Your Prep Sports
Iowa high school football lost a legend on Monday with the death of long-time West Branch coach Butch Pedersen.
One of the winningest coaches in state history Pedersen spent more than four decades at West Branch including 40 years as the head football coach.
He died on Monday morning after a battle with cancer.
“The thing about coach Pedersen is he tries to make everyone the best version of themselves,” West Branch graduate and former Iowa and NFL standout Marv Cook said. “It’s not just the athletic side of it, it’s not about winning on Friday nights it’s about trying to get everyone to maximize who they are and the person that they can become. When you do that you elevate everybody and that’s what has been able to do for over 40 years.”
Pedersen was diagnosed with myelodysplatic syndrome, a form of blood cancer, in October.
West Branch finished 11-1 this season and advanced to the Class 1A state semifinals for the first time since 2011.
“Over his 40 years as head football coach, Butch had an incredible impact on thousands of student-athletes,” superintendent of West Branch schools Marty Jimmerson said in a statement. “He had a reputation for never putting himself first, holding his players to high standards and taking great pride in representing the West Branch community on the football field. He will be dearly missed.”
Pedersen began teaching and coaching football at West Branch in 1975 spending eight years as a varsity assistant and junior high coach before taking over as head coach in 1983.
In his first season as head coach in 1983 Pedersen led West Branch to an 8-1 record. That 1983 team was quarterbacked by Cook who would go on to be an all-American at Iowa and play in the NFL.
“What makes the great ones so special is the abilty to inspire motivate and get you to believe that you can do even more than what you thought you could do,” Cook said. “When you do that across the spectrum of football, basketball and all the different things he’s been involved with, you can’t fake that, that’s who he was.”
Pedersen spent 40 seasons leading the West Branch football program, taking the Bears to the playoffs 30 times and winning three state championships.
He led West Branch to its first title in 1989 and directed the Bears to back-to-back unbeaten championship seasons in 1991 and 1992.
West Branch won 62 consecutive regular season games from 1990-1996.
“The things that sticks out about Butch is that he coached the kids more than x’s and o’s,” former West Branch player and current assistant coach John Hierseman said. “You’d go through a handshake line or run into other coaches and a convention or in the summer and the first comment they would always make is how hard West Branch played and that was all because of Butch.”
Hierseman played for Pedersen from 1986 to 1989 and was a member of the first state championship team in 1989.
He joined the West Branch coaching staff more than 10 years ago and is the current offensive coordinator and served as acting coach when Pedersen was away this season due to his medial treatments.
“Some people see him on the sideline yelling and as a player you’d think of him as a scary figure but as you got older you didn’t want to disappoint him,” Hierseman said. “Certainly as a coach none of the guys that played for Butch ever wanted to disappoint him, they had that level of respect for him.”
In 40 seasons as a head coach, all at West Branch, Pedersen amassed a 338-84 record.
The 338 wins are 10th most in state history and his career win percentage of .801 is ninth in state history among coaches with at least 150 wins.
Pedersen is one of only 13 coaches in state history to win 300 games and one of only three coaches in state history to win 300 games with a winning percentage over .800.
“The reason you have success is you have bedrock foundations and principals on how you want to coach, teach, intrsuct and mentor young people and when you do that the success is incredible,” Cook said. “I call him iconic because of his ability to coach high school football and go down and coach junior high basketball and be every bit as successful, every bit as effective, every bit as inspiring. It’s just who he is.”
Consistency and loyalty were trademarks of Pedersen during his coach tenure.
Pedersen is one of 19 coaches in state history to coach for 40 seasons and the 338 wins for Pedersen at West Branch are the fifth most of any coach at one program.
“Everything was always about the community and about family,” Hierseman said. “When he first started back in the 80s when I was playing he was always working to get the community involved, he made it a big family. No matter who it was that was involved, the managers, he was always thanking the mangers, he was big into pulling people into the family and I think that was the secret to the success was the stability. For 40 years a lot of things have changed. The town of West Branch has changed, the school has changed, the superintendents the mayors have all changed. The one constant for 40 yards was Butch and Friday nights. That’s special.”
Pedersen was named Iowa High School Football coach of the year in 1991 and 12 times was named conference of district coach of the year.
He was inducted into the Iowa High School football coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1994 and in 2017 was named national coach of the year by the NFHSCA (National Federation of State High School Associations).
In lieu of a physical memorial Pedersen’s family has asked that community members donate to a medical expense fund and or a memorial scholarship.
Information on memorial services will be available in the coming days.