After nearly three decades at the helm, Bill Byrnes has retired as the Lake Mills football coach

After 27 years at the helm, Bill Byrnes has officially stepped down as Lake Mills’ head football coach. The Lake Mills board made it official on Monday, December 12th, at their regular business meeting.

I’ve had a good run here as a coach in multiple sports – I think as a coach, you feel it’s time, time for new leadership, time to let the younger generation of coaches take over. I just felt this next year would be a good time to step away from coaching and teaching, said Byrnes of his stepping down as the football coach.

Byrnes arrived in Lake Mills as an assistant coach in the mid-1980s before getting his crack as the head man in 1996 for the first time. However, his head coaching career at Lake Mills had already started. Bill took over the Lake Mills baseball team in the early 1990s

Before taking over the Lake Mills program, Byrnes learned from one of the best to ever coach Iowa high school football when he was an assistant down the road in Britt. Byrnes spent the 1984 and 1985 seasons under the legendary Bob Sanger. Those two years, Byrnes helped Sanger’s Eagles back to the playoffs and reached the quarterfinals in ’84 and ’85.

By Kelli Wencl and Globe Gazette. (Bob Sanger posses in 1997 with former assistant coaches Bob Horner, Dave Sturm, and Bill Byrnes)

“He gave me my start. He is probably the hardest-working person I’ve ever known when I was there. He was farming about 100 acres, teaching and coaching football. He would go to practice, go home, and farm again”,  Byrnes told the Globe Gazette in 1997.


It didn’t take long for Byrnes and his former boss to clash on the football field. Byrnes guided the Bulldogs to an 8-2 record his first season, falling only to….. Sanger’s Eagle twice. Byrnes and the Bulldogs were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Eagles,59-30, after losing to them in the regular season. Though disappointing at the time, a few weeks later, the Eagles would beat Gehlen Catholic, 17-14, to win the Class 1A state championship.

(I learned) how they practiced while I was there, the expectations of the kids in the season and out of season. They weren’t fancy in what they did. On defense, fill the gaps, and on offense, run 5-6 running plays, and were going to get really, really good at it”, Byrnes said of his time in Britt.

Byrnes took those principles along with the ones he learned playing for a legendary coach himself, Bob Rasmussen, at Riceville. Rasmussen also won a state championship in 1993 and collected 209 wins with the Wildcats. The Iowa Football Coaches Association hall of Famer is a 1959 graduate of Kanawha High School.

Most recently, Byrnes got to coach against a Sanger again, but this time, Bob’s son Mark is now leading the program. Byrnes remembers the nights he would go to the Sanger house, and well, I’m sure you can imagine with all those boys.

I walked into that house and was like holy cow, footballs flying all over, baseball here and there, just a lot of activity going on,” Byrnes stated. “All those boys would go on to be very good athletes for West Hancock. A lot of good memories from my years there.” 

As Bob did, coach Byrnes got the unique experience of coaching his son, Royce, on the football field. Among the other positions he played, Royce was a two-time all-state punter in 2009 and 2010.

A choked-up Byrnes said that Royce texted him the night of his final game against Belmond,” he thanked me for being his coach; that was pretty special.” Byrnes also tells the story that when his wife, Lisa, went into labor with Royce, he was in the middle of a JV football game. “It was against Osage. One of her friends came up and tapped me on the shoulder and said, you need to go, and I was like NOW? We’re in the middle of a football game”, Byrnes said while laughing about the memory.

Byrnes ‘ two daughters got to experience coach-dad as well. His youngest, Cede, played for Byrnes on the softball diamond, while his oldest, Brittney (Christianson), who played softball and volleyball at Lake Mills, wasn’t on any of Brynes’ teams. Still, there was plenty of time for coaching moments away from the court and diamond.

It was really, really fun coaching them and seeing them grow as student-athletes,” said Byrnes. When you do this for a living, your family (comes along). I don’t know how many football games, wrestling meets, softball, and baseball games my wife has (attended); she’s been to hundreds and hundreds – when it’s what you do, your family gets involved,” explained Byrnes.

And just as Byrnes said, your kids get involved when it’s what you do. Brittney works as a middle school science teacher at Lake Mills. She coaches the 8th-grade volleyball team, Royce coached baseball and wrestling at North Union and has now settled in the Cedar Valley, working at Dike-New Hartford, and Cede is currently working for Forest City schools.

Byrnes accomplished many things as the Bulldogs’ head man, including multiple playoff appearances and many all-state and all-district players. He coached nine athletes selected to various all-state teams in different years, and just this season, he reached his 100th career victory.

“A lot of football games, a lot of years, a lot of good coaches, and a lot of good people,” said Byrnes, who helped him reach 100 wins.

Byrnes quoted one of the greatest coaches in Iowa football history, Ed Thomas, for how he has modeled the Lake Mills program, “At the end of their (the players’) career, if all you’ve taught them is football, you’ve failed as a coach, Obviously, we’re out here to teach them football, but we also teach them a lot of things they can carry with them forever.”

Byrnes will finish the school year and coach the softball team one more season before retiring. A humble man and coach, Bill wouldn’t say this, but the lives he touched in all the sports he’s coached and the classes he taught will last for decades to come.


Back to top button