Kevin Bratland, head wrestling coach at North Central College, will be taking the helm of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy mat program, the New London, Conn. academy announced Thursday.
Bratland replaces Steve Eldridge, who had been head coach of the NCAA Division III Bears for 47 years until he announced his retirement in late January.
A native of Humboldt, Iowa – the same hometown as new Purdue head wrestling coach Tony Ersland, and early 1900s professional wrestling champ Frank Gotch – Bratland brings considerable coaching and on-the-mat experience to the Coast Guard, having coached at North Central, Ohio Northern and Wartburg – all Division III schools -- and wrestled at Iowa State and Wartburg.
For the past eight seasons, Bratland has served as head coach at North Central College in Naperville, Ill. in suburban Chicago. He led the Cardinals to a 73-47-1 dual-meet record and three College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin Championships, while he earned conference Coach of the Year honors three times.
Bratland’s Cardinals made the presence known at the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. During Bratland’s tenure, North Central sent 21 qualifiers to the Nationals, with 13 earning All-American honors. His teams finished in top 10 at the NCAA Division III Championships three times.
Prior to coming to North Central, Bratland served as the assistant wrestling coach at Ohio Northern University for two seasons, and was the assistant coach and strength and conditioning coach at perennial Division III team titlewinner Wartburg College of Iowa from 2003-05. He also was an assistant coach at Humboldt High School in 1999-2000.
Bratland began his wrestling career at Iowa State University in 1997 and was part of the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation which included eventual four-time undefeated national champion and Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson (now Penn State head coach) and four-time All-American and national champion Joe Heskett, head coach at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Bratland then transferred cross-state to Wartburg, where he was a two-time NCAA III All-American. In 2002, he finished third in the nation at 157 pounds; the following year, he placed second as a senior in 2003. He was also named the Knights’ most valuable wrestler those two seasons. Bratland also exceled in the classroom, twice earning National Wrestling Coaches Association Division III All-Academic Individual honors.
"Being able to hire a coach of the caliber of Kevin Bratland is a tremendous step forward for our wrestling program here at Coast Guard," said Tim Fitzpatrick, Coast Guard's Director of Athletics. "Kevin brings a wide array of skills to the table that we need and want in a wrestling coach – he's a great on-the-mat instructor and teacher, a relentless recruiter, values the cadet-athlete experience and embraces the core values of the academy. He was a nationally prominent Division III wrestler as a student-athlete, and has run a program at North Central that has been continually successful on the mat and in the classroom. It is my distinct and sincere pleasure to welcome Kevin, his wife Lindsi and sons Brody and Tucker to the Coast Guard Bears family."
"The Coast Guard Academy is a very unique opportunity and one I am very passionate about,” said Bratland. “I have been very fortunate to be part of a great program at North Central College. I look to use this experience to build upon the tradition that Coach Eldridge has started. I am a product of being around great coaches and great people, and the Coast Guard is another opportunity to surround myself with great leaders."
Two coaches who know Bratland well offered their assessments of the new Coast Guard head coach.
"Mr. Fitzpatrick and the Search Committee have truly discovered a diamond in the rough,” said Joe Heskett, Army head coach and former teammate of Bratland at Iowa State. “Kevin Bratland exudes what Coast Guard wants in a coach and a leader. He is a man of great integrity, and he will accomplish great things with Coast Guard wrestling. I'm excited for him and for his family, and for the entire Coast Guard athletic program."
"He is a dang good coach and is very passionate and brings a lot of positive energy,” said Jim Miller, Bratland’s coach at Wartburg. “He will thrive in the Academy culture. Kevin is very organized and will be very diligent in recruiting. In all aspects of the job, Coast Guard really got a good coach and made an excellent, excellent choice."