Cherokee Washington High Athletic Director and co-head football coach Neil Phipps is one of three new members being inducted into the Iowa Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame.
Phipps is the fourth Cherokee Braves football coach to be inducted into the coveted IFCA Hall of Fame, the others being Otto Huebner, who coached in Cherokee from 1944 to 1952; Bruce Pickford, who coached the Braves from 1955 to 1961; and Jack Blazek, who coached Cherokee in 1963 and 1964.
The only other Hall of Fame member to coach at Cherokee is former Braves basketball coach Dick Point, who was inducted into the Iowa Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1995.
Besides Phipps, the other football coaches being inducted in the IFCA Hall of Fame this year include Rod Hough who coached at Graettinger, and Bob Strouse who coached at Terril and Okoboji.
A graduate of Cherokee WHS, Phipps earned a degree in 1978 from the University of Northern Iowa where he was an all-conference defensive lineman for the Panthers storied program.
Phipps posted winning records at Holstein, Terril, and seven seasons at Aurelia where his 1986 Bulldogs went 11-1 as the state runner-up. In 1990 he took the challenge of rebuilding a struggling Northern University High program and turned the Panthers into a formidable opponent.
He also was a successful track coach at NUHS, winning Coach of the Year honors in 2002 when he directed the girls team to the Class 1A State Championship.
The modest Phipps, who served in the United States Marine Corps, stands out in his profession with an outstanding work ethic, attention to detail, respectful interaction with his players and fellow coaches, and an insistence that it's always "team first" in athletics.
Phipps credits all his former coaches, the Marine Corps, and, above all, his late father George, for being the major influences in his life whose valuable teachings still guide him today.
"I've coached a lot of good kids and worked with a lot of great parents and fellow coaches," noted the former Braves all-stater. "This year was a fun year. We had a great group of kids and coaches. It's a testament to them that we made the Playoffs this season. We all stayed the course and kept plugging away. Seeing the improvement in our team as the season progressed is great for the coaches. And we've got great coaches here in Kurt (Reynolds), Lynn (Jolly), Scott )Koch), Bart (Smith), and Mike (Nixon). They do a super job. We were a good team all working together and that's what it's all about."
The list of coaches Neil played for, or was influenced by is a veritable Hall of Fame unto itself. Beginning with Ken Beverlin, Chuck Black, and Bob Roberts in high school, to his UNI line coach Don Erusha, defensive coordinator Denny Remmert, and head coach Stan Sheriff, Phipps said he learned the game he loved "from the best of the best."
He then polished and further developed those teachings when he started his coaching career at Holstein where he was influenced and guided by the legendary Russ Kraai, and fellow coaches Denny Ohde, and Ken Mentzer.
In addition to all these early football influences, Phipps is quick to laud Aurelia's veteran football coach Myron Radke, and the Bulldog's beloved former basketball coaches Duane Buttenob and Marv Munden as being major role models who he learned a great deal from.
"Knowing that I wanted to coach football, I visited with my UNI coaches all the time. So much, maybe, that they got tired of seeing me walk through the door," laughed Phipps, who also serves as assistant girls track and field coach at WHS, and also works with the throwers on both the boys and girls track teams.
A football purist, Phipps said it took him a little while to embrace the seven-year pass-only offense of former Cherokee football coach Tony Napierala, now at Muscatine. "Tony stuck his neck out there on the chopping block," said Phipps. "He had the courage to try the spread offense and he sincerely believed in it. We had a lot of fun and success, too, but, doggone it, sometimes maybe you have to run the ball a little bit."
With Phipps and Reynolds this year combining a solid mixture of the spread offense with a running game, the Braves had an outstanding season.
"I don't know about all this Hall of Fame stuff," reiterated the modest Cherokee native who grew up on a Cherokee County farm. In fact, besides the Aurelia school and community, the opportunity to help his Dad farm was one of the reasons he took the Aurelia job when it opened with the passing of Bulldog football coach Gaylen Miller in 1983.
"We (coaches) just coach them and try to get them pointed in the right direction and, hopefully win a few along the way. But It's always all about the kids," concluded Phipps, who with wife Jodi raised three children now involved in their adult careers.
"And I'm fortunate enough to have coached a lot of good kids in my career."