The Dan Gable era in college wrestling might be over. For now it’s on hold.
Gable, who dominated opponents as a competitor before making Iowa the most feared name in the sport, said Monday he is taking a year off as coach of the Hawkeyes and strongly indicated he might be out of coaching for good.
“One thing I’ve been good at is reading my team. That’s why we’ve been able to make decisions at proper times,” said Gable, whose teams have won 15 NCAA championships in his 21 seasons as coach.
“But I’m reading myself right now, and I really read myself as necessary for me to step down.”
Tormented by aching knees and hips and fatigued by the stress of constantly seeking perfection, the 48-year-old Gable will work in an administrative job with the athletic department while deciding his coaching future.
Jim Zalesky, an Iowa assistant who wrestled under Gable, will be acting coach for the 1997-98 season. If Gable decides not to come back, the school would seek a permanent replacement, athletic director Bob Bowlsby said.
The way Gable talked, it appeared his coaching days are over.
“I’m taking a leave of absence,” he said. “Unless something really changes my thinking, it might be a permanent leave of absence from coaching.
“I’d like to be able to satisfy a lot of people who would really like to see me coach longer,” he added. “I’ll take a look at it from that point of view, too, but my intentions right now probably aren’t real strong in the area of coming back.”
The announcement at a standing-room news conference attended by a crowd of more than 100 confirmed what had been reported last week. Gable’s wife, Kathy, and their four daughters were there.
Gable said that while his health problems - he had hip replacement surgery in January - and a desire to spend more time with his family have been widely reported, he had other reasons for stepping down as well, including the frustration of seeing a number of top wrestlers fail to achieve all their goals.
They included three- and four-time All-Americans who failed to win an NCAA championship.
“Those are young men that never reached the pinnacle, that were this close,” Gable said. “Stuff like that eats at me every day.”
Gable also recalled that after winning nine straight NCAA titles from 1977 through 1986, the Hawkeyes were second in 1987 and failed to set a record for consecutive team championships. And he never realized his dream of seeing his wrestlers win all 10 individual titles.
“With that type of mentality for 25 years (an assistant and head coach), it can really drain you,” Gable said.
Gable’s record of 355-21-5 includes seven unbeaten seasons.
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