The Iowa Barnstormers ended the 2016 season with a 4-12 record, winning just one of their final 12 games.
Iowa had just parted ways with its third coach in the past six seasons, not counting J.T. Smith’s time as an interim in 2011.
“I just think we didn’t see the answers of how we were going to fix the problem,” Barnstormers VP and COO John Pettit said.
The team had missed the playoffs for the seventh straight season, and hadn’t contended for a spot in a noticeably long period of time.
Fans were growing weary and the front office was in a tough spot.
After parting ways with previous coach Joe Brannen, the front office was on the search for a new coach.
“We were at the point in the franchise [where] this one had to work,” Pettit said.
John Pettit found a diamond in the rough in Dixie Wooten
It didn’t take Pettit and co. long to find their guy.
Mark Stoute: at the time, the head coach of the Cedar Rapids Titans.
That’s right. Current United Bowl bound coach Dixie Wooten was not Plan A, but that’s not to say he wouldn’t have made his way onto the staff.
“Stoute was definitely a top candidate,” Pettit said. “In talking to Mark, he planned on bringing [Wooten] as the offensive coordinator [along with] his whole staff [from Cedar Rapids].”
Iowa was set to hire the coach who brought four winning seasons in a row to Titans fans, along with his promising staff.
However, Stoute found a different opportunity. He would be taking the head coaching job for the Jacksonville Sharks in the newly formed National Arena League.
“When things fells apart because mark went to Jacksonville, it opened up a whole new scenario,” Pettit said. “We were looking for a head coach.”
The Barnstormers had to do a complete one-eighty to find their new leader, while the pressure to find success was growing.
“We had [Wooten] as a candidate [along] with a ton of other ones,” Pettit said. “We opened it all up. We had applications from current head coaches on successful teams in all kinds of leagues looking to come here.”
Pettit wouldn’t say who was looking to come to Iowa, but insisted the list was deep.
The front office conducted numerous interviews, as any team would, trying to find their missing puzzle piece.
“The final candidates went through four to five interviews and I think [Wooten] went into like eight,” Pettit said.
Iowa was settled on Dixie Wooten.
“We liked everything he was saying,” Pettit said. “There were no excuses, you’ve got to coach the players you’ve got. You have to put the system in that works with the players you have.”
Wooten’s hiring drew skepticism and criticism from people outside of the Barnstormers organization.
“We took criticism from outside people that said, ‘I can’t believe you made that choice,’” Pettit said. “A lot of it was sour grapes, of people that we didn’t pick.”
Although, the message and the criticism were still there, and winning was now a priority.
The Barnstormers are gearing up for the United Bowl
Today, fans can look back at maybe the most successful hire that the Barnstormers organization has seen.
In less than two weeks, Iowa will play in its first championship game since 1997.
“It’s fun,” Pettit said. “It’s finally fun again. It’s not fun coming when you’re constantly losing and don’t see [your team] getting any better. It’s really opened our eyes on what you should be looking for.”
Pettit is a big fan of Wooten and what he has done so far in Des Moines.
“I’ve never heard an excuse from him,” Pettit said. “[If somebody got hurt, he’ll say], ‘That’s okay, we’ll find somebody else. We’ll coach him up and we’ll get him ready.”
That’s what Wooten has done time and time again in Iowa, and ultimately one of the biggest reasons he turned the program around so quickly.
“It’s hard to do it as fast as what we did with [Wooten],” Pettit said. “But Dixie has the capability of finding great athletes too. He also put together a good coaching staff. I think that’s the key.
“You have to find coaches who want to coach,” Pettit said.
And that’s just the kind of coaches that Dixie Wooten and his staff are.
Last Word On Sports and Connor Ferguson are bring readers new Iowa Barnstormers’ content each and every day leading up to the 2018 United Bowl, which will be held at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, IA on Saturday, July 7.