IOWA CITY, Iowa – My first thought upon hearing that Bill Brashier is one of the 2015 inductees into the University of Athletics Hall of Fame is what took so long?
Brashier retired as the Iowa football team’s defensive coordinator after the 1995 season. He left in style as Iowa pounded Washington 38-18 in the 1995 Sun Bowl.
He also left quietly because it never was about Bill Brashier. The only thing that mattered to him was making sure the Iowa defense was prepared and that his players were good students and solid citizens.
Brashier could’ve cashed in on Iowa’s early success under Hayden Fry and landed a head coaching job, but he was content being Fry’s right hand man. Brashier’s ego didn’t need for him to be in charge, although, he was in charge in one respect.
While Fry controlled everything on offense from personnel decisions to play calling, he mostly left the defense alone because he trusted Brashier to make the right decisions.
“As my defensive coordinator, he allowed me to focus on the offense and my administrative duties as head coach,” Fry wrote in his autobiography titled “Hayden Fry: A High Porch Picnic.” “Bill told me how we were going to defense an opponent, and then did it, always very well. His defenses were often at the top of the Big Ten in several statistical categories.”
I’ve talked over the years to many former Iowa defensive players who were coached by Brashier and not one of them has ever said a bad word about him in private. Instead, they describe a coach who was humble, knowledgeable and always prepared for any circumstance.
Brashier’s laid-back personality was the perfect complement to Fry’s flamboyance. Brashier avoided the spotlight as much as Fry basked in it. They grew up together as close friends in Eastland, Texas and shared a passion for football. But their personalities were world’s apart.
Maybe that’s why they worked so well together.
Brashier’s role under Fry was similar to Norm Parker’s role as defensive coordinator under current Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. Brashier might have lacked some of Parker’s public wit, but they both were masters at game planning, strategizing and deflecting praise.
Parker and Ferentz didn’t grow up together like Fry and Brashier did, but they still shared a strong bond and a mutual respect. Ferentz said early on after being hired that Parker would make all the decisions on defense.
There are times when the best thing a head coach can do is let somebody else do it.
Fry once told me that he sometimes wishes he had retired with Brashier instead of coaching for three more years. Fry stayed on the job partly out of concern for his assistant coaches. It would’ve been fitting if Fry and Brashier had retired together because they came to Iowa at the same time in 1979.
Brashier had coached under Fry at North Texas. He accepted Fry’s challenge to help rebuild a habitual Big Ten loser and they would go on to do what many thought was impossible by turning Iowa into a winner again.
Brashier coached at Iowa for 17 seasons. He stayed partly out of respect for Fry, but also because he had a pretty good gig. At one time, Brashier had Dan McCarney coaching his defensive ends and Barry Alvarez coaching his linebackers.
That’s a lot of knowledge in one defensive huddle. Throw in Bob Stoops as a graduate assistant and there wasn’t a better group of defensive minds anywhere in college football in the mid-1980s.
Brashier was the architect of Iowa’s 1981 defense, which along with Reggie Roby’s punting, carried the Hawkeyes to the 1982 Rose Bowl.
Brashier coached four NCAA top-10 defenses and led the Big Ten in forced turnovers three times. His defenses helped the Hawkeyes earn trips to 12 bowl games, including three Rose Bowls. He coached five defensive All-Americans, one Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and three Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.
The fact that Brashier stayed with Fry until retiring says a lot about both of them. Trust and loyalty are two of the biggest keys to any friendship or business relationship lasting over time.
Brashier and Fry made it work on both fronts. They were fortunate to make football their life’s work and to work together for so long.
So let me just say congratulations coach Brashier on a job well done. You made Fry’s job much easier and you made the Iowa defense into a formidable force of which fans could be proud.