SOLON — The timing seemed right to Blake Williams.
He was happy with the talent in the Solon wrestling room and the coaches he assembled to help guide the Spartans. The factors didn’t lead to an easier choice, but one he was comfortable enough to make.
Williams confirmed Thursday that he will retire from head coaching after more than two decades at Solon and Cedar Rapids Prairie. He said he will remain a physical education teacher at Solon.
“It was just a time to step down,” said Williams, who has two children in middle school. “I’ve been wanting a little more flexibility in the winter.
“I feel good about where our program is and about our coaching staff. I feel all those pieces align and gives me peace to step down.”
Williams, 45, began to contemplate the move after the season, but social distancing and school suspensions due to the coronavirus pandemic prevented him from meeting wrestlers face-to-face. He informed the team during a makeshift end-of-the-season awards banquet via Zoom.
Relationships with wrestlers, assistant coaches and opposing coaches is what he will miss most.
“First is the relationship with the kids and the impact I hope to have had on kids,” Williams said. “Just the day-to-day interaction with them. The wrestlers become your family and your own kids. That is going to be the hardest part, by far.”
Williams produced a successful 21-year stretch as a head coach after two seasons as a Center Point-Urbana assistant. He led the Spartans from 1999-2003 and returned in 2015. Williams sandwiched a 12-year stint with Prairie between his Solon stops.
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Solon captured its only state traditional team title under Williams, winning the 2017 Class 2A championship over New Hampton by a half-point in the closest race that didn’t result in a tie. The Spartans also were runners-up in the state duals tournament that season.
Williams coach Solon to all four of its state duals appearances, including another runner-up finish in 2019. Later that year, he received the Bob Siddens Iowa High School Coaching Excellence Award from the Glen Brand Hall of Fame.
Williams ranks in the top 15 all-time with a dual record of 413-117-1, including 253 wins at Prairie and 160 with the Spartans. He made 13 state duals appearances, including nine with Prairie and reaching the 3A state duals final in 2006 when he was named 3A Coach of the Year. Prairie posted consecutive top-five traditional state team performances from 2012-15, placing third in 2013.
Williams coached 17 state finalists, including eight state champions. Hayden Taylor (145) and Jax Flynn (170) each won 2A individual titles for Solon this year. Williams has mentored 124 state qualifiers, including 71 medalists.
“I’ve never ever been a guy that has measured success on titles, records, numbers and all that stuff,” Williams said. “Honestly, if I was able to positively impact young student-athletes in the right way and get them ready for when they’re done in high school then I’ve done my job. I hope I’ve done a pretty good job. If that’s my legacy, that’s’ worth it.”
Wrestling has been in his blood for a long time, dating back to his days as a Decorah prep and All-America career at Wartburg. He followed his father, Roger, into coaching. Williams plans to keep involved in the sport, but isn’t sure what capacity.
“Wrestling is a huge part of me,” Williams said. “It’s hard to walk away, can’t do that completely.
“I’m retiring as a head wrestling coach, but I’m not going to alienate the sport that has done so much for me and given me so many great memories.”
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