IOWA CITY, Ia. — “Culture change” was a buzz phrase in Iowa City in the fall in reference to the revitalized Hawkeye football program. On a smaller scale, the same could be said about what’s going on in the Iowa wrestling room.
“There’s certainly a better culture with the team, and that’s what we needed,” 10th-year head coach Tom Brands said. “We lost five guys out of the starting lineup (off last year’s NCAA runners-up), and arguably we have a better team.”
Brands was talking big-picture about the addition of strength and conditioning coach Travis Rutt, a 2011 NCAA All-American at Wisconsin — the Hawkeyes’ next opponent in a Friday night dual in Madison.
In Rutt, hired in August after Luke Lofthouse departed for Utah Valley State, Iowa may have landed a gem. He’s not “a clock-puncher,” as Brands said, and he combines an elite wrestling background with a master's degree in health and exercise science.
He's made a positive impression without an ego and through constant dialogue with the bosses.
“My biggest hang-up with strength coaches is that they tend to always be right. And very inflexible,” Brands said. “He does not fit that … stereotype at all.”
Rutt, 25, had been working with a performance company in Minnesota and with Division III power Augsburg College. The Iowa opening came at a perfect time for both parties.
“Iowa is wrestling,” Rutt said. “You can compare it to the Alabama of football.”
Sticking with the football analogy, does that make Rutt the Chris Doyle of Iowa wrestling?
“That’s pretty much the way it is,” Rutt said of Iowa football’s renowned strength and conditioning coach, then quipped: “I don’t have assistants, though.”
Rutt’s low-key personality is a good contrast in the wrestling room to the more fiery Tom and Terry Brands. On top of that, he’s brought a fresh batch of training techniques that have energized the wrestlers.
“He brings in a fresh type of lifting that I’ve never seen before — I don’t think any of us have,” fifth-year senior Kris Klapprodt said.
For example, Rutt has his guys do a set of power-lifting squats, then hustle to the mat to do “super-set it” with some wrestling moves. That dovetails with his biggest focus in his first season: To develop more explosiveness from the lower bodies of Iowa’s wrestlers.
“I don’t think they did as much lower body stuff before,” he said. “Changing speed, exploding to your opponent, all comes from your leg drive.”
The results have been there. Rutt has no idea how much can be attributed to his five months on the job, but Iowa recently set a school record for margin-of-victory against a Big Ten Conference opponent in a 54-0 dual win at Northwestern.
Thomas Gilman, Cory Clark, Brandon Sorensen and Nathan Burak — Iowa’s returning all-Americans — have upped their games with a 56-1 record, 39 of the wins coming with bonus points.
“Absolutely, it correlates (to Rutt),” Brands said.
Brands preaches a high-scoring, aggressive style that wasn’t always evident in the 2014-15 lineup. Rutt’s program has been a welcomed change.
“In the past, Iowa was a more grinding type of team and more rough,” Klapprodt said. “I think this will help us be more slick and put our guys down harder.”
One of the first wrestlers Rutt met after taking the job was Alex Meyer, Iowa’s starter at 174 pounds. Rutt handed Meyer his first college loss in 2012. He’s been able to quickly earn respect in the room and latitude from the coaching staff.
Rutt’s hiring in August was on an interim basis. He found out Dec. 25 that the interim tag was being removed.
“Good Christmas present,” he said.
And validation of a new vibe for a Hawkeye wrestling program seeking its first NCAA title since 2010.
“He’s open-minded enough to realize that there is a better way,” Brands said, “than just the textbook way.”
Who: Iowa (10-0, 4-0 Big Ten) at Wisconsin (1-3, 0-2)
When, where: 8 p.m. CT, Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
TV: Big Ten Network
Quick hits: Wisconsin is coached by Barry Davis, a former four-time all-American at Iowa in the 1980s. Davis won a school-record 162 matches at Iowa; Hawkeye coach Tom Brands ranks No. 2 all-time with 158 wins. ... Iowa has won 16 consecutive Big Ten duals. ... One of the top matchups is at 133 between Iowa's Cory Clark (12-1) and Wisconsin's Ryan Taylor (1-1). They last met two seasons ago at 125, splitting their meetings.