Gable: looking for others join active retirement business

Updated: May 13, 2011

Editor’s Note: Dan Gable built his reputation as a coach and assistant to the athletic director between from 1978 and this year when he retired from his association as a Hawkeye employee. Now the legendary wrestler and coach, who will be honored by Iowa on June 4, is spending his days helping the National Wrestling Coaches Association save the sport on the college level. The 62-year-old Gable recently spoke with WIN editor Mike Finn about his future goals and his role.

WIN: What does that word “retirement” mean to you? The late general Douglas McArthur once said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Will you fade away from the sport?
GABLE: If you’ve done a good job in your life, you never fade away. Just think about Babe Ruth. He’s still pretty popular. The guy I looked up to was Mickey Mantle and books are still coming out on him. Certain people carry this uniqueness or mystique where age is not a factor during their lifetime or after their lifetime.
I’m not comfortable with the word, “retiring.” I am retired from the University of Iowa, but I’m not comfortable with thinking that I am going to stop working for the sport of wrestling.
Most of it comes back to the sport and family and the sport of wrestling is included in the family. There is so much more to do to create opportunities in this sport and not let it go backwards that I will not stop working in that direction.

WIN: With that in mind, what has presented you a bigger challenge: what you faced on the mat or what you face in promoting wrestling?
GABLE: I don’t feel like whatever I’ve been put into from the beginning that there have always been challenges and whatever those challenges are, I will rise to those challenges. I’m not a guy who likes to be defeated. I have to have a vision of continued success and beyond that. I talk about success and domination as a wrestler and coach and I have that same vision for the sport. It wasn’t easy as a wrestler and that’s why I’m sitting here after a lot of surgeries. It wasn’t easy as a coach or everyone would be in the same category.
This (helping promote wrestling) is a little more difficult and someone like coaching than being an athlete because the control factor is decided by a lot other people. I had a direct influence on my athletes as a coach and could make a big difference, but it was still other people doing the event.
Now I am dealing with other people and don’t have the ability to have those people in a room every day like when I was coaching. And a lot of these people are at a higher level capacity than I am. When you are dealing with athletic directors, presidents and chancellors, you better make sure they turn their heads when you speak. Whoever wants to help build wrestling has to be able to turn some heads.

WIN: As an athlete and coach, you had to learn something about your athlete or opponent before you could succeed. Is it the same way with your promotion of wrestling?
GABLE: It is the same way. I’m trying to learn why people think the way that they do. There are all kinds of people in the world and I realize that there are a lot of extremists. My ultimate goal would be to win over extremists and have them feel something away from their own (feelings). That’s real difficult. I was an extremist on the way that I trained and in my passion for the sport, but I never felt as an athlete or a coach that I wouldn’t do this at any cost.
When I think of some of these people in certain positions, who make decisions because of their authority role, I think these people need help because they are so blocked off that their feelings are not affected by much. I can break some of those barriers down from people who are set in their ways.
I think my philosophy is that we can build a chain of people who are retired, but could also step up and help instead of (NWCA executive director) Mike Moyer traveling all over the country by himself. If Mike had someone else who was well-versed and educated and loves the sport … we could get a lot more accomplished.
My next phase is that some of these organizations are getting efficient and utilizing the resources that we might have. When you look at others who are “retired” and enjoying their grandkids, there have got to be things missing in them. We need to engage these people. There are people working in their retirement years. It would be great if we could take a Russ Hellickson, a World and Olympic medalist, and get him out and make him a part of this “retirement business.”
What about Bobby Douglas, both Peterson brothers, Wayne Wells, Lee Kemp? Once guys start pushing the upper 50s and I could probably come up with 100 names who we could go to, to help this sport.

WIN: There was a phrase “The Gable Way” of getting things done as a wrestler and coach where you forced yourself on someone. Do you apply “The Gable Way” in working with these people or do you have to be more diplomatic?
GABLE: It depends on who you are talking to. There was the Gable way of how to be successful on the mat and some of those ways are too physical in that I can strong-arm or bully someone who is an authoritative figure into doing something. You have to be more of a technical or tactical master. As you deal with people in a business sense,  you can have a lot of intensity and passion and a lot of it can flow from you, but you are going to have to back off a little bit with a few words.

WIN: As a coach, you had to convince wrestlers your way was the right way. Now that you are working with people in the corporate world or university settings, do you have to convince them even more whether you have a “name” or not?
GABLE: You do have to convince people because most people are not going to see what you are seeing. And until they do, and actually feel it and hear it, you might have to establish some relationships just like a coach does with an athlete. This relationship will take more than one setting because nothing will get done in one setting. Think about when a guy meets a girl. Does he marries her that first date? He has to do some courting. If she is the right girl, he  have a better chance of convincing her. Guys don’t like to get rejected when they go to their knees so they know when to do it.
There are going to be some “Nos” just like an athlete getting beat. But if you are prepared and have done the right work, you have to know when is the best time to ask … and you probably won’t get rejected. I believe it takes as many as seven times of asking to get any money from someone.

WIN: Minnesota coach J Robinson is going to speak at your retirement gala. While J was once an assistant coach of yours at Iowa and former Olympic teammate, you were later college coaching rivals. This might be like Tom Brands and Cael Sanderson speaking at each other’s retirement parties 30 years from now. That’s hard to imagine.     How do rivals become friends?
GABLE: Remember, Tom once coached Cael (in freestyle) so I think there is some respect there, even though there is a ferocious rivalry now.  The most important thing is that they respect each other.
Oddly, you bring this up at a time when I’m trying to help wrestling in California, but got rejected by former wrestlers, who had lost to one of the athletes I coached at Iowa. To help our sport, we have to get over this.