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Sunday, November 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  High school sports

Successful coach Don Owen takes his place in state wrestling hall of fame

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 30, 2019

Former University High wrestling coach Don Owen is going into the state wrestling hall of fame this weekend. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Former University High wrestling coach Don Owen is going into the state wrestling hall of fame this weekend. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Don Owen’s voice mail greeting is both humorous and a window to the 62-year-old’s interests.

If you’ve worn a singlet in the Greater Spokane League, you’re likely aware of one.

“I’m probably putting a hammerlock on a kid or deep in a political discussion,” Owen’s recording says. “Leave a message and I’ll get back to you.”

The recently retired, highly successful University High wrestling coach did plenty of the former as the youngest of six boys in an Irish, grappler-heavy household in Lolo, Montana, leveraging those experiences into a successful college career.

The former North Idaho College and BYU standout proceeded to pass on his bountiful wisdom as an assistant at NIC, a head coach at Coeur d’Alene High and the previous 26 years turning University High into a brawny program.

On Saturday, Owen, who helped the Titans capture state championships in 2005, 2010 and 2013, will add another accolade to his impressive resume: a spot in the state coaches hall of fame.

Owen was recently inducted into the Washington State Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He will be honored at a ceremony on Saturday at the Yakima Convention Center.

Owen, who is still a teacher and an assistant coach after hanging up his head coaching whistle last spring, deflected praise.

“I feel that this is an honor that should be shared with the athletes and my assistant coaches, who’ve done so much for me over the years,” Owen said. “So many great families have come through my program over the years.

“It’s not my honor. It’s the kids’, parents’ and assistants’ honor.”

Owen’s University and Coeur d’Alene teams posted a combined dual record of 311-53 and often produced NCAA Division I wrestlers.

From Kevin Roberts, an All-American at Oregon in the 1990s, to more recent standouts such as his nephew Brian Owen (Boise State) and the Orndorff brothers, Owen had a hard time pinning down the best he’s coached.

“Brian (Owen) was probably the most skilled wrestler I coached,” Owen said of his two-time state champion nephew whose high school and college career was hampered by injuries. “But he wasn’t always healthy. There’ve been a few good (wrestlers) that came through.”

Don and Brian are just a drop in the Owen wrestling bucket.

Owen and his brothers – all successful wrestling coaches who’ve also retired – have dozens of nephews, nieces and grandchildren, many who’ve carried wrestling-rich namesakes to state championships and Division I scholarships.

Don’s older brothers, Bob and Bill Owen, are considered the patriarchs of Polson (Montana) High School wrestling; Mike Owen coached at Sentinel High in Missoula; John Owen was a Hall of Fame wrestling coach at North Idaho College and Central Valley High; Tim Owen, the second-to-youngest brother, retired as head coach of Ferris in 2018.

Among the second generation of coaches is Tommy Owen, John’s son, a 35-year-old head coach at Averett (Virginia) University. Corey Owen, 38, is the head coach at Lake City High School.

“Growing up with five older brothers who were into wrestling, they really led the way,” Owen said.

Longtime Coeur d’Alene High coach Jeff Moffat was among Owen’s first classes of wrestlers at CdA High in the 1980s.

He wasn’t surprised to hear his former coach earned a Hall of Fame nod.

“(Owen) is a great motivator,” Moffat said. “Has a real knack for taking average wrestlers and turning them into great wrestlers. He gets the most of out his kids.”

Mead coach Phil McLean, who has coached against and alongside Owen in different capacities, said it will be strange to have one of the Owen brothers on the other side of the mat.

“Don is one of my favorite people to compete against,” said McLean, who also wrestled at NIC. “He will compete to the death.”

Owen said he will stay on staff as an assistant and help new coach Ryan Montang, another former U-Hi wrestler.

“You can’t keep (the Owens) completely away from wrestling. I knew he’d stick around,” McLean said.

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