GALLERY: Legendary career in retrospective -- a few favorite Dan Gable tales
Dan Gable no longer works for the University of Iowa.
His phased retirement ended Friday, meaning the legendary wrestling coach no longer is employed at the school he made famous in the world of amateur wrestling.
Although he stepped down as wrestling coach after the 1997 season with 355 duals victories and 15 NCAA titles, Gable worked mainly as an ambassador for wrestling and Hawkeye athletics the past several years. He did make a brief return as Tom Brands’ assistant coach in 2006-07.
To mark his remarkable contribution to wrestling, the coaching profession and the University of Iowa, The Gazette asked several former wrestlers, coaches and colleagues to share their favorite stories.
Here are their tales, via e-mail:
Brands is an assistant with the Hawkeyes today, joining his brother, Tom, on the staff. Terry was a three-time All-American, winning NCAA titles 1990 and ’92.
“Sitting in the locker room I approached Coach Gable after a workout and said, “What’s that red spot on your forward?” He looked bewildered and just shrugged his shoulders. I leaned in to look closer and slapped his forehead with my hand to create the “red spot.” Hahahahahahaha. Boy did I laugh and said something like, “Got ya good! Hahahahahahaha!” The next day after practice Gable was sitting in the same place by his locker after a practice and I go up to him and say, “What’s that red spot on your forehead?” He looks bewildered and just stares back at me. I lean in closer and quickly slap his forehead again. “Hahahaha! I can’t believe you fell for that again!” I say. Dead pan, he says, “I didn’t fall for that. I just didn’t think you were that stupid to do it again.”
Davis, the head coach at Wisconsin, was a three-time NCAA champion and four-time All-American for Gable from 1980-81 through the 1984-85 season, with a break to win an Olympic silver medal in 1984.
Davis remembers the birth of Gable’s daughter Annie.
“Gable left practice to go the hospital,” Davis said. “All of a sudden the door opens and he walks in (hours later) ... everybody stopped and looked at him. He shook his head like ‘no.’ We knew it was another girls so we just kept wrestling.”
Davis also remembers a time during his freshmen or sophomore year when Gable walked into the room after an interview with a newspaper reporter.
“‘I told him Iowa State wouldn’t win a match. You guys better back me up’,” Davis recalls Gable saying. “He had that much faith in us. Nobody wanted to let him down.”
Iowa won nine of the 10 matches.
GALLERY: Gable at Iowa
Reiland, the highly successful coach at Iowa City West, wrestled for Gable from 1989 through 1992 and won an NCAA title in 1991.
“One of the most memorable moments for me was during my true freshman year and Gable was rotating people on the starters. The red-shirts, among others, were getting rest while the starters were going go after go.
“Gable was always famous for telling us one more and this was my first time seeing this concept. As we went through about ‘one more’ 10 times, Royce Alger started yelling at Gable to keep his word. Gable smiled. Five more and Royce and Eric Pierson yell at Gable again. At this point, Gable starts throwing apples out on the mat and laughs.
“I realized at that moment that this was no ordinary wrestling room.”
The coach at Linn-Mar High School, Streicher wrestled for Gable in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He was an All-American in 1990.
“I had my first opportunity at being a high school head coach in 1997-98 and our Linn-Mar team had only one senior and one junior, which meant we were very young and not very good,” Streicher wrote. “We were wrestling at City High, which at the time had a pretty good team and they proceeded to put a pretty good butt-whooping on us.
“I thought we did not fight very hard in this dual and I was laying into my team in the locker room when Coach Gable walked in and proceeded to give my team a pep talk. He told them to believe in what I was trying to teach. That put a positive spin on a situation that was not very good. We got our butts kicked, but we left with Dan Gable telling the kids to keep working hard and good things will come. I think that was quite a moment for the kids on our team, and it instantly added credibility to what I was trying to teach.
“The other thing that is very special about Coach Gable is his ability to relate to people and especially remember names. There is never a time that I run into coach that he does not ask how my family is and even my parents. To this day he has no trouble remembering the names of my parents and even picks them out of the crowd. I think they are quite amazed that he remembers them and their names considering I graduated almost 20 years ago. Think of how many parents he has met over the years.”
Smith is a veteran high school coach who has directed Lisbon and now Iowa City High to numerous state championships. He wrestled at Iowa from in the early to mid-1970s, winning an NCAA title in 1976 when Gable was an assistant to Gary Kurdelmeier. Gable took over at Iowa the next season.
“My senior year at Iowa, Dan Gable came up with a plan to help me with being mentally tougher. Dan felt I had all the tools to be an NCAA Champ but I had not wrestled to my ability my first three years. Dan took me out to a desolate area out in the country and had me run 10 miles into town. There was no one but myself to compete with in the run ... Dan and the late head coach Gary Kurdelmeier had me run this 10-mile course on two occasions. Apparently this did help me with my mental edge as I went on to win the 1976 NCAA championship at 142. After the second 10-mile run, the coaches gave me a trophy, which read Brad Smith-First Place 10 mile run.
“During my junior season, Gable and Kurdelmeier had Bruce Kinseth try out with me at 142. Obviously, Kinseth eventually went on to become a two-time NCAA champ. He was a goer, never stopped wrestling and had great stamina. I went out ahead of him in the match by 7 or 8 points but Kinseth kept coming at me. With just seconds left on the clock we got into a scramble and went off the edge of the mat. I went to my hip with Kinseth trying to cover my hips for a tying takedown. Even though my wizzer wasn’t very secure I looked at Gable (he was refereeing the match) and yelled out that ‘I have the wizzer!’ Gable hesitated and did not call the takedown. Thank God that I did not have to go to overtime.”
A two-time All-American and 1986 NCAA champion, Dresser is the coach at Virginia Tech.
“My senior year in (high school) Gable and his wife visited my home (in Humboldt) while recruiting me to the U of I. They stayed overnight and they slept in my bed ... and then I signed at the U of I the next morning at my breakfast table before school. None of the above was a recruiting violation back in 1981. Most of it would be today!”
He remembers Gable telling him to earn his name.
“My first couple of years at Iowa, I would always be announced DRESSLER with an L, at most open tournaments. It really bothered me and Gable sensed it. He told me that until I started beating good guys, I would always be Dressler instead of Dresser. He used to mess with me and call me Dressker. As it turned out, he was right because everybody got it right those last two years.”
Cornell’s wrestling coach, Duroe is a longtime friend and coaching colleague.
Duroe wanted to share his thoughts about Gable, not stories.
“He’s a great, great father and a great husband. Family has always been extremely important to him.
“The one thing that made him unique, obviously, as a coach is his ability to read the situation and then adjust ... he always thinks about the future.
“He’s a passionate teacher. He’s relentless. He’s always teaching, always coaching.”
Bails is a former athletics director and coach at North Cedar who got to know Gable in a little different way from those who wrestled or coached with him. He also was a friend and mentor to former Hawkeye heavyweight Matt Fields and helped in his recruitment.
“First of all, I am not a former wrestler of any kind, however, I am a wrestling fan and in particular, a Hawkeye wrestling fan. I met Coach Gable in 1981 when my son, Joe, was chosen to be his guest ‘coach’ and sit in the coaching chairs between him and Chuck Yagla. This was in the old Field House and Joe was the first to be chosen for this seat.
“Now, fast forward to 2004 and the recruiting of Matt Fields ... Gable made a call, on behalf of Coach Zalesky, to my house in hopes of talking to Matt. He had already left, so Gable proceeded to talk to me for the next 45 minutes. I said “hello” and he talked for the next 44 minutes and 55 seconds ... Needless to say, I was enthralled and when he asked me if I had any questions for him, I had none!
“After getting to know Coach Gable over the next few years, I must say that even though his athletic and coaching accomplishments are well documented and it is said, by many, that he was the best wrestler and the best wrestling coach that this country has ever produced, he is a far better person. This guy has no reason to do what he has done for me! I, a man who never wrestled for him or anyone else consider Coach Dan Gable a friend.
“All you really need to know about him is that when I spent some time in the hospital this past summer, he took the time to call me with encouragement and has called me several times since to see how I was doing. Coach Dan Gable, the most accomplished wrestling personality this country has ever produced, is still the most genuine person I have ever met. I am simply amazed that this guy, an NCAA, World and Olympic champion, takes the time to even talk to me!
“He is, to put it simply “The Man”! The wrestling community could not have been in better hands.”
I wanted to share two of my favorite stories after dealing with Gable for nearly 20 years as a reporter for The Gazette.
The first, inspired by Mark Reiland’s tale, involved my older son, Jack. We spotted Gable at a high school track meet. Jack was telling him about his workout that night, a tough one that included several 400 repeats. Gable looked him straight in the eye and said “I would have done one more.”My second story happened soon after I started covering wrestling. Gable was about to be inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame and I wanted to do the ultimate Gable interview. I set up a meeting with him in his office, but when the day arrived a snowstorm kept me in Cedar Rapids. I called and left a message that I wouldn’t be able to go to Iowa City. The next day, I called to reschedule and Gable said in stern voice, “Where the hell were you? I sat here waiting and missed my lunch.” After I stuttered through an apology, the phone went silent. Then Gable laughed and said, “I know, I was just kidding.”