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Wrestling Legend Dan Gable On “Foxcatcher”

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Dan Gable is America’s most famous wrestler and easily its most successful college wrestling coach, collecting 15 NCAA championships while head coach at the University of Iowa.  He is also an Olympic Gold Medalist from the 1972 Games, and compiled an astonishing 181-1 lifetime record as an amateur wrestler.

He also knew John DuPont and the Schultz brothers, and he joined me today to discuss all of them and the new movie Foxcatcher as well as the sport of wrestling and athletes in general.




HH: Now I want to turn to a different subject. Between now and the Oscars, in the spring, you’re going to hear a lot about the movie, Foxcatcher. It stars Steve Carell as John Dupont, and Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz, and Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz, and Vanessa Redgrave as John Dupont’s mother. I walked out of the movie, and it’s a terrific movie. And I told the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt immediately I wanted to find and talk to Dan Gable about that movie, because Dan Gable is America’s most famous wrestler, also its most successful wrestling coach ever, and he joins me now. Dan Gable, it’s an honor to talk to you. Welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

DG: Hey, I’m honored to be on there.

HH: Well, I want to send everyone to I explored your website extensively, and I think we’ll talk again in the spring, because you’ve got a new book coming out in the spring, don’t you?

DG: Yeah, I do. Short stories, and it’s supposed to be inspiring. So hopefully, it’ll help boost our sport up a little.

HH: Well, I want to talk about that today, and I want to remind everyone you’ve got that amazing 181-1 record. You won the gold at Munich. And you may be the most successful NCAA coach of all time. Did you win more than 17 NCAA titles as coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes?

DG: I was a part of more than 17 NCAA titles. As a head coach, I only won 15. But you know, it’s one of those things that when you’re an assistant, you won two more, and then when you’re in the athletic department, they won six more when I was still there. So…

HH: The head coach, 15, though. Has anyone ever equaled that record in any other sport?

DG: You know, I think maybe, you know, I’m not sure if a coach has, but maybe a program going through maybe two or three coaches. But I don’t think, it’s not in wrestling or any sport. I think maybe out in California, maybe there’s volleyball, actually.

HH: I don’t think anyone, no coach has done that, so congratulations. So obviously, I doubt I’m very much, I very much doubt that I’m the first journalist who thought about asking you about Foxcatcher. Am I right about that?

DG: Well, the first one that’s going to hit a lot of news, I think. So I mean, I get a lot of locals, and that type of thing, but one of this magnitude, I think that you might be the number one.

HH: Well, tell me what you thought of the movie.

DG: I didn’t want to go to the movie, but I had to. And the reason why I had to, because you know, there’s certain things that whether you’re a dad or grandpa, or you’re a coach or a promoter, you’ve just got to do. And if you don’t do them, then you’re not doing your job. And you’ve got to do a good job when you’re doing it even. So for me, it was like yeah, do I really want to see this movie? Can I stay away from it? Do I have to have that pain in some way, if it’s going to be painful, which you know, I thought it was going to be? And you know, obviously, and when I walked out, I continue to think it was painful. So you know, it was my obligation, and I had to come back to what I learned in wrestling. For me, it’s all the disciplines that I have in my life. And because of that, I definitely went to one of the premieres.

HH: Now I think it would be very unfortunate if that movie took young men away from wrestling. And one of my worries was that it might. Do you have that worry?

DG: Well, I only have the worry because other people might have the worry. I think it’s more not about wrestling, but it’s one of these movies that could affect how people look at it. And when I say it that way, yes, it could affect a few people. But I don’t think so, because more people out there will speak up for our sport. And this movie is only one aspect of it. But it definitely is a movie that you know, I’m a little concerned about.

HH: Well, let’s talk specifically about it. Do you generally regard it as a true telling, as far as you know, of the events surrounding John Dupont and the Schultz brothers?

DG: You know, I believe in people. And I coached all kinds of people, including the Schultz’, and I believe that the people that are closely associated with this movie, which is like Nancy Schultz, you know, I’d probably put more into her stock, because she’s the person that lost, you know, the biggest loss, with her husband, Dave. And so when she tells me that these actors, they have everybody right on, and this is how it happened, this is how it happened, yes, this is good, this is right, this is right, this is right. And the only thing that I heard that was not correct, and you can’t do that in the movies, and you take an eight year period and you put it into two years or something like that.

HH: Right, right.

DG: And so, you know, and that doesn’t bother me at all. It’s…and so I’m a, I really get to know my athletes as much as I can. And Schultz’ were my athletes on the international level for a couple of years. They never were under me in terms of college wrestling, and that’s where you get to know them day on, day on, day on, day on, and for four or five years or more, because they stay and train for the Olympics. And so this movie actually, if it’s correct, and I believe it’s probably pretty correct, really kind of educated me as well. And I’m not so sure in the educational way of being real positive. In fact, I know that I really felt not as, well, I just didn’t feel that good about some situations when I walked out of that movie.

HH: Did you ever meet John Dupont?

DG: Oh, yes. I met John Dupont. I knew from the beginning that from other people, and just being around him a little bit, that you know, I had to keep some kind of a distance. I knew he was for a special breed of a wrestler, and I also knew that when I was going to be involved with his national team, or the national team that was funded by John Dupont, that I was going to keep my distance, but yet I was going to keep the respect for what he was doing, and mostly providing facilities and resources, and giving people opportunities. And so because of that, I didn’t buck his system. I lived off his farm when I came to train the teams. And when he came in, and I was there, and he knew of me, he wanted to make sure that everybody that I was training, he pulled everybody over and said Coach Gable, one of our most famous coaches, is here. He will be training you. But I just want you to know that I’m in charge. And that means him, John. And you know, and all the wrestlers knew and just went along with it. They knew that John wasn’t going to be the coach, and that John wasn’t going to make decisions as far as how they’re going to affect their wrestling. And that was my job. So they just, we just went along with it. And I think you sometimes go along with things just to satisfy the situation, and it’s pretty sad that it actually led to what happened. But sometimes, people are, I don’t want to use the word desperate, but sometimes they just take advantage of a situation that maybe is not a good situation.

HH: I’m going to be right back with Olympic gold medalist, and America’s most famous wrestler, Dan Gable, talking about the movie, Foxcatcher, and about the sport, and both the great parts about it, and the John Dupont character when I come back.

— – —

HH: Thrilled to be talking to you, Dan Gable, but also intrigued by this movie, Foxcatcher, and John Dupont. And the key question, because I know the movie makers compressed a lot of time into a little time. Did everybody know he was nuts at the beginning? Or did he slowly become more and more mentally deranged?

DG: I would have to just speculate, but I would say from my close association with everybody, that everybody knew that he was having a lot of serious issues.

HH: Even from the beginning, but everyone just said…

DG: Yeah, and let me change that. You know, when I mean serious, I just meant he just was a guy that did not think straight, and they were, there was more, when I said serious, I think it’s, I don’t think they thought danger was part of it. But you know, I wasn’t there every day, and there was some incidents that happened that I don’t, that I think there was some trigger points that they could have, yeah, this might be dangerous – when you’re carrying a gun into practice, and you actually shoot the gun when you have people, and you’re told to drive somebody in a lake to scare them to death, that type of thing? When you shoot people out of trees, that people aren’t there, and you do it for him, because he sees them up there. When you go up in his attack and you kill his ghosts, you know, and you’re taking care of him when he’s entering a tournament, which he’s not a wrestler, but he entered, I think, a world masters tournament, and Dave Schultz, I believe, went behind the scenes and paid his opponents off, just to lose to this guy, because this guy was helping world wrestling. And you know, it’s one of these things that, you know, those have got to be some kind of markers that you would react by. But you know, I wasn’t there, I’m just hearing about it, and I think probably when I heard about it, it just kind of confirmed why I wasn’t there. But I wasn’t still thinking murder. But when it happened, it was like oh, yeah, yeah, it’s kind of predicted.

HH: Should…

DG: It’s kind of predicted, you know?

HH: Now I’m curious, you’ve coached so many young men, and my guess is thousands of young men. And my guess is you’ve warned them as well against people who will prey on them just to be around their glamour, their energy, their success. How do you keep them from falling into the web of the unhinged? And again, John Dupont’s got a lot of money to back up his unhinging thing. But how do you protect them from everyone, and I don’t mean just danger, but everyone who wants to exploit the young athlete, and God knows there are legions of them out there.

DG: Well, I think what you do is you absolutely use this case. I mean, anybody in the world, and I mean especially in wrestling because we’re hit hard by it, and especially now that we have a movie out about it. I believe that we can go back to this point in time and really use it as a measuring stick for the future to make sure that you don’t fall into that again. And I think other sports can do the same, but because they’re other sports, they may have to go through some things. And that’s not the best way to learn. So you know, it’s just, the bottom word is like you just don’t get into this type of situation again. And if you need money, you’ve got to learn how to get money without having to be going out and getting the easiest money you can. You might have to work a little harder to get real money from a real corporation, or from people that really are into the sport that aren’t just willing to do anything.

— – — – – —

HH: Dan Gable, when your sport doesn’t make money for the athletes, does that make it even more susceptible to the influence of boosters and enthusiasts, and not the best intentioned people, because wrestling just doesn’t make a lot of money for the people who do it.

DG: Well, you know, we’ve got to look at the times, too. That was back, you know, in ’96. We’ve made a lot of progress since then. When I went to the Olympics in ’72, I had, my dad behind the scenes had to write a $500 dollar check to pay back the money that I had received in our sport. I didn’t even know it until later. He told me about it. But you know, since then, a lot of things have happened. We have more opportunities to make money in our sport, and actually, we have a lot of really good opportunities today as compared to even in ’96 or in ’72. And so it’s much better. But you still have to be aware, and you have to use these things in the past to make sure that you don’t fall into anything like what took place with the Dupont situation.

HH: Now I also want to give you the chance, because you’re again, America’s most famous amateur wrestler, to talk about the good side of the sport, because people are going to walk out of this movie, and they’re going to say to their kids, hey, go play baseball or go play water polo, or go run cross country. Don’t do wrestling. And they’ll miss stuff from that. What’s the best part about being a competitive wrestler in college and high school?

DG: Well, you know what? I want you to go do those other sports, too, especially as a youngster. I mean, I don’t think that total wrestling is the answer. You know, maybe once you hit a certain level. For me, it was actually starting in 10th grade. That’s when I started focusing just on the one sport, even though I knew that wrestling was my easiest and my best sport. So you know, it’s, it’s something that if you don’t, I’m going to tell you right now. Wrestling will help everything you do. Wrestling will help all of your other sports. Wrestling will help everything you do in life. It’s, you know, there’s this saying out there. Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy. But you know, and that’s not 100% true, but it’s about 99% true. It’s very difficult, and even the actors that were involved in this, that played the Schultz’, Ruffalo and Tatum, they both said it was the hardest thing they ever did. They hadn’t really done a lot of wrestling. And so when they had to learn some things and work at it, it was just very difficult. But the thing about it, there’s so many aspects of it that’s different from the other sports. Of course, it’s the individualness, and, but there’s a few sports that are individual sports. But it’s also like making a weight class. And it’s not like you want to cut weight. It’s more like you learn about nutrition, and you learn about performance. You learn about education, and of how to perform. And that’s very important for a life skill. And you just also learn how to be able to handle certain situations like when you become a father, or when you go into your profession. You just, once you’ve had this ability to go through a good coach’s wrestling practice, and multi years, you really develop this, it’s kind of a confidence. But even if you’re not winning that much, you’re going to have a confidence that you did something that is extraordinarily hard, extraordinarily…

HH: Now Dan Gable, I talked to Brad McCoy about this at length one time, Colt McCoy’s dad, one of the most successful high school football coaches in America when he’s in Texas. Coaches in a fatherless world, or a world that is increasingly full of kids without fathers, are becoming much, much more important. Are wrestling coaches uniquely different from other coaches because of the intensity of the sport, of the individualism of the sport?

DG: The good ones are. The good ones are. There are some that are in there to try to prove that wrestling is the toughest sport, and that’s now what we’re trying to prove. What we’re trying to do is to develop these individuals for life. And again, I want to tell you another thing about wrestling, and this is a statistic, that America is about freedom. It’s about democracy. You know, it’s something that everybody in the world’s kind of jealous a little bit, and because we have this freedom type of label, a symbol. And you know, we get to do, and we get to have a lot of things that a lot of other countries don’t have. And then because of that, you know, we have to have a good security protection system, a good Army, a good Navy, a good Marines, and we have to have good services. And the people that are protecting freedom are people, a lot of them have been through the wrestling system. And by that, I’m saying that these are the people that are in Afghanistan. These are the people that are in the service. And so they really have a lot of credit. In Iowa, when I pick up the paper every day and I see, if I say where one of the service people have been killed overseas, I get real nervous, because I probably, he’s probably going to have been a wrestler. I bet 50% of the time that I see somebody that’s been, that’s put his life on the line, it comes back and it said he wrestled in high school. So I have to give a lot of credit to our sport for being able to have those type of people that walked the Earth, that will do some of those tough situations more than normal.

HH: Dan Gable, I want to talk the opportunity to ask you as well, obviously you had to coach a lot of young athletes who got injured. And we all watched this weekend when quarterback Barrett went down, J.T. Barrett at Ohio State, breaks his ankle on the cusp of a national championship. How would you get people to come back from terrible injuries?

DG: Well, it’s one of these things that’s a little different than when I was an athlete, you know, because back in the 70s and 60s, you probably would have played, right, next week, you know? It’s just the way it is. But now, you’re a little smarter. You’re looking out for longevity. You’re looking out more for the kid. And what you do is you take care of that kid, and you teach him that he’s got an ankle that got broken, and you know what? How much of that part of the body is that ankle? Maybe it’s 15%, 10%, 5%. And you know, you can heal pretty fast when you’re doing some things for the rest of your body. And that doesn’t mean you go right back in there and you get injured again. You don’t put yourself back in that combat. But you can utilize and do a lot of the other things for the rest of your body to keep your conditioning intact. And all of a sudden, you’ll say let’s take that kid and say okay, you can be one of the first guys to come back quicker than ever, and be totally healthy if you do this and do that. And so that’s kind of the way I work. And I had some guys that actually were able to come back with pretty devastating injuries, but you know, quicker than most. So you’ve got to be for longevity as well.

HH: One more short segment coming up with Dan Gable, obviously an inspirational guy.

— – – – –

HH: Thanks to everyone for making today’s show possible, especially my guest, Dan Gable, of course famed wrestling coach at University of Iowa, Olympian in 1972, talking to me about the Foxcatcher movie. I really appreciate it, Dan, that you’d spend the time. I want everyone to go to And if you want a great speaker, you can book him over there. And his book will come out in March, and we’ll talk about that. I didn’t want to let you get away, though, Dan Gable, without asking you the 1972 Olympics are seared in a lot of our memories, if you’re the right age, and I was 16 at the time, because of the terrorism incident. We’ve only got a couple of minutes, but how in the world did that impact someone like you in the middle of your life’s dream to suddenly be involved in a terrorism incident at the same time that you’re wrestling the Soviets for taking over the world that they dominated?

DG: It wasn’t a problem for me, because you know, I’m pretty one-dimensional at that time. I probably feel like it’s more of a problem now as I look back into what took place. I was, I have to tell you, though, that I was already done with my competition. And so you know, if there was going to be somebody that could have competed after that, it would have me, but you know, it’s one of those things that I’m thankful that my competition was over, because I saw some of these next wrestlers that had to compete later just seem like they fell apart a little bit. But I think it’s kind of how you’re prepared. And you know, I was definitely prepared, and especially when the whole country vows to beat you like Russia. So you know, it’s one of these things that you learn later that maybe that focus is unbelievable, but as you get older, you say well, I should have looked a little bit more. But I don’t think so.

HH: All right, and my last question, it’s an unfair one, because you obviously coach a kid for years and years. And so I’m asking you to put it, condense it down into a minute, two minutes. What’s the most important thing for a young athlete to know when they’re beginning?

DG: Yeah, young athletes need to learn how to compete. That’s probably the hardest thing that he can do. And you know, when there’s a football game or a baseball game, and there’s a lot of down time where you’re actually involved. In wrestling, it’s less of a down time, because you’re actively, you’re sitting on the bench, or you’re wrestling. And when you’re wrestling, you are wrestling, or you’re out of it. So you know, there’s just some down time that you have to be more focused on, and you learn how to compete, When you learn how to compete at the highest level, that means even during the down time, you’re still competing. So that’s probably the best thing I can give a guy. And I just wanted to thank you, too, because I see where you’ve got a couple of degrees from Harvard and Michigan, I believe.

HH: Yeah, you got it.

DG: And you know what? Those two schools are on my radar, because they both have wrestling, and good wrestling, and so I want to appreciate that.

HH: Oh, Coach Gable, I appreciate it. We’ll talk again in March when the new book comes out. In the meantime, have a great Christmas holiday. And I’m sure I’m going to be seeing you everywhere. I’m glad I got to you first, because anyone who wants any comment on Foxcatcher better find you. And I’m glad we got there first. Thank you, Dan Gable.

End of interview.


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