SOLON– Typically, when a long-tenured coach leaves an athletic program under a cloud of controversy, they say they want to focus on the positives and not dwell on the negatives.
Brad Randall, now the former Solon High School varsity boys’ basketball coach, is no exception.
With a winning record full of accomplishments, it’s easy for him to emphasize the highlights.
By his estimate, he’s been the coach for 1,506 athletic events over 34 years, and has coached girls softball, girls track and field, boys track and field, football and basketball at all levels from junior high to junior varsity (JV) to varsity. His career started as a sophomore at the University of Dubuque when he took an assistant coach position with the seventh grade basketball team at a small Catholic school. “The nuns liked me,” Randall said with a smile, noting he continued with the school his junior year before taking an assistant coach spot at Dubuque Wahlert under sophomore coach Jim Brimeyer. “He was a tremendous influence on me,” he said, also pointing to his father, longtime Solon resident Ray Randall, and legendary Ed Hansen as influences. “I played for him (Hansen) and was an assistant for him.”
After graduating from college, Randall took a position with the Wheatland Community School District in Clinton County. “You did a little bit of everything back then,” he said, adding, “I loved it.” Randall was the head softball and girls basketball coach, assistant coach for boys basketball, as well as junior high boys track and varsity girls track.
At the age of 23, and in his first year with the program, he led the varsity softball team to a conference championship in 1983. Before leaving, he’d amass a record of three sectional wins, two district championships and the one conference championship.
He also helped the City High varsity softball program win two district titles from 1990-1993, during which the team won a then-record 33 wins, the most in a season (1993).
The 1985-1986 school year found Randall and his wife Regina back in his native Solon. His first coaching assignment was as an assistant football coach and the head girls track coach. For 11 years he coached freshman and sophomore football with an 85-17-2 record. As the girls sophomore basketball coach, he had a 98-2 record over four years. In total, he had 125 wins to four losses with a variety of Spartan programs.
“A lot of people wanted me to be the (head boys varsity) basketball coach, and it opened up in the 1993-1994 season. After two weeks, they didn’t want me to be the coach anymore!” Randall said with a hearty laugh. “Anytime you become a head coach, you’re gonna have problems. There were people who still liked me and stood behind me.” As the varsity coach, his Spartans compiled a 368-118 record in 21 years.
“I’ve been very lucky to have people like Miguel Villagrana, Pat Groff, Marc Foster, Chris Knight, A.J. Goldsmith and Lee Cusick, with me. It’s really super important to have good assistants,” he said.
Randall also emphasized the support from former high school principal Bob Lesan, keeper of the score book Jim Krob and “the voice of the Spartans” Don Ellis. “All were very important to us having a successful program,” he said. “Without guys like that, you just can’t do it.”
“We had the winning-est program in the state from 2006 to 2011, I believe. Since 2006, we won 84 percent of our games,” he noted.
Randall said there were so many good players that he coached, but the 2010 team stands out in his mind. “The expectations weren’t so high, but they just had the heart of a champion. I don’t think any of those kids other than Joe Weeks went on to play college basketball, but they were just winners. They knew how to win, they knew how to battle.”
The 2009 team won the state championship, and that was a lot of fun, he said, but it was tempered by high expectations .
His program had 21 consecutive winning seasons, and he’s very proud of that statistic. “I don’t think any of our other, and we’ve had some great athletic programs, can boast of that,” he said. “We won 10 district championship titles (nine in a row from 2005-2013), we had eight conference titles, we were runner-up in Class 2A in 2010, state champions in 2009, third-place in 2008, qualified in 2006 and lost to the eventual champion and 35-consecutive victories from 2008 to 2010, which I’m extremely proud of.”
Randall said another statistic that is extremely rare, a point of pride for him, and a sign of how tough a program can be, is that from 2006 to 2011 the Spartan boys won 48 games in a row on the road. “That’s pretty darn good,” he added.
His efforts in leading his teams to such accomplishments brought personal recognition. Randall was the WaMaC Coach of the Year in 2009, 2010 and 2011, was named Substate Coach of the Year in 2006 and 2009 and was recognized similarly by the Cedar Rapids Gazette and KCRG in 2010 and the Iowa City Press Citizen in 1999 and 2000. The Iowa High School Basketball Coaches Association named Randall the State Coach of the Year in 2009 and had him serve as an All-Star Game coach that same year.
“Those were all great honors,” he said. “You can only do these things with good assistants and with the support of administration.”
Having great players to work with was also vital, and Randall said he had plenty of those over the years, but some truly stand out. “I was lucky. I had four 1,000-point scorers: Matt Morrison (First Team All-State), Matt Lesan (First Team All-State), Ben Weeks and Kyle Kunkel. When you have guys like that hanging around, you should win some games,” he said.
In addition, David Gruber was an all-state selection, and went on to play at the University of Northern Iowa and plays professional basketball in Australia.
“It’s all been a big part of my life, but I’m done with Solon athletics. There’s been so many good things, you gotta focus on those, I don’t want to just focus on the last couple of weeks.”
Randall sat-out a six-game suspension while the Solon Community School District investigated an allegation that he’d called a player a derogatory term for a homosexual, an allegation he emphatically denied.
“I never have called a kid a name,” he said, “unless I was joking or something.”
However, the coach submitted his resignation, effective at the end of the season. He’ll retire from teaching physical education at the middle school next year. The school board met in a special session on Monday, Jan. 27, where the coaching resignation was accepted.
“I’ve yelled. And I’ve got on their fannies. But it’s a different day and age,” he said.
One thing which has always been special about Solon, he said, was the support of the community and the administration for the coaches. “They stood behind the coach. There was always criticism and complaining, but somebody would stand behind them when they were successful. And it’s just not like that anymore,” he observed, suggesting the Spartan fan base has gotten somewhat lethargic over the years. “They’ve just gotten so used to winning, they just think it’s going to happen sometimes no matter what,” he said.
Administrative support has changed, too.
He noted the increasingly frequent turnover in coaches, across the programs. “Those are tough jobs (he included officiating, which he’s also done in the past), and people are going to find it’s tough to fill those jobs, coaching and officiating.”
He acknowledged basketball is a tough sport for parents, whose kid might spend most of the season on the bench. “You’re only gonna play five guys, two or three are going to sub-in and the other seven or eight are going to sit around. That’s hard for a parent. I understand that, but it’s the nature of the sport,” he said. “They’re always gonna believe what they wanna believe.”
The kids show up everyday for practice and understand, he said. “They may go home and hear something different from mom or dad; but a lot of times, I think they know where their spot is, they know what’s fair.”
Randall’s rules for dealing with parents included, “You don’t talk right after a game. You don’t do phone calls. You don’t talk until the kid and I talk first. That’s always what I’ve done.”
When asked if he considered himself an old-school coach, Randall responded without hesitation, “Yep. No question about it. My dad was an old-school coach. I was coached by some hard-nosed guys. They would make me look like... Mary Poppins. I mean, the guys I played for, and what they demanded; I am a softy compared to them. No question about it.”
Randall sees a shift in society from a time when Indiana coach Bobby Knight was cheered for throwing chairs across the court (mimicked in the movie “Blue Chips” with Nick Nolte) to Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey drawing condemnation for yelling at a referee.
“I think that sometimes you say things vehemently, I think that’s okay,” he said. “That’s going to happen sometimes in their life and they need to be able to handle it. They need to be able to handle pressures. You need to find ways to make your kids tough.”
He acknowledged it’s a fine line, however.
Some have criticized the “every kid gets a trophy for participating” and “no scores kept” movement in youth sports. Randall agreed such thinking has led to the societal shift coaches are facing. “It’s natural to compete, and I think it can be overboard,” he said. But at some point, students will be competing in college and for a job.
“You’re going to get rejected some time in life. How are you going to react to that?” he added. “You learn more from failures in athletics than successes.”
He’s told his teams they’ll always have setbacks and it’s how they handle them that will determine what kind of success they have
Working with others in a team environment, something Randall said seems to be almost a lost art, is one of the greatest things athletics can teach. “You have to accept others’ positives, you have to accept your role, you have to accept being able to communicate with people that maybe you don’t agree with and you have to move toward the common good of the group.”
Athletics, Randall said, is a great training ground for life. He noted he’s not seen anybody reach the heights of success without challenging themselves and working around others who demand a lot of them.
Ultimately though, Randall learned the hard way. “You’re only one incident away (from having your coaching career ended). And that’s what’s really changed.”
“It’s been great, it’s been a great ride. I think I’ve coached 700-some basketball games here and it was a lot of fun. It’ll be somewhat of an adjustment rolling around next winter,” he said.
“When I look back on all this, my father taught me, ‘When you leave the floor, always walk off with your head held high.’ And that’s what I’m going to do,” Randall said. “And he also said, ‘once it’s time to quit or go away, walk away and don’t look back.’ So I’m gonna do that, too.”