116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — At one time, Brian White was a bright-eyed college graduate, embarking on a career in the insurance field.
See, he earned a degree in business from Coe College and football was about to become part of his past.
Fortunately for Cedar Rapids Kennedy, White only needed a week before it became clear that he was destined to be a coach.
Twenty years later and in just his second year as a head coach, White guided the Cougars to the best season in program history, opening with 13 straight victories, reaching the Class 4A state title game for the first time and earning a runner-up finish. Kennedy's memorable season is why White was named The Gazette/KCRG-TV9 Area 2015 Coach of the Year.
'In about the first week of my job, I realized I had made a big mistake and that wasn't really what I wanted to do,' White said. 'I wanted to teach and coach. I got out of that in a hurry.'
Wheels were set in motion the summer of 1995 when he was introduced to new Cedar Rapids Washington head coach Paul James by a mutual acquaintance that coached White at Coe. Interestingly, it was White's wife, Debbie, that gave the final push.
'He asked me to coach (defensive) line for him,' said White, who began teaching with the Department of Corrections before instructing driver's education at Washington. 'I actually didn't even answer him. My wife, who was then my girlfriend, answered him for me saying, 'Yes, he'd love to coach.' '
The rest as they say is history, but it took time to get to this point. White was a part of the Washington staff for about a decade, serving as defensive coordinator for much of it. He has been at Kennedy for 10 seasons, leading the defense before taking over for former Cougars head coach Tim Lewis last season. White said he was convinced he was destined to be an assistant, missing out on the Warriors opening when James became Athletics Director and Lewis being close in age.
'I came to the conclusion I was just going to be a defensive coordinator,' White said. 'I was fine with it. I enjoyed doing it. All along I wanted to be a head coach, but just thought it wasn't going to happen. He said he feels lucky to coach in the district his children attend and where he teaches U.S. history.
'In 2013, Tim told me that summer that was going to be his last year. I think I used some colorful language and said, 'yeah, right,' because I didn't believe him for a second. Everybody goes through that. I figured it was one of his moments, venting on me because that's what we do. As soon as the season was over, I went in his classroom and brought it up. He was straight forward and said he was done. At that point, I thought maybe I have a chance again. I started to get that feeling and really wanted it.'
A look back: 2014 announcement of Brian White's hiring
Previously published in The Gazette
White has been a sponge, soaking up knowledge from coaches he played for and those he stood by on the sidelines. He credits James for showing him the coaching ropes and giving him his first opportunities. White said Lewis taught him a lot. The biggest influence came from Greg Purnell, his high school coach at Linn-Mar.
'They had a tremendous impact,' White said. 'I have a little bit of them in me everywhere, especially Coach Purnell and how I approach the game with enthusiasm and excitement. He was a master motivator. I'd like to think that is a huge part of what I do.'
White is a dynamo in practice and during games and the Cougars feed off his energy.
'When your coaches are getting excited just as much as the players on the field it makes a huge difference,' Kennedy all-state lineman Mason Jacobs said. 'It gets everybody psyched because you know you're doing the right thing.'
White considers himself a 'player's coach.' He said he tries to build relationships with each player — an example set by Purnell — and is invested in them as young men as much as players. The connection leaves an impression on the Cougars.
'It's awesome,' Kennedy's all-time leading rusher Tyler Dralle said. 'He loves the game more than anyone I've ever seen. He just wants the very best.'
Kennedy was certainly the best in the area, recording a fantastic turnaround season. The Cougars were 13-1, rebounding from a 3-8 mark last year that did include a playoff victory. The community buzzed with excitement, flocking to games and filling the UNI-Dome for the final two contests.
White recognized the potential with 17 previous starters, a strong offensive line, a solid defense, a punishing tailback and an all-purpose weapon in University of Iowa commit Shaun Beyer.
Dralle was one of the state's best rushers, amassing a school record 2,244 yards this season, including 127 in the title game. Dralle also had 25 TDs. Beyer, who was voted 4A all-state captain by the Iowa Newspaper Association, had 1,579 yards of total offense with 17 total touchdowns, which included an interception return for a score.
Powered by the 'Family' mantra that was symbolized by a block of wood that listed the multiple tenets of a team that senior Dalles Jacobus often toted, the Cougars bonded and then flourished.
'We knew we had a special group of kids,' White said. 'We knew we had solid and talented kids returning. Doing something with them is sometimes a challenge. Bringing the juniors and seniors together was our first priority, making sure they meshed, and they did. Once that happened things took off.'
Kennedy started to fly high and showed up on the radar after a 28-24 win over Washington in Week 2. The Cougars began to beat teams they hadn't on a consistent basis in the past, dropping perennial power Cedar Falls, knocking off Washington again in the playoffs and then defeating Bettendorf in the semifinal. The latter avenged the loss that ended White's first campaign as head coach.
Pre-state championship video (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The way the Cougars handled the victory over Washington opened White's eyes.
'It was huge because we had been telling our kids that they were a good football team and that they could beat anybody,' White said. 'We lined up against the former state runner-up and they have a lot of kids back with a lot of people had them ranked No. 1 or 2 in the state.
'That was our moment when we came together and proved we could do this. At the end of the game, it was such a great feeling. Right after it, we decided we did a great job, it's over and let's move on. We went right back to work and nobody said a word.'
Kennedy's title aspirations came to a halt to three-time defending state champion West Des Moines Dowling. The Maroons handed the Cougars a 41-10 loss. As hard as the finish was to swallow, it didn't overshadow the special season and moments it created. Memories that wouldn't have been made had White not taken his business to the coaching ranks.
'It's over and all we do is smile for our accomplishments, right now,' White said. 'The Dowling game doesn't matter anymore. Now, we reflect on the 13 great times that we had. How can you not smile about that?
'The sting of the state championship game is long gone. We are in celebration mode. We feel good about what we did.'