IOWA CITY — Brad Smith has accomplished about all you can as a head wrestling coach, and now he will enjoy doing the things he couldn’t as one.
He will have the time for winter trips to Florida to see in-laws, additional visits to Minnesota to see his oldest son, Jacob, and spending a lot more time with his wife, Connie, who loyally supported his coaching career.
Iowa City High Athletics Director D’Anne Kroemer announced Tuesday that Smith will retire at the end of the school year, concluding a storied 34-year coaching career that ranks among the best in Iowa High School history.
“I’ve been thinking about it for maybe a year,” Smith said. ”I’ve pretty much reached most of my goals as a coach and feel pretty happy with what I’ve accomplished.”
Smith, 58, has joined an elite class in more than 30 years of coaching, including the last 21 seasons at City High after leading Lisbon for 13 seasons. During that time, he coached 10 traditional state title teams, ranking second all-time in Iowa and trailing legendary coach Bob Siddens by just one. He also had nine state runner-up teams and won five state Duals. His teams completed state title sweeps twice each at Lisbon (1987 and 1988) and City High (1999 and 2002).
Smith, who led the Little Hawks to a 12-19 record this year, ranks third in state history with 463 dual victories. The time devoted by Smith, the 142-pound NCAA Champion and three-time letterwinner for coach Dan Gable at the University of Iowa and two-time Illinois state prep champion, made it a hard decision.
“It’s real tough because I’ve done it for so long,” Smith said. “Every day, no matter what it is, related to wrestling somehow, working with kids. The main thing I’m going to miss is that daily contact in and out of the season.”
All that time devoted to his wrestlers paid dividends in their performance, and it showed in the staggering number of state champions and medalists developed by Smith. He coached 41 state champions, 124 state medalists and 222 state qualifiers. Among those were three four-time state champions.
One team title stood out. He coached one of only 14 state title teams in Iowa history to capture a championship without an individual title. He remembered sitting up all night on a Friday, trying to figure out how they could overcome a 23-point deficit to win and then watched on Saturday as it all came together as they edged defending champion Cedar Falls by a point.
“It was one team that responded to the things I told them to do, that they had to do that particular day,” said Smith, a 2011 Iowa High School Athletic Association Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee. “That instance of that team coming back and winning a state title showed a lot of character and the type of kids we had at City High.”
Smith enjoyed having his sons, Jacob and Cody, contribute to his final state championship team in 2002.
Smith helped Lisbon’s Shane Light become Iowa’s eighth four-time state champion from 1987-90. He also coached Lisbon’s Scott Morningstar, his first state champion in 1979, to the last two of his four titles, and did the same for City High’s Jeff McGinness when he took over the Little Hawks in the early 1990′s. Smith had more than one state champion in 12 seasons, including four state champions in 1982 and 1983 for Lisbon. Five other years he had three individual champs.
All those champions created some fond state tournament memories for Smith. He reflected on Zach McKray’s 2005 state championship, where he pulled off one of the more memorable semifinal upsets over Iowa City West’s defending state champion Mitch Mueller.
“He wanted it bad,” Smith said about his final state champion. “We, as a coaching staff, felt he was closing the gap on Mueller. It ended up turning out.
“That was a great feeling as a coach because I know how hard he worked.”
The biggest highlight came early in his coaching career. Smith remembered Brian Hall winning a state title for Lisbon, securing his first team title with a come-from-behind victory. Hall trailed 14-2 when he pinned his finals opponent from Nora Springs-Rock Falls, according to Smith. It enforced his lessons of perseverance.
“That was one of the biggest examples of not giving up because you’re always in the match,” Smith said. “It was a pretty awesome match and it clinched the state title for us.”
Smith was named 1986 Coach of the Year in Iowa and the 1990 National Coach of the Year. He was inducted into the Lisbon Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Glen Brand Wrestling Hall of Fame in Waterloo in 2004. More than his own awards or his wrestlers’ wins or losses, Smith takes pride in influencing kids and instilling the traits of hard work and giving your best effort.
“That’s how I want to be remembered as a head coach,” Smith said. “I always gave everybody a fair shake and spent as much time with a kid that was a defending state champion as a (junior varsity) kid, if the kid was wanting to work. I’ve always tried to treat everybody equally and I think I’ve left a positive influence in a lot of these kids and helped them become better people.”
Smith had a genuine affection for his wrestlers, and they did not want to let their coach down. His devotion and dedication to them drew out more of them.
“There’s something about him that made you want to win for him,” Anson said. “You could tell he really cared about you and he wanted you to succeed and you wanted to do the same for him.”
He could elevate good wrestlers to an elite level while developing an average or below-average wrestler to a good level. McGinness said he would work on the basics, and then help less talented wrestlers identify what they could use personally to have success.
“He could relate to kids real well,” McGinness said. “He got along and joked with kids and kept it light-hearted when it needed to be and kept it serious when it needed to be serious.”
Smith recognized wrestlers needed different methods of motivation. He would build one up while cracking down on another.
“Depends on what you needed,” former Lisbon wrestler Dean Happel said. “He knew when to be your buddy, but he also knew when to push you and kick you in the rear when you needed it.”
Happel, a three-time state champion for Lisbon under Smith, never wrestled before transferring to Lisbon during February of his seventh-grade year. He recalled having art for his last class his first day. That did not last long.
“The second day, Brad Smith, found out there was a couple new boys that moved to town so he immediately got us switch over from Art to P.E., which happened to be wrestling,” said Happel, who then began wrestling. “From there, it’s all been downhill.”
Happel, who said he tried to mimic Smith’s approach when he coached Lisbon long after Smith went to City High, shared sentiments shared by many wrestlers impacted by Smith.
“Everything I’ve ever accomplished was all because of Brad Smith,” said Happel, noting that the Lions worked almost an hour of practice a day on technique. “He’s a great technician and motivator. He came out of the Gable realm where he got the most out of his athletes.”
Smith replaced legendary coaches and never missed a step, taking over for Al Baxter at Lisbon and Clyde Bean at City High.
“It will be hard to imagine him not coaching,” said Happel, comparing him to other top longtime coaches like Dan Mashek and Bob Darrah. “That’s great company. He’ll definitely be missed.”
Smith produced success among one of the toughest conferences in the entire state. He guided the Little Hawks to three Mississippi Valley Conference tournament titles and crowned 26 conference champions since the expansion to 14 teams for the 1992-93 season.
Cedar Rapids Jefferson Coach Dick Briggs said he enjoyed competing against and coaching at the same time as Smith during his 21 seasons at City High. The two most experienced MVC coaches earned conference tournament champion teams in the 1990′s.
“If by chance we happened to beat a Smith coached team you always felt like you had accomplished (something) credible,” Briggs said in an email. “I will miss him for his competitiveness as well as his playfulness.”
Briggs said Smith demonstrated his fun demeanor during tournaments, playing games with his assistants and even other coaches.
“Each would try and distract or sneak up on the other to try and get an underhook position,” Briggs said. “They allowed me to join their fun.”
Smith said he is retiring from teaching physical education in hopes it will help attract a good replacement, citing his belief wrestlers benefit from having a coach in the building during school days. He will remain a resource for his replacement but will be in the background, allowing a new coach to implement his own system. Smith said he could stay involved in wrestling by establishing a youth club, but he will determine that later.
Kroemer said the search for a new coach will begin immediately and expects the process to conclude in April. Smith said it is time for some “new blood” to lead the program, which returns two state qualifiers – 106-pounder Alex Demus and Ryan Maas at 195 – as well as some other strong wrestlers.
“Any input or anything I can do to make the job easier for whoever comes in is why I’m around,” Smith said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do next year yet. I have some other options. I don’t have anything concrete, yet.”
The plans will definitely be to spend more time with family, including Connie, and his three sons, Jacob, who is married in Minneapolis, Minn., Cody, who works in the Iowa City area and lives in North Liberty and his youngest son, Colton, who is a student at the University of Iowa.
“It’s one of the good reasons,” Smith said about retirement. “We can spend more time together. … This takes the pressure off where I can relax a little more and enjoy her and my sons.”
Their gain and the Little Hawks’ and prep wrestling’s loss. Although, a full disconnect might be hard to imagine for those who knew him best.
“He’s like the Dan Gable for City High,” Anson said. “He is the program. I’m sure he’ll always be in the background and lurking somewhere.”
HERE IS WHAT SOME HAVE SAID VIA FACEBOOK ON THE NEWS OF SMITH’S RETIREMENT:
Four-time Iowa City High state champion and University of Iowa NCAA champion Jeff McGinness: Big shoes to fill.
Wrestling supporter and blogger Jim Brown: May he enjoy his retirement.
Former Cedar Rapids Regis wrestler and current club coach Jim Martin: A tremendous coach and a great guy as well! … I wrestled against him while at Regis and for him during freestyle season, and then I was a volunteer assistant for him when I was in law school and he was at City High. A tremendous coach and motivator, and Coach Baxter was always a big fan.
Former Cedar Rapids Washington two-time state champion and Iowa State University All-American Gary McCall: Wow! I remember working out at Lisbon when I was at Wash and he was the coach. He help me alot. Good luck coach!
Former Des Moines Register writer and author of “Reach for the Stars: The Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament” Dan McCool: Way to go Smitty
Former University of Iowa national champion and 1980 U.S. Olympic team member Chuck Yagla: Congrats Brad – great coaching career and great college teammate
Former Western Dubuque Coach Tom Danner: Congrats Brad You have a lot to be proud of.