Dan Gable is legendary American amateur wrestler and head coach. He is best known for his tenure as head coach at the University of Iowa where he won 16 NCAA team titles from 1976–1997. He is also famous for having only lost one match in his entire Iowa State University collegiate career – his last – and winning gold at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, while not giving up a single point. October 25, 2013, is recognized as Dan Gable Day in Iowa.
Although Gable was not permitted to wrestle on the varsity wrestling squad during his freshman year, he was an undefeated state champion during his sophomore through senior years. The only recorded high school loss suffered by Gable was during his freshman year when he lost an unofficial match to teammate Michael DePaschalis. After high school, Gable wrestled for the Iowa State University Cyclones of the Big Eight Conference. Gable wrestled for Iowa State’s varsity squad for three years and won two NCAA titles. Gable’s overall collegiate mark was 181–1. His only collegiate defeat was in his final match where he lost to Larry Owings of the University of Washington. Gable wrestled on the national freestyle wrestling circuit between 1967 and 1976 where he earned a record of 67–4. He wrestled internationally between 1971 and 1973 where he earned a record of 30–1. Overall, his freestyle record was 97–5.
Gable became head wrestling coach at the University of Iowa in 1976. He formed a dynasty matched by none. From 1978 to 1986, theHawkeyes won the NCAA title each year, a record nine in succession. He continued to coach the team until a sabbatical after the 1997 season. As the University of Iowa’s all-time winningest wrestling coach from 1976 to 1997, Dan Gable compiled a dual meet record of 355–21–5. He coached 152 all-Americans, 45 national champions, 106 Big Ten Champions and 12 Olympians, including four gold, one silver and three bronze medalists. The Hawkeyes won 25 consecutive Big Ten championships, 21 under Gable as head coach and four while he was an assistant coach and administrator. He led them to an unprecedented 16 National titles. In 1997, the Hawkeyes were expected to lose to the favored Oklahoma State Cowboys. But Gable, who was by this time coaching on crutches after hip replacement surgery, led his team to its 17th NCAA team title and to an unprecedented NCAA-record 170 points. A documentary following him that year “Freestyle: The Victories of Dan Gable” directed by Kevin Kelley and produced by David L. Gould aired on HBO 2. Despite his unprecedented success, Gable was first honored as Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1993. That was his 17th year as Iowa’s coach and his 17th Big Ten championship. In addition to his leadership at the college level, Gable was head coach of the United States Olympic team in freestyle wrestling in 1980, 1984, and 2000.
Gable’s successor at Iowa, Jim Zalesky, won three NCAA titles under him. It was announced on April 14, 2006, that Gable would be rejoining the coaching staff at Iowa as top assistant coach to current coach and former Gable national champion Tom Brands. Currently, he is an assistant athletic director at the University of Iowa. Gable remains involved with the team, but stepped down from his assistant coach role in October 2011.
- A popular expression among Iowans is “Michael Jordan is the Dan Gable of basketball,” which while alluding Jordan’s dominance of his sport during the latter half of the 1980s and most of the 1990s, it remains comparatively inconsequential against Gable’s imprint on U.S. wrestling as both athlete and coach.
- In an Esquire interview, actor, and high school wrestler Tom Cruise considered Gable his greatest hero. Gable himself was profiled in Esquire by the novelist and former University of Pittsburgh wrestler John Irving.
- In 1999, Sports Illustrated selected Dan Gable as the greatest sports figure in the history of the state of Iowa.]
- During Gable’s tenure as coach, the teen sitcom Saved by the Bell referred to the University of Iowa and a fictional coach that had appeared to scout AC Slater portrayed by Mario Lopez for their team.
- Gable appears in the documentary film Catch: The Hold Not Taken in which he speaks of the origins of amateur wrestling. He recalls that, growing up, he knew high school wrestling as ‘Catch as catch can’, which is the name of the traditional style from Lancashire, England.
- In the movie Never Back Down, Dan Gable is mentioned in a scene as the greatest Olympic wrestler ever.
- In 1999 Gable published Coaching Wrestling Successfully in which he shared his blueprint for developing wrestling champions.
- Gable has also hosted a series of successful instructional DVDs: Dan Gable’s Wrestling Essentials: Bottom Position, Dan Gable’s Wrestling Essentials: Standing Position], Dan Gable’s Wrestling Essentials: Top Position; All three are also available in one comprehensive DVD: Dan Gable’s Wrestling Essentials DVD. Gable’s Advanced Wrestling DVD demonstrates more advanced wrestling techniques from a standing position and from the top and bottom positions.