The Iowa Central women's basketball program reached an elite level under the direction of Craig Carlson.
After experiencing nearly a full decade of unprecedented success at the school, the Triton head coach has decided to step away from the game he loves.
Carlson will officially retire at the end of next month, ending a nine-year tenure that produced 227 victories and two trips to the national tournament with rosters dominated by in-state - and often backyard - recruits.
Messenger photo by Britt Kudla
Craig Carlson discusses a play with his Iowa Central women’s basketball team this past season. Carlson will retire at the end of next month.
''This was an incredibly difficult decision for me,'' the 59-year-old Carlson said. ''I make no secrets about my passion for coaching and basketball, and it means a great deal to me to see area kids flourish the way they have in our system.
''I need to take some time and reassess where my wife (Madonna) and I are and (the direction) we're headed. We have a lake home in Minnesota, and Madonna works part-time in Lincoln, Neb. We've been putting a lot of miles on our professional and personal lives through the years. It just got to be a bit too much, so we're going to step back and see what the future holds.''
Iowa Central never skipped a beat on Carlson's watch, and in fact, got steadier as the seasons progressed. The Tritons earned at least 25 wins in each of Carlson's final seven years at the helm, with a pair of recent appearances at nationals (2011 and '13) and four individual All-American performances since 2010 alone.
THE CARLSON FILE
Hometown: Heron Lake, Minn.
High School: Heron Lake.
Alma Mater: Worthington Community College and the University of Minnesota.
Overall Record at Iowa Central:?227-71.
Conference Record at Iowa Central:?113-37.
Regional Champions:?2011 and 2013.
National Qualifiers: 2011 and 2013.
ABOUT JORDON O'BRIEN
High School: Labette County, Kansas.
Alma Mater: Western Illinois.
Triton Assistant: 2012-14.
''Craig has done an outstanding job,'' Iowa Central athletic director Rick Sandquist said. ''We were so fortunate to have him use our area as the foundation of his program. To win like he has with almost exclusively Iowa kids - it's been a blueprint for experiencing the best of both worlds. We will dearly miss him.''
The Tritons captured Region XI championships in 2011 and '13, and Carlson was the conference's coach of the year both times. Former area prep standouts Baileigh O'Brien (Fort Dodge, 2010), Mika Rodewald (Manson Northwest Webster, 2011 and '12) and Alison Nagel (St. Edmond, 2012) all garnered All-American status under Carlson's tutelage.
''I wish I could key you in on a secret (for finding the right area players to win at the junior college level), but it wasn't anything magical,'' said Carlson, who was both an assistant and head coach at St. Edmond before taking the Iowa Central job in 2005. ''We recruited kids who could potentially fit in our system well, and we sold them on the idea of getting another two years to play in front of friends and family. That helped put fans in the seats and generate a lot of area interest in our program, and the momentum just kept building.
''Our area schools deserve a lot of credit for developing these kids and instilling a work ethic in them that we were able to build from. I honestly believe that this is one of the top states in the country when it comes to women's high school and junior college basketball. These kids are coached the right way from day one.''
Carlson thanked Dennis Pilcher and Tom Beneke for ''taking a chance on me'' nearly a decade ago.
''I figured I'd be at St. Edmond for quite some time, but I got a call from (Pilcher) asking if I would be interested and was fortunate enough to earn their trust,'' Carlson said. ''We are all so blessed to have the unwavering support of our administration at Iowa Central. Combine that with the kids we've had play for us through the years and my staff - I don't even want to single anyone out, because I love them all.''
Sandquist confirmed that Jordon O'Brien, Carlson's lead assistant, will take the reins of the program.
''Coach Carlson taught Jordon all of the ins and outs. She is ready,'' Sandquist said. ''Jordon is wise beyond her years, and she has worked with a great teacher of the game in Craig.
''I think this year's sophomore class is a definitive example of (the Carlson era). I'm not sure I've ever seen a group of athletes, in any sport at any level, improve as much as they did from the time they arrived on campus through the time they finished. It was a testament to the teaching skills of both (Carlson and O'Brien).''
Carlson wouldn't rule out a return to the coaching ranks somewhere down the road.
''Never say never,'' Carlson said. ''I love coaching basketball, without question. I don't prefer a certain level, or a certain age, or a certain gender. No matter where I'm at, my kids were taught and treated with the same respect, style and work ethic.
''In my wildest dreams, I couldn't have imagined all of this when I started. We'll see what the future holds, but for now, this is for the best.''