second, 125), sophomore Grant Gambrall (third, 184) and freshman Derek St. John (fourth, 157).

“That’s not enough,” Brands said. “We’re getting to the next step, but there’s no automatic. Why can’t next year’s team be the best in the history of college wrestling? You have four guys that can lead the charge and I’m talking about unbelievable, entertaining, high-scoring style of wrestling. Don’t leave anything to chance. Then we have to get 10 weights on board, because we don’t have a champion and we’re about championships.”

According to Brands, the UI program is not looking in the rearview mirror; it is looking forward with optimism, not regret.

“Do you have an imagination to go beyond where you are now and what you think is hard work, and what you think is the right way, and what you think is doing everything you can to really open up the flood gates to realizing your potential?”
UI head coach Tom Brands

“What are you going to do from now until you’re either cremated or in a coffin to better yourself?” Brands asked of his student-athletes. “I had a coach when I was in college (Dan Gable) that when you walked in, you didn’t quite know what you were going to get, and that’s the way it should be; just do what’s in front of you. The beauty of Gable is that we got better without knowing we were getting better. All of the sudden, whether you were a fast learner, which I wasn’t — I was a knot-headed, thick-headed, Neanderthal, and so was my brother (assistant coach Terry Brands) — so it took us longer, but in some guys’ cases — 100 days, 180 days — they realize, `I’m pretty tough’. And then the guys that were slow learners it took 250 days before they realized `I’m pretty tough’ — and that’s the formula.”

Brands applauded fans for being part of a national record-setting Carver-Hawkeye Arena average attendance total of 8,209 per six duals. The challenge now, he said, is to keep pace with the UI men’s basketball attendance increases.

“We’re going to need 10,500, then we’re going to need 12,500, then we’re going to need 15,500,” Brands said. “(UI head men’s basketball coach Fran) McCaffery is going to sell the place out and you guys have to keep pace or he’s going to double us. These people are coming to watch toughness and pinning and bonus points and unbelievable, entertaining, enthusiastic, energetic, scoring-through-the-roof wrestling. That’s what they’re coming to watch and that’s why they pay.”

The attendance challenge was broadened to include the 2012 Olympic Trials that will be held in Iowa City on April 21-22, 2012. When UI season ticket holders renew (beginning Monday, April 18), they have an option to purchase tickets to the trials as well.

“It would be a big flex of Iowa City community wrestling muscle if our season ticket holders checked the box to include the 2012 Olympic Trials held in Carver-Hawkeye Arena — the best wrestling venue in the world,” Brands said. “You’re 8,200, next year let’s go 9,000 and let’s go 9,000 in the trials. Let’s sell that many out of the gate — that will blow USA Wrestling’s mind.”

Other highlights from Brands’ banquet address:

“You want to be the most valuable, then win a national title. It’s automatic. McDonough, this one has an asterisk by it. And (Brent) Metcalf’s had an asterisk by it two years ago. We want champions.”

“You talk about a guy like Derek St. John, who was most improved and he was embarrassed by it. It’s kind of a rinky-dink award to him, but it’s not a rinky-dink award to this coaching staff because there are things that went into it that are tangible, that are real, and that are, I’ll say, Metcalf-like…the toughness factor in the room. Just getting tired of getting beat on and then even when you don’t feel like getting the most out of yourself, you learn to get the most out of yourself anyway. All of the sudden you’re getting beat on and you say enough. It’s not the next day you come back or the next week or the next month. It’s the next opportunity, which is seconds or split-seconds. You get taken down, you bounce like a ball, you come up, you scramble and the referee waves off two take down and all the sudden, two takedown for you….just because you’re so doggone tough and that’s what you saw (in St. John) and that’s tangible. It takes incredible dedication and it takes an imagination. It takes an imagination beyond what you think is good or great or that you’re just giving your all because you’re not. There is always more to give.”

“We got what we earned (this season). Third place — we got what we earned. No champions — we got what we earned.”