Brad Smith finished all the improvements around the house.
He needed to pass the time, so he decided to take on another familiar project.
Less than a year from retiring as a teacher and coach at Iowa City High, Smith has accepted an offer Tuesday to return as the head coach of the Lisbon wrestling program. The hire awaits school board approval, which is expected Oct. 8, for Smith to succeed Jamie Kamberling, who resigned earlier this month after leading the Lions three seasons.
“I’ve been doing this for 34 years,” Smith said of coaching high school wrestling. “I can’t do any more remodeling around the house. I got all that done. I’ve remodeled more the past couple months than I have my whole life.”
Smith opted for early retirement after the 2011-12 school year at City High. He considered opening up a facility to train wrestlers in the Lisbon area, but decided against it. Smith planned to stay involved but things changed when Kamberling stepped away.
“My original intention was to go over, volunteer and help out Kamberling and (Greg) Butteris at Lisbon whenever I could but not make a total commitment every day,” said Smith, who talked with Kamberling before applying. “Just help out with the program. So, school starts and about two weeks into the school year I started missing the kids.”
He was one of a handful of final applicants. Smith was a perfect fit for a return to the position. Lisbon Secondary School Principal Ian Dye offered the position Tuesday.
Smith will be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla., on Oct. 27. The 2011 Iowa High School Athletic Association Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee has also been honored by the Lisbon Athletics Hall of Fame and Glen Brand Wrestling Hall of Fame.
The 58-year-old coach led 41 state champions, 124 state medalists and 222 state qualifiers in more than 30 years of coaching. Among those were three four-time state champions. Two of them – Scott Morningstar (final two years) and Shane Light – were during his first stint at Lisbon. Smith was the Iowa Coach of the Year in 1986 and National Coach of the year in 1990.
He was the 142-pound NCAA champion in 1976 for Dan Gable and a four-time letterwinner under Gable and Gary Kurdelmeier at the University of Iowa. Smith ranks third in state history with 463 dual victories. In 1982 and 1983, Smith coached four individuals to state titles for Lisbon. Five other years during his career he had three individual champs.
“He put his name in the hat,” Dye said. “We were lucky to snag him.”
Dye said he was impressed with Smith’s affection for Lisbon, where he made a name for himself when he took over for Al Baxter in 1978. Smith and Baxter were honored at the town’s 2008 Sauerkraut Days celebration, and Smith has a fondness for the wrestlers, school and the community.
“That was really evident in the interview process, not only with our students but the Athletic Director and myself,” Dye said. “He has a passion for this town and athletes who have come through here.”
The Hall of Fame wrestling coach and competitor never forgot his time at Lisbon, leading the Lions to seven traditional state titles and three state duals crowns, sweeping state gold in 1988. In his 21 years at City High, he guided the Little Hawks to three traditional state titles and two duals championships, adding sweeps in 1999 and 2002.
“I knew I would miss it,” Smith said about being away from the sport. “There probably hasn’t been a single day, even when I was at City High, as much as I love City High, that I didn’t think about somebody at Lisbon I coached or part of the tradition when I was there for 13 years.”
Kamberling expressed his desire to step down early September, which was approved in a school board meeting Sept. 10, according to Dye.
“He submitted an official letter that said he has a lack of time right now,” Dye said. “He has a young family and just married this last year. I guess he’s got a new job he’s working on and he just wouldn’t be able to give 100% is what he said in his letter.”
Dye was asked if there was any connection between the resignation and the hazing incident involving members of the program that occurred during the 2011-12 wrestling season.
“No, not at all,” Dye said. “We went through that process and went through that stuff and did the best thing we could as a district to try to make sure everything was safe for our kids and our school.
“When this year began, we were planning on having Jamie be our head coach and then, obviously, this last month here he decided that he was going to do some other things with his time. We respect that too, so really no connection.”
Kamberling plans to remain active in the program under Smith, who coached Kamberling as a prep at Lisbon and had him as an assistant at City High. It will have to be as a volunteer assistant since the new staff is being formed.
Smith, who considered a return a few years ago but it didn’t work financially, will rely on some familiar names, including Greg Butteris, who will serve as top assistant, J.J. Butteris, who will lead the junior high, Scott Martin, a Lisbon assistant during Smith’s first tenure, and Dean Happel, the youth wrestling coach.
“We have some really good people in there,” said Smith, who discussed the interest of volunteer assistants with Dye. “I’ve talked to Jamie several times. He’s picking up a new job and is going to be pretty busy, but he is going to volunteer and be in the room as much as he can.”
Smith’s main priority is returning Lisbon to the traditional power that has claimed more than 20 total state team titles and 50 individual championships. The key is reigniting the flame in the community and in the school’s halls.
“We need to get the numbers back up and fill that lineup,” Smith said. “My goal is to be competitive at every weight class. It might take a year or two to do that but if you promote it enough and talk to kids enough and want it bad enough as a coach and athlete things will get better.”
“I still have the fire and drive. I know what it’s going to take to get that program back to where it was.”