Innovative wrestling coach Edward Clark Gallagher was born September 5, 1887, in Perth, Kansas. His parents brought their family to Oklahoma before statehood, enabling Ed Gallagher to attend Oklahoma A&M College's prep school and college (later Oklahoma State University, OSU). There he became a track star, setting dash and hurdle records unmatched for thirty years. He also captained the track and football teams and served as senior class president. Wrestling fired his imagination as a coach, and by the end of his life Gallagher was revered as "the Knute Rockne of the Mats." The New York Times eulogized him as "the Dean of Collegiate Wrestling."
Although he graduated in 1909 from A&M with an engineering degree, Gallagher stayed on as the Aggies' (now Cowboys) track coach for four years. He married Mary Austella Taylor, and they began a family of three girls and three boys. In 1913 Baker College at Baldwin City, Kansas, beckoned, and he coached all sports for two years, returning to his alma mater as athletic director in 1915. It was a decision OSU never regretted. Barely twenty-eight, Gallagher was then versed in teaching track, football, basketball, and baseball and had honed skills in various sports-related fields. His return marked the small college's entry into big-time athletics.
At the time the school had no wrestling program. The first public matches occurred in 1916 when two wrestling bouts were sandwiched between rounds of a gymnastics meet. Of those early teams Gallagher explained that he had known "almost nothing" about college wrestling and that his first champions had won with their own natural skills. His engineering training and analytical mind led to a successful method of standardization of moves that drew rival students and coaches to his clinics. In 1925 he shared his secrets in a slim volume, Amateur Wrestling. A second book, Wrestling, followed. They covered many of the more than four hundred different holds he knew. He expected his men to know at least two hundred of these. His methods constituted a masterful blend of training, moral- and morale-building, and psychology. He gave no dreaded coaching diatribes or dressing-downs.
Nineteen of his teams were undefeated. From 1917 until 1939 his wrestlers garnered an unprecedented eleven National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships, with thirty-two individual title-holders. They added six National Amateur Athletic Union team trophies. In twenty-three years Gallagher's Cowboys gave him 138 dual victories against just five losses and four ties, for a .925 percentage. His OSU graduates became fine coaches and returned to combat their teacher with polished teams and a thorough grounding in his system. Although proud of his protégés, back he went to study leverage and muscular structure, constantly devising new moves and strategies.
Guy Lookabaugh and Orion Stuteville were the first Aggies to win spots on a U.S. Olympic team. In the 1924 Paris competition the unfamiliar style of wrestling and ever-changing rules surprised the Americans. Stuteville was injured early and could not compete, and Lookabaugh appeared to be winning in the finals but lost a points decision that had the crowd on its feet, roaring in dissension. In 1932 Jack VanBebber and Robert Pearce brought home the coveted gold medals from Los Angeles, followed in 1936 by Frank Lewis's victory in an eerie, pre-war Berlin. Ross Flood earned a silver medal, as well. In all, the country's most respected wrestling coach trained fifteen Olympians and sixty-nine individual national collegiate and amateur champs. Gallagher was honorary coach of the United States's 1936 Olympic team.
In the meantime, however, Parkinson's Disease was making visible inroads on the coach's health. He resigned as athletic director in 1938 but remained at the wrestling helm. In 1939 Life magazine devoted three pages to him, calling him the "Gibraltar of Grappling." Edward Gallagher died August 28, 1940. Fittingly, his funeral was held in Gallagher Hall, a mammoth new field house named for him. The crowd was enormous.
His successor as mat coach, Art Griffith, once said he regarded Gallagher in the same way he thought of "Mr. Edison" for inventing the light bulb. Both were brilliant innovators, both won enduring fame, but Ed Gallagher founded a major wrestling dynasty.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Doris Dellinger, Ride 'em, Cowboys! The Story of Wrestling's Dynasty (Stillwater: Cowboy Wrestling Club, Oklahoma State University, 1977). Edward C. Gallagher, Amateur Wrestling (Guthrie, Okla.: Co-operative Pub. Co., 1925). Edward C. Gallagher, Wrestling (New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1939). Otis Wile, "Oklahoma State Sports Memoirs: The Chronological Story of Sports at Oklahoma State University From the Beginning in the 1890s through the 1960s,[Manuscript]," Special Collections and University Archives, Library, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma.
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