Wrestling: Iowa's Tom Brands named NWCA National Coach of the Year

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

The 2019-20 Iowa wrestling team may not have had a chance to win the 2020 NCAA Championships, but the postseason awards have carried a heavy Hawkeye flavor.

Iowa junior Spencer Lee has raked in the honors, earning distinctions as the Hodge Trophy winner, the NCAA's Most Dominant Division I wrestler, Intermat's Wrestler of the Year and the Big Ten Wrestler of the Year.

Iowa coach Tom Brands has added to his individual trophy case, too. He was named the Big Ten Wrestling coach of the year, Intermat's coach of the year — and, on Wednesday, the National Wrestling Coaches Association's Division I Coach of the Year.

"The NWCA and its Board of Directors is proud to extend this honor to coach Brands," NWCA Executive Director Mike Moyer said in a statement. "His 2020 squad had a phenomenal season, going undefeated in duals and capturing yet another Big Ten title."

This is Brands' second time winning NWCA's Coach of the Year award in his 14 years in charge at Iowa. He first won it in 2008 after leading Iowa to an NCAA team title in his second year as a coach. 

Brands led the Hawkeyes to a special season in 2019-20.

Iowa head coach Tom Brands, right, high-fives Spencer Lee after his match at 125 pounds during a NCAA Big Ten Conference wrestling dual against Ohio State, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Iowa went 13-0 in duals and smash an NCAA single-season record by having at least 10,000 fans in attendance at all seven home contests. As such, the Hawkeyes led the nation in attendance for the 14th straight season.

They also won the Big Ten regular-season dual meet title outright, set a new scoring record at the Midlands Championships without the full use of two key starters and won the Big Ten tournament by 25.5 points. Iowa's 157.5 points was its highest Big Ten tournament total since 1995, when Dan Gable was still the coach.

The Hawkeyes were also the heavy favorites to win the 2020 NCAA Championships. All 10 postseason starters qualified, and nine were seeded eighth or better at their respective weights. Three wrestlers, Lee (125), Pat Lugo (149) and Alex Marinelli (165) were all seeded first.

The national tournament, as well as all remaining NCAA winter sports championships and spring sports seasons, were canceled because of the spread of the novel coronavirus. Iowa was seeking its 24th national team title in program history and the fourth under Brands.

"It sucks. This team was robbed of history," Brands said on a teleconference last week. "They were robbed of history, and they were robbed of an opportunity.

"We got clobbered upside the head by something we can't control, so you have to what you can control. It's really that simple."

Iowa last won an NCAA team title in 2010, meaning the championship drought has now hit a decade after COVID-19 forced the cancellation of this year's national tournament. In the time since that last team title, Brands and his staff has worked relentlessly to bring the Hawkeyes back to consistent title contention.

As such, the 2019-20 season should not be a one-off. Iowa will be the favorite entering the 2020-21 season. Nine of the 10 postseason starters will be returning, and the Hawkeyes will also add Jaydin Eierman, a three-time All-American for Missouri who announced his plans to transfer to Iowa in November, to the lineup.

LOOKAHEAD: Why the Hawkeyes' championship window remains open in 2020-21

The Hawkeyes will also bring in a strong 2020 recruiting class, which features four top-60 prospects, according to MatScout's latest big board rankings. Iowa's 2020 recruiting class was recently ranked No. 2 nationally by Flowrestling, behind only Oklahoma State.

This NWCA award recognizes Brands' coaching accomplishments for 2019-20, but the work he's continued to put in will keep Iowa near the top of college wrestling for years to come.

"Iowa wrestling is still strong," Brands said. "We've had some pretty good teams. I don't know how you compare, but we got a lot of compliments about this year's team.

"This was a pretty popular team with our fans. We love our guys. We love that they perform, that they're good students and they're good people."

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.

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2020 NWCA Division I Coach of the Year Finalists

  • Tom Brands, Iowa, winner
  • Zeke Jones, Arizona State
  • Cary Kolat, Campbell
  • Pat Santoro, Lehigh
  • Pat Popolizio, North Carolina State
  • Ryan Ludwig, Northern Illinois
  • Doug Schwab, Northern Iowa
  • Chris Ayers, Princeton