It’s already been a quarter century after graduating from Graceland University, so another 45 days isn’t much for Darrell Frain to wait to have two jobs he envisioned for his career from the beginning.
On July 1 Frain, now 50, becomes head football coach and athletic director at Riverside High School in Oakland. Half of his teaching day will be devoted to AD duties, the other half to being a leader of a new alternative school, credit recovery program at Riverside. He will also get a revamped weight training and conditioning program going, modeled after what he and Casey Tanner have developed so successfully here.
Frain is a graduate of Carson-Macedonia, which is now combined with Oakland as the Riverside school district. He and wife Kim still have family there. However, Darrell’s parents live much of the year in the Ozarks in southern Missouri, so Darrell will occupy the family home for awhile as Kim stays in her job for the time being at Greater Regional Medical Center.
“We’re not selling our house in Creston right away,” Frain said. “The first year or so we have a lot of things to work out.”
One of the neat things is that their son Trevor, now working for an agriculture implement company in Omaha, will likely join his father’s football coaching staff, even if it’s as a volunteer. Daughter Madison recently moved from the University of North Dakota to Truman State in Kirksville, Missouri, after former ND assistant basketball coach Jeff Horner — former Iowa Hawkeye player — became Truman State’s head coach. He wanted Madison to be assistant AD in charge of promotions. Youngest son Brody just completed his freshman year at Iowa State, where Trevor graduated from earlier this month.
Frain wrestled at Carson-Macedonia, but was more of a standout in football and baseball. He played both of those sports at Graceland as a quarterback and pitcher.
“When I started out I thought about being an AD someday, but then after awhile I never thought it would happen,” Frain told me. “When I got out (of college) my goal was to be a head coach in football or baseball by the time I was 30. With coach (Dick) Bergstrom and (Vic) Belger entrenched here as Hall of Fame coaches, I figured it would have to be somewhere else. Then, wrestling just kind of happened for me. I really didn’t know if I’d be any good at it.”
He wasn’t good. He was great.
His career dual record over 19 seasons is 327-70 (.823), including 149-24 in the Hawkeye 10. His teams made 13 state dual tournament appearances in 19 seasons, including seven finishes in the top four and a state championship in 2007.
His teams won traditional state championships in 2007 and 2016, finished second twice, third three times and fourth as recently as 2016-17, as well as his first season, 1999-2000.
His wrestlers have won 19 individual state championships among 32 finals appearances, including Iowa’s 22nd four-time state champion, Jake Marlin (2010-13). Chase Shiltz and Andrew Long won three titles each. Kalab Evans was a two-time winner. Frain was an assistant when Dylan Long won a pair of titles, just before he succeeded Rich Downing.
Creston had at least one wrestler in the state finals in eight straight seasons under Frain, and 14 of the final 16 years. Perhaps my most incredible night covering Creston/O-M was the Saturday state finals of 2008 — 125 pounds Andrew Long first; 130 Quin Leith first; 135 Bret Kautz second; 140 Trent Tucker first; and 160 Kalab Evans, first. Yet, a loaded Ballard team still topped the Panthers for the 2A title!
Another incredible night, obviously, was when we thought Creston/O-M wrestler Tayler Pettit was dying on the floor of Wells Fargo Arena during state duals. As medics performed their miraculous duties in saving his life before emergency surgery, you should have seen the concern on Frain’s face, pleading for Tayler to stay with us. Goosebumps just thinking of that moment.
When Frain called for a meeting of his wrestlers in his classroom during seminar period on May 2, nobody knew what was coming. The Riverside School Board would be taking action the next day.
“They thought we were preparing for camp,” Frain said. “I told them what I was planning to do. I thought it would be a quick meeting, they’d be in and out. They were in here until the bell rang. It was good. We just talked about things, laughed about some dumb things over the years. It was tough. You have a close relationship with them and it’s tough to look at them without getting emotional.”
When Riverside friends and acquaintances first approached him last January, there were no specific job openings to even consider. It was just a feeling-out process to talk about the possibilities. Then the AD and football jobs became open, and it suddenly looked enticing. Yet, a difficult decision.
“Until six months ago I would have told you I would retire in Creston,” Frain said. “Everything just felt right about this. It’s an incredible challenge. It’s tough, though, because of the friendships here. You don’t realize how important you were to people until now, and you get all the messages. It’s like, wow!”
Frain will not immediately be directly involved in the wrestling program at Riverside, but coach Casey Conover has reached out to him about sharing some ideas on camps and other aspects. Frain doesn’t rule out being a part of the wrestling staff at some point.
“They already said I could, but I don’t want to be that guy to step on their toes at all,” Frain said. “I’m sure it will be hard at first, not being in there with the kids, pushing them and making them feel they can do certain things.”
I have nothing but supreme respect for what transpires in that wrestling room here. Kids routinely overachieve. Frain can’t remember how many Creston/O-M kids have beaten opponents who went on to wrestle at the NCAA Division I level, through sheer will and determination in the final two minutes of a match.
Frain said his mentor here was Bergstrom.
“I always thought he did everything the right way,” Frain said. “You knew you were going to learn football, because he knew his X’s and O’s, and you were going to learn values. You were going to do things the right way, there was no way around it.”
One of the real success stories of Frain’s regime is Tanner Webb. In a motorized wheelchair with cerebral palsy, Webb became a student manager in wrestling and football, and eventually became certified to coach in those programs here, through Frain’s encouragement.
“We started talking about that by the end of my sophomore year,” Webb said. “He encouraged me and believed in me, and said I had what it takes.”
Frain changed Tanner Webb’s life. He and other coaches were at Tanner’s side the day he found out his mother died. Those bonds are tight.
Heck, Darrell Frain changed hundreds of lives in his 26 years here.
If people in the Riverside district are smart, they’ll listen to him with unabashed trust as he establishes the foundation of an athletic program built on pride and hard work. In time, you’ll see a changed environment.
Congratulations, coach. It’s been a heck of a ride.
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