By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Somewhat lost in the news about Tyler Cook returning to the Iowa men's basketball team was the news about Alex Kanellis joining the Iowa wrestling program.
In both cases, the impact will be huge.
Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery now has his leading scorer and rebounder from last season returning in the 6-foot-9 Cook, while Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands adds a rising star in the strength and conditioning profession.
Kanellis never would say that about himself, but others would, including Regina football coach and former Iowa All-America tight end Marv Cook.
Together, they helped build Regina into a football dynasty, winning six consecutive state titles from 2010 to 2015.
Cook ran the football side of things, while Kanellis handled everything to do with strength and conditioning and speed and development in football and in just about every other sport at Regina.
“It was his program all the way,” Cook said, ‘He’s evolved so much in the last four or five years, just constantly studying and improving the program and how he wants to train the student-athletes.
“And the great thing is he’s not just great for football players. He was great for our girls basketball and volleyball and track programs, truly a great resource. So he’s going to be greatly missed at Regina.”
The feeling is mutual.
To say that Kanellis was content working for Regina would be an understatement. He was so settled in after nearly nine years on the job that he had recently started to think that maybe Regina would be his home for the duration of his career.
“It really started feeling like I could be at Regina for the rest of my life, just kind of presumed it,” Kanellis said. “But it’s too good to pass up. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to be a part of. So it’s a no-brainer for me.”
Kanellis has been a Hawkeye before.
He was part of the Iowa football team’s heralded 2005 recruiting class and played defensive end for two seasons in 2005 and 2006 before his career was cut short by multiple concussions.
Kanellis was also a star wrestler for Iowa City West High School.
He always had a passion for training and fitness and decided to make it a career after college, and that quickly landed him at Regina.
“I loved every second of that job,” Kanellis said. “I loved the age group. I loved the variety of things that I got to do, and really more than anything, I loved the kids. Over there, we were working with fifth-grade on and it was a long time with small groups of kids. I really loved it. And I wouldn’t change it, but this was right up my alley.”
Kanellis never has focused on just one sport until now, and the opportunity to specialize excites him.
Especially when that one sport is wrestling and the team is the Iowa Hawkeyes.
“I’m excited to narrow my focus,” Kanellis said. “I tried to do my best with all that stuff, but to have a smaller area of focus and to just be able to obsess about wrestling, how strength and conditioning can help us wrestle better, I’m really excited to focus.”
Cook knew that Regina was sort of living on borrowed time with Kanellis, and that something eventually would entice Kanellis to leave.
In addition to running Regina's strength and conditioning program, Kanellis was also an assistant coach in football for eight years and the head coach in wrestling for one season.
“Selfishly, it’s obviously not good for us, but I’m excited for Iowa wrestling because I know what they’re getting,” Cook said.
Cook receives most of the credit for Regina’s success in football as the head coach, but he is quick to deflect the praise to his assistant coaches, and especially to Kanellis.
“I think, honestly, the run we’ve had in the playoffs, the run we’ve had with Regina football, I think a lot of it, a ton of it, you’d have to put on him and what he’s been able to do as a coach and as the strength and conditioning guy as well,” Cook said.”
The fact that Kanellis played football for Iowa apparently helped him land his new job because Tom Brands appreciates what Kanellis learned under the supervision of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz and his strength coach, Chris Doyle.
"We identified an individual that understands and appreciates the value this position adds to our program, specifically our wrestlers," Brands said in a release. "Alex is an expert in his field, and he has learned from two men on campus that I respect tremendously, Kirk Ferentz, and Chris Doyle. He knows what we need in our room and we're glad he's on our team."
Kanellis will bring a lot to the Iowa wrestling room, including a burning desire to compete and to win.
Iowa isn’t the dominant team that it used to be for over two decades, but there still is a lot to like about Iowa wrestling.
Penn State currently rules the world of college wrestling, much like Solon ruled high school football when Kanellis started working for Regina in 2010.
But it was Regina that broke Solon’s 42-game winning streak on Sept. 3, 2010. It was the first of four consecutive victories for the Regals against Solon, the last three of which were decisive.
“This level of competition is different than where I was, but no one thought it was possible that Regina would ever beat Solon in a football game, because when I first started, there was a common enemy and a simple goal to beat these guys,” Kanellis said. “And I just love that. And I love the target on the other guy’s back. We’re going to get back to where it should be.”
Kanellis gets excited just talking about trying to dethrone Penn State, which has won seven of the last eight national titles in wrestling. He relishes the challenge of trying to restore Iowa's dominance in wrestling.
"I love that," he said.
Kanellis also likes the buzz surrounding the Iowa wrestling program.
From Spencer Lee winning a national title at 125 pounds as a true freshman this past season to Mark Perry now running the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, there are signs of a revival. Iowa also finished third at the NCAA Championships in March, but scored more bonus points than what was expected.
"I’m pumped to be a part of it,” Kanellis said. “It seems like what they’re most concerned with is that everybody has similar goals, like-minded goals, and that’s something I want to be a part of. I;m a competitive guy and I love the team aspect . It just seems to me like Tom is the only person that is going to get us back to where we should be, and I’m excited to be a part of it. It’s moving in the right direction. It’s a super exciting time.”