Prep Football

Butch Pedersen always wanted to be a football coach

Veteran West Branch coach on verge of 300th win


West Branch head varsity football coach Butch Pedersen watches his players participate in drills during a camp in August. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
West Branch head varsity football coach Butch Pedersen watches his players participate in drills during a camp in August. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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Editor’s note: Ryan Suchomel, a night sports editor at The Gazette, graduated from West Branch in 1990 and played football for Butch Pedersen.

One Friday night very soon, West Branch football coach James “Butch” Pedersen will win his 300th game, becoming only the 13th Iowa high school coach to do so.

And, on Sept. 26, he’ll have the field at the Little Rose Bowl on Oliphant Street in West Branch renamed in his honor.

“It’s a number,” Pedersen said of 300, which could come Friday when the Bears host Tipton. “It involves so many different people. I’ve had a lot of good assistant coaches, a lot of good players, a lot of good parents, and a lot of good fans.

“I’ve had so much support through the years. It’s not just me. One thing I do well is ‘we.’ It’s not ‘me.’”

Pedersen does “we” very, very well.

Every varsity player plays in every game, not just in the blowouts. Pedersen finds a spot on special teams even for the less-gifted athletes.

“We’ve had kids on the PAT team that were horrible players,” Pedersen said. “But, if we lost a game, they were the first ones on the floor crying their eyes out.

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“They bought into what we’re trying to do. It means something to them that’s so much more important than winning and losing.”

There haven’t been a lot of losses. Just 74 compared to 299 wins over 36 seasons.

And he’s done it at a Class 1A school.

“In today’s society, there’s lot of ‘I’ orientation,” Pedersen said. “We encourage kids to go out for every sport, to go out for band, chorus ... everything you possibly can.

“West Branch is too small to start specializing. You are going to miss out on so many opportunities by doing that type of thing. And let’s say your best friend’s best sport is baseball, and your best sport is football. I want you to come help in my sport, then I’m going to help you in your sport.

“That’s very important. Overall, we’ve been pretty stable that way.”

The legend of Butch Pedersen begins with his Grandpa Brown, who was the head of grounds and buildings at the University of Iowa. In his youth, Pedersen was able to attend Hawkeye football practices and games.

“I knew I wanted to be a coach,” Pedersen said.

When he finished his degree, he already was a volunteer assistant coach at West Branch. But he almost landed at one of the Bears’ biggest rivals.

“The night before I was going to sign at West Liberty I got a call that said the one coaching position that we had for you has fallen through,” Pedersen said. “So when I lost that coaching spot, the salary was less than the West Branch salary. So I signed with West Branch that same week.”

Soon, the head coaching job came open. He was 32 when he started.

His first move was to look up his old Bear teammate Larry Rummells, who played collegiately at Drake. He found him at the feed store in town.

“I told him, ‘you’re going to help me coach high school football,’” Pedersen said. “And he said, ‘no, no, I ain’t doing that.’”

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“I was doing my farmer stuff,” Rummells said. “He wanted me to help him out. I said ‘yeah, I’ll help for a year.’”

Rummells was Pedersen’s right-hand man for 28 years before retiring.

But Pedersen always draws talented assistant coaches into his orbit. At least 50 over his 35-year career, including a lot of former players.

He also found jobs for anyone who wanted one. There were only so many assistants, but someone could work the scoreboard, another could be on the chain gang, another can paint the field, others still could develop a website. And on and on and on.

“I wanted this to be a community tradition,” Pedersen said. “I wanted to have as many people involved in the football program as possible.

“If you go to the homecoming ceremony, and they ask all the people involved in the football program to come down on the field, there’s no one left in the bleachers.”

And that community of 2,322 people has had a lot to cheer about, with 25 playoffs berths in 35 years, including 10 straight coming into this fall.

While the state titles have been elusive later in his career (Pedersen has three — 1989, 1991, 1992) he exudes plenty of pride.

“After you win for a while, you are always marked,” Pedersen said. “We know that. But year-in and year-out, we are a team that you better be ready for.

“And we’ve won over 80 percent of our games. Which is pretty incredible.”

Pedersen, 67, is often asked how long he will keep coaching.

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“I don’t have a good answer,” Pedersen said. “I’m in better shape now than I have been in the last 20 years. Look at Bill Snyder (who is 78). I don’t have a timetable. (His wife) Jenny doesn’t want me home anyway, and I don’t blame her.”

The current wins leader, Dick Tighe (432) probably doesn’t need to get nervous, and there are only three coaches in the 400-win club. But it is clear Pedersen isn’t stopping at 300.

“He doesn’t have a lot of hobbies,” his son, Lance, the head coach at Mount Vernon, said. “Football has always been, always will be his passion.

“Friday nights ... you have a feeling you are going to see him on the sidelines for as long as he is able.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8235; ryan.suchomel@thegazette.com

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