March 27, 2013 - There's been no shortage of rumors swirling around town and on the internet regarding Brandon Rank's status as the head coach of the Oxford High School varsity wrestling team.
Rank (click for larger version)
"Wrestling's kind of a small community," explained the 33-year-old Rochester Hills resident. "They're very passionate and when their pot is stirred a little bit, everybody will speculate."
That's why Rank, who's popular with both kids and parents, wants folks to know two things. One, he stepped down as head coach last week. He was not fired. And two, he's returning to his old position as assistant coach.
"It was a resignation," Rank said. "It was never my intention to be the head coach for decades. Was I prepared for it to (end) right now? Not really, but it was on the docket.
"It was a decision (Oxford Athletic Director) Mike Watson and I had spoken about. The timing was not what I was expecting, but under no circumstances was it a termination."
Watson indicated that Rank "did a bang-up job" as head coach. "We really, really need to dispel the rumor that we just nastily fired him and got rid of him," he said. "We want to build this program around instructors and people like Brandon."
"Brandon did a fantastic job. He led us to the state finals. Absolutely none of this is (about) performance," Watson continued. "This is not a move to make our program weaker. It's a move to make our program stronger."
How will that be accomplished?
"We just feel like we're in a position right now where we can go get somebody who will supplement our program in the best ways," Watson said. "We can be very selective right now. People who are competitors should want to coach in our program. We're going to take advantage of our program's strength right now to go get one of the best coaches in the state. I don't who that's going to be, but we're going to take a look at people and start to gather some candidates, so that we have a great pool."
Rank made it perfectly clear that he has absolutely no plans to take his knowledge, experience and skills to another team.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said. "I'm going back to my previous role as an assistant coach. It was a role that I liked."
Prior to becoming Oxford's head coach two seasons ago, Rank served as assistant coach for six years. In 2009, he was named the Michigan Wrestling Association Assistant Coach of the Year for the state. Rank was also an integral part of the Oxford team's state championship win in February 2011.
"We've been to (state) semifinals or finals five times since he's been here," Watson noted.
Watson explained that when Rank took the reins from former Head Coach Brad Keeney prior to the 2011-12 wrestling season, it wasn't known whether this was going to be a permanent or temporary situation.
"We didn't know how it was going to go," he said. "We just knew that inherently there were going to be some gaps. We were just going to see how that worked out. And if it worked out and he could remain our coach, I wasn't against that."
"But we understood that we were putting Brandon in a tough spot," Watson noted. "(His day job) takes him away from being with the kids. He works 12-14 hour days."
Rank was "never tagged" with the "interim" label. Watson said that's not fair to coaches because it doesn't build confidence. "We never wanted to make it seem as though we were settling for anybody," he said.
Watston stressed that Oxford wasn't settling because Rank was the "top candidate" in the pool following Keeney's departure.
"Brandon had the best total package of that pool," he said. "He was already in the program. He was already proven and had relationships with the kids. He became the logical choice."
For as much as Rank loves wrestling, he doesn't believe he can devote the necessary time to Oxford's program due to his full-time job doing road construction, which entails 70-to-80-hour work weeks.
"My job doesn't allow me really more than winter time (for wrestling)," he explained.
Building and maintaining a successful wrestling program requires year-round commitment. "I've been around wrestling a long time and what you do see is most of the very successful programs have somebody that's in the building, dealing with wrestlers and wrestling issues on a daily basis," Rank said. "I was not able to do that."
"Do I feel like I did a great job as the head coach? Yeah, sure," he noted. "Can we do better? Can we get further? Can we go to higher levels and stay there consistently? Yeah, I believe we can."
Rank indicated that he plans to work with the administration to hire a full-time teacher/coach who can be "dedicated to wrestling year-round."
"We're going forward with doing what's best for the wrestling program," he said. "The administration and I are eye-to-eye on this. We're going to be working together to (find) the best possible person to help the program go further."
"He's going to be an integral part of that (selection) process," Watson said. "I need him to be part of that process because he will be our top assistant (coach). Whoever we hire, they'll have to understand that he's going to be our top assistant."
Watson noted he's not sure if the new head coach will definitely teach in Oxford.
"I don't know if it's necessarily (going to be) a teacher," he said. "Hopefully, it's somebody that can serve as an employee in our district (in) some way. Or at least has the flexibility to devote time during the day to dealing with some administrative tasks (but) also be here after school more than just during the wrestling season."
"We're not tied to it being a teacher or a parapro or whatever. It just has to be someone that can devote time to the administrative tasks and be on the mat," Watson added.
Oxford's looking for someone who's "uber-qualified" with a proven track-record of success to become head coach, according to Rank. "We're not going to shake things up," he said. "We're not looking to completely change the direction of a successful program. We are looking to add to and make the program better."
"It's not like we're going to bring Joe Schmo into the wrestling program and hand him the keys to the castle," Rank noted. "Whoever comes in will be highly qualified. They will be a proven winner."
Returning Rank to the position of assistant coach will give him more time on the mat to personally instruct wrestlers.
"We absolutely need our best instructors to be on the mat with the kids," Watson said. "And Brandon Rank is not only our best instructor, he may be one of the top five instructors in the state of Michigan. For us to continue to take him away from being on the mat is a disservice to our kids."
Serving as head coach was robbing Rank of crucial mat time because of all the administrative work that goes along with that position such as organizing tournaments and making bus schedules for around 70 kids.
"Up to 40 percent of a head coach's time is dealing with the administrative leadership parts," Watson said. "It's just time for us to supplement the program with somebody else who's a fantastic instructor, but can also be that administrative leader."
"It does mean that (Rank) was a bad leader. It just means that he's that (good) of an instructor," the athletic director noted. "I know (Rank's) more valuable being on that mat. And he does, too."
Watson explained that back when Rank was promoted to head coach, he received complaints from parents who didn't want him taken off the mat and away from the kids.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.