Dan Gable: Trio of successful past coaches will help fire up a Sanderson repeat

Updated: November 2, 2011

Editor’s Note: Dan Gable, who won 15 national championships while coaching at Iowa, recently sat down with WIN Editor Mike Finn and talked about the upcoming college wrestling season and the coaches of the top-four ranked programs.

WIN: Now that Cael Sanderson has led Penn State to the school’s first NCAA title since 1953, the obvious question is: can he and the Nittany Lions repeat?

GABLE: It’s real possible for them to repeat. You have other coaches out there who have tasted victory more than once. Sanderson has tasted victory nearly his whole life and I’m sure there is now something missing in his life after that fifth place (at the recent World Championships in freestyle).

Despite settling for fifth at the 2011 World Championships, Cael Sanderson showed an intensity that led to Olympic gold in 2004 and part of what makes him a good college coach.

I don’t think he is sitting home celebrating his (NCAA) national title after he got fifth place (at the Worlds). He’s not going to get used to anything but first. When he didn’t win it at Iowa State, he was looking for somewhere else to get a first place (as a coach).

He may have found out that he doesn’t want to wrestle; that he just wants to coach or he might find out that he wants to be first in both. Time will tell that.

But there are other coaches who have won mulitple team championships. (Minnesota’s) J Robinson has won three championships. (Iowa’s) Tom Brands has won three as well as Olympic and World gold medals. (Oklahoma State’s) John Smith has experienced six World or Olympic gold medals and five NCAA team championships. Robinson hasn’t earned World/Olympic gold and NCAA gold multiple times, but he’s been around it, starting  when he wrestled for Oklahoma State.

You have coaches out there who go back home and continually try to build to get to that top level. They’ve experienced it. They’ve tasted it. They also know what it’s like to finish second or sixth or whatever without winning and want to get back to that top position.

With that in mind, there is not a lot of room for error for the team champion the year before. How much celebrating can you do before one of these other teams slips right back in there? It will have to wait to see if Penn State has that edge they had last March. They could be vulnerable.


WIN: It sounds like the most successful coaches are those who have a chip on their shoulders even after winning?

GABLE: I’m not sure you’d call it a chip. They just knows what it feels like.


WIN: So what does that feel like?

GABLE: There is something missing that they once had at the highest level. They’ve all been to post-championship parties but it’s not so much that you go out and party, party, party. It’s the feeling that you get inside. As an athlete, Cael had four years of not losing.


WIN: It sound like that feel, while great, is also fleeting. It doesn’t stay very long and you almost forget the feeling, especially if you don’t win the next time. Is that right?

GABLE: You don’t forget the feeling but have a tendency to give your opponent an edge because it’s hard to stay in focus. I think Cael has a pretty good coaching staff that looks out for him. I don’t know how much turmoil they’ve faced since winning.

WIN: It sounds like you are saying that coaches are indeed the intrical part of a team’s success. This past summer the NWCA had another coaching academy to help younger coaches. It almost seems like those coaches need to just follow what these four coaches have done to see what it takes to win on this level. Do you agree?

GABLE: Those four coaches should be an integral part of the coaching education programs.


WIN: What are the main values of these four that puts them ahead of everyone else?

GABLE: (Cornell head coach) Rob Koll could be considered among the best but not until he wins the whole thing and understands a lot more than he does now. If you look at the lives of those four, they are extremely competitive and very strong on their beliefs. When they get up every day, there is a focus in these beliefs that keep them in the direction they need to be in. If there are any distractions, they know how to work through them and get back on track.


WIN: Is that the key to really winning at this level: learning how to deal with distractions?

GABLE: As I’ve said, you’ve got to have a lot of people helping you. You have to make decisions that are crucial for you and your program. Can you eliminate distractions by not doing as much or by trying to be even more focused?

The earlier you can step in, the more likely you are going to prevent future distractions. I waited way too long during our winning streak and the reason I waited was because we were still winning and I didn’t understand it. And when we lost that tenth-straight title, it wasn’t an automatic that we would come back and win. It took a fifth year.


WIN: Many Division I head coaches at he likes of Illinois or Michigan also made a point of bringing in high-profile coaches to assist them. Doesn’t that say a lot about coaching being the key?

GABLE: I think our lack of those good coaches is what the coaches association is trying to improve, including on the high school level where they don’t have enough coaches and may even drop the programs. Do we want to just put any coaches in there? No. There are a lot of flaws in putting in a coach who does not do a good job. We can’t afford to have a bad coach.

One Comment