Our program is judged by a different standard. Our fans,
coaches and student-athletes don't measure success by the
competition. Our motivation comes from tradition; a
championship legacy that calls us to cheer louder, train
harder and dig deeper. We owe it to those who built the
This is the home of more championships by a
university in any single sport. This is the University of
Wrestling. This is Oklahoma State.
|No school in the nation has a
tradition in any sport as strong as the one Oklahoma State has built
in wrestling. That tradition began in 1916 when Edward Clark
Gallagher, one of the men for whom Gallagher-Iba Arena is named,
first took the reins of the Oklahoma A&M wrestling team and guided
the Aggies on a rapid march to national prominence, leading them to
their first NAAU title in 1925.
In 1928, the NCAA sponsored its first national tournament, and A&M
shifted its emphasis toward winning that meet. Oklahoma State won
the first NCAA wrestling championship and has won 33 such trophies
since - more than any other school in the country. The Cowboys have
won 991 dual meets, lost only 111 and tied 22 in 91 years of varsity
competition. O-State clinched or shared an impressive 24 Big Eight
titles out of a possible 38 while a member of the league from 1958
to 1996. Since joining the Big 12 for the 1996-97 season, OSU has
claimed nine of the 14 titles. In the early years under coach
Gallagher, the Oklahoma A&M squads won seven NAAU titles, six
Southwest Conference titles and four Missouri Valley Conference
Coach Gallagher passed away with pneumonia in 1940, leaving a legacy
of 11 team championships behind, the most of any OSU coach, but his
absence did not mean a decline in O-State's wrestling fortunes. Six
other coaches have worked hard to keep OSU at the top of the
national wrestling charts. Art Griffith, the successful mentor at
Tulsa (Okla.) Central High School, succeeded Gallagher in 1941 and
captured two straight national titles before the war forced the
Aggies to take three years off from the mat. Griffith resumed his
winning ways in 1946, taking six more championships in his remaining
11 years of coaching.
A youthful Myron Roderick was named head coach in 1957, taking over
for Griffith, who resigned due to health reasons. At 23, Roderick
became the youngest coach to win a national collegiate championship
when his 1958 Cowboys won the first of seven for him. He stepped
down in 1970 and took an executive position with the U.S. Wrestling
Federation, making way for former Stillwater (Okla.) High School
coach Tommy Chesbro, who captured eight Big Eight titles and an NCAA
championship during his 15-year tenure. From 1985 to 1991, Joe Seay,
formerly at Cal State-Bakersfield, had five conference team
champions and two national titles.
In 1993, a new era began as John Smith became the seventh head coach
in Oklahoma State school history. In just two years, coach Smith
once again led the Cowboys to the title, claiming OSU's 30th NCAA
championship. Adding national championships in 2003, 2004, 2005 and
2006, Smith has led his alma mater to four of the last eight NCAA
crowns, and the Cowboys now have 34 NCAA team championships. That is
more national titles than any other school has in any sport.
During the remarkable history of OSU wrestling, unbeaten streaks of
70 (1921-32 under Gallagher), 73 (1996-2000 under Smith), 76
(1937-51 under Gallagher and Griffith) and 84 (1959-66 under
Roderick) duals were reeled off by the Cowboys.
No other school has a tradition in any sport as
strong as the dynasty Oklahoma State has established in wrestling.
With 34 championships, Cowboy Wrestling has a winning heritage
unmatched even in the professional ranks.
Ed Gallagher: Father of Intercollegiate Wrestling
|By Mark Palmer, revwrestling.com (July 31, 2008)
Re-printed with permission
Thirty-four NCAA team titles. 133 individual NCAA champs. Over 400
By any measure, Oklahoma State has built a wrestling legacy
unmatched by any other college wrestling program over many decades.
And the man who laid the strong foundation for that legacy is Ed
Gallagher, Cowboys wrestling coach from 1916 through 1940.
As head coach, Gallagher's Cowboys racked up a 136-5-4 overall
record for an incredible .952 winning percentage. During his 24
seasons at the reins, Gallagher's teams had nineteen undefeated
seasons, winning eleven NCAA team titles. Gallagher coached 22
wrestlers to earn 37 individual national championships; seventeen of
his Cowboys wrestled in Olympic competition, with three winning gold
medals. Because of these accomplishments, Ed Gallagher's name adorns
the arena at Oklahoma State... and he was named one of three "Best
Wrestling Coaches" in an online poll of wrestling fans for the NCAA
75th Anniversary Team honors in 2005. (The other two coaches: Iowa
State's Harold Nichols, and University of Iowa's Dan Gable.)
The versatile athlete who never wrestled
Born September 5, 1887 in Perth, Kansas, Edward Clark Gallagher was
a natural athlete, running track and playing football in high
school. As a student at Oklahoma State -- then called Oklahoma
Agricultural and Mechanical College -- Gallagher set 100-yard dash
and hurdle records that stood for thirty years. In 1908, he ran 99
yards for a touchdown against Kansas State, which still stands as an
Oklahoma State record for longest run from scrimmage.
After graduating from Oklahoma State in 1909 with an engineering
degree, Ed Gallagher stayed in Stillwater as the school's track
coach. In 1913, he was lured away to Baker College in Baldwin City,
Kansas, where he coached all sports ... however, two years later, he
was back at Oklahoma State, serving as athletic director.
During the 1914-1915 school year, Oklahoma State launched its
wrestling program, with A.M. Colville as coach. That first season,
the Cowboys wrestled only one dual meet -- held in conjunction with
a gymnastics event -- and were trounced by the University of Texas.
The following year, Ed Gallagher took the helm of the wrestling
program ... despite never having wrestled in an organized program in
high school or college.
Ed Gallagher's lack of mat experience may seem stunning these days,
considering today's top college wrestling coaches have resumes
loaded with high school state and national wrestling titles, NCAA
championships and even international mat honors.
Yet, when Gallagher was in school, organized wrestling programs were
rare, outside those at YMCAs and men's clubs, or at eastern colleges
... so opportunities to compete on the mat were very limited for
someone from the Great Plains such as Gallagher.
The lack of on-the-mat experience ultimately didn't hurt Ed
Gallagher and his Oklahoma State wrestlers. Admittedly, Gallagher's
first season as head coach (1915-16) was a losing one; the Cowboys
again had just one dual meet, again losing to Texas, this time by an
even more lopsided 22.5-2.5 score. However, in his second year,
Gallagher's matmen wrestled three duals, winning two (against
Emporia State and Texas), and tying with Arkansas.
That winning momentum was sidelined after the 1916-17 season;
because of World War I, there was no wrestling team at Oklahoma
State, as most of the male students were serving in the military or
reserves. However, when the program resumed in the 1919-20 school
year, the Gallagher dynasty began its long, successful run as the
dominant college wrestling program throughout the 1920s and 30s.
Engineering success on the mat
As an engineer, Ed Gallagher employed a systematic approach to the
sport of wrestling ... starting with how he selected young men to
wrestle for Oklahoma State. He looked at their families, picking
sons of "upstanding" parents ... and favoring "only boys who cannot
go out in society." In other words, those who might be considered
economically disadvantaged, and would view wrestling as a
springboard for success in life beyond the mat.
Gallagher also expected his wrestlers to live clean -- no smoking,
no drinking, and, perhaps most startling nowadays, no dating. "The
best woman in the world can do you no good," claimed the Cowboy
coach. (No, Gallagher was not a confirmed bachelor; he married right
out of college, and together, Ed and the former Mary Austella Taylor
had a total of six children -- three boys, and three girls.) Along
with clean living off the mat, Gallagher stressed clean behavior on
the mat. He wanted his men to wrestle tough, with determination ...
but with character, and good sportsmanship.
In selecting wrestlers for his program, Gallagher also favored a
specific type of physique. He sought "lean plainsmen" -- tall, slim,
strong men, rather than compact, muscular types who were typical in
college wrestling even 80-90 years ago. Ideally, these long, lean
wrestlers must have quick reactions, according to the coach's
Ed Gallagher's engineering background also guided his primary focus
-- the study of leverage, and how it applied to wrestling. Using a
human skeleton and rubber bands, he spent hours figuring out holds
and counters -- one report saying he spent at least two hours a day
in his office on this task. The Cowboy coach developed, by his own
count, 400-500 holds and variations; he expected each of his men to
know at least 200 of those.
Perhaps most surprising, Ed Gallagher was open about sharing his
scientific approach to wrestling. His teams often put on wrestling
demonstrations before or after a dual meet in an opponent's gym. In
1939, he and his Cowboys were featured in a three-page
"how-to-wrestle" feature for the popular photo-magazine, Life.
In addition, he wrote two very popular instructional books, titled
simply Amateur Wrestling and Wrestling.
Break it down
Here's a specific example of how the engineer in Ed Gallagher guided
his instruction of his wrestlers: He told them to think of an
opponent on all fours as a table. To succeed, his wrestlers need to
"break" at least one leg of the table. If the opponent's arms were
weak, that was the point of attack; if the arms were strong, go for
Another way to "break" an opponent, according to Gallagher: Make
more than one attempt or counter. Continue a string of attacks until
you have opponent under control. In other words, never give up.
Not all of Ed Gallagher's ideas came from his own engineering mind.
According to the book about the history of the Oklahoma State
wrestling program, Cowboys Ride Again!, Gallagher picked up a
tip from 1920s professional wrestling champ Ed "Strangler" Lewis: If
possible, "take two deep breaths and immediately pitch back
viciously. To do this correctly, break out of the predicament first,
and, step back and draw the breaths. Now, he (the opponent) will see
this and either follow suit or at least temporarily relax, and you
can catch him somewhat relaxed."
Eat to win
Coach Gallagher made a science of studying the diet of his
wrestlers. He generally allowed his wrestlers to eat what they
wanted, as long as it what was what they typically consumed, in
reasonable quantities. However, he discouraged his wrestlers from
consuming cold drinks.
He focused on glycogen, the form in which sugar is used in the body,
turning one-third of that into carbon dioxide, and the remaining
two-thirds to water and lactic acid -- the cause of oxygen debt,
leading to hard breathing during exertion in workouts and during a
After weigh-ins, instead of chowing down with a big meal as most
wrestlers did in the 1920s and 30s, Gallagher's wrestlers usually
contented themselves with hot tea, sweetened with brown sugar, honey
or Karo syrup. He wanted his men to be "properly sugared" especially
when trying to make weight.
Your great-grandfather's Cowboys
College wrestling of the Ed Gallagher era differs significantly in a
number of ways from the sport we know today. For starters, the
Cowboys wrestled just 5-8 dual meets in a typical season in the
1920s and 30s. Each regulation match lasted ten minutes. There was
no point scoring system; matches were won by a pin (back then,
shoulders had to be on the mat for a full three seconds), or by
"time advantage" -- essentially, whoever had the most riding time.
In 1938 -- towards the end of Gallagher's coaching career -- this
system was replaced, with the referee making the decision as to who
won. The referee decision system didn't last; in 1941, the
beginnings of today's point system made their appearance in college
Perhaps the most startling difference for today's fans: For home
meets, the Oklahoma State wrestlers competed in a roped-off ring,
like those for boxing or professional wrestling. The actual
wrestling area was the same as on-the-floor mats in other college
events. In reviewing "NCAA Wrestling Guides" of the era -- the
annual rules-and-results publication for high school and college
wrestling -- there are diagrams governing ring size, number of
ropes, what the ropes should be made of, and how they should be
secured... but nothing about rules governing how the ring could be
used. The only hint: In "Cowboys Ride Again!" there's a description
of a match in which an angry Oklahoma State wrestler threw an
opponent over the top rope, which apparently was against the
rules... but the Cowboy wasn't disqualified, and the match resumed.
The Cowboys weren't alone in wrestling in roped-off rings. According
to college yearbook photos, teams at Indiana University, University
of Iowa, Iowa State Teachers College (now University of Northern
Iowa), and Northwestern University also had rings for home meets
70-80 years ago. (The NCAA banned wrestling rings in the early
The gear Ed Gallagher's men wore to wrestle was radically different,
too. No one-piece black-and-orange, synthetic-fabric singlets for
the Cowboys back then. During the more than two decades Gallagher
coached at Oklahoma State, his wrestlers wore a variety of uniforms.
Through much of the 1920s, his wrestlers wore full-length wool
tights. There was a time where the Cowboys wore tights with what was
called a black Tom -- also known as an outside supporter -- on top
of the tights. Towards the late 1930s, Gallagher's wrestlers usually
wore wool trunks, much like we associate with pro wrestling, with no
Despite these variations in what the Cowboys wore below the waist,
throughout the 1920s and 30s they usually wrestled bare-chested at
home meets and at events at colleges in the Midwest and Southwest.
However, when wrestling in the east, Gallagher's wrestlers would
often be required to put on sleeveless shirts, at the request of the
school hosting the event. (An NCAA rule change in the mid-1960s
prohibited shirtless wrestling.) Going all the way to the top ...
headgear was not required as it is now, and a very rare sight in the
When not wrestling, the Oklahoma State wrestlers often traveled in
gear appropriate to their team name. Outfitted in Stetson hats,
colorful flannel shirts, and cowboy boots, team members made an
incredible impression wherever they traveled. Adding to the Cowboy
mystique, some team members performed rope tricks in opponents' gyms
before some dual meets.
The Cowboy way of winning
No matter what they wore -- or whether they wrestled in a ring or
mats on the floor -- Ed Gallagher's Oklahoma State Cowboys dominated
the college wrestling scene for more than two decades. In the years
after World War I, the Cowboys never had a losing season. In fact,
in the eleven-year period from the 1919-20 through the 1930-31
seasons, the Cowboys never lost a dual meet. That's 70 consecutive
Among the Cowboys' opponents during the Roaring Twenties: University
of Oklahoma, University of Kansas, Kansas State, Texas, Iowa State,
Cornell College of Iowa ... as well as farther-flung teams such as
West Virginia, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the Philadelphia Athletic
Club. Who broke the eleven-year, 70-match winning streak?
Cross-state rivals Oklahoma. The Sooners beat the Cowboys by one
point in the last dual meet of the 1931-32 season. During the rest
of the decade, the Cowboys had only one other loss (at Southwestern
Oklahoma State in the 1936-37 season) ... and three ties. Most
victories were by a substantial margin.
In 1928, the NCAA launched a national wrestling championship to
conclude the dual-meet season. At the very first NCAAs -- held at
the Armory at Iowa State -- Oklahoma State claimed four individual
titles out of a total of seven weight classes.
That was no fluke; in the thirteen years of NCAA competition, the
men coached by Ed Gallagher ruled the national championships each
year. The leanest year for Cowboys was 1936, when just one wrestler
-- Harley "Doc" Strong -- won a title. However, in a typical year,
at least three Cowboys brought home an individual championship.
During the Gallagher era, 22 individual wrestlers won a total of 37
NCAA titles. Among the Cowboys who won three championships (back
when freshmen were not eligible for NCAA/varsity competition): Earl
McCready (the very first three-time college champ), Jack VanBebber,
Conrad Caldwell, Rex Peery, Ross Flood, Joe McDaniel, and Stanley
Ed Gallagher's men did incredibly well on the ultimate international
stage, too. From 1924 through 1936, Oklahoma State had fifteen
wrestlers qualify for the U.S. Olympic wrestling teams ... along
with Earl McCready wrestling for his native Canada at the 1928
Olympics, and Canadian big man George Chiga competing for his home
team at the 1936 Olympics. Of these Cowboy Olympians, four earned
medals in freestyle competition. At the 1932 Olympics in Los
Angeles, Bobby Pearce won gold at 123 pounds, while Jack VanBebber
claimed gold at 158.5. In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Ross Flood
brought home a silver medal at 123 pounds, and Frank Lewis won gold
Coach Gallagher's toughest battle
For years, Ed Gallagher dealt with the challenges of Parkinson's,
the same disease afflicting legendary boxing champ Muhammad Ali and
actor Michael J. Fox today. In 1936, Oklahoma State and the entire
Stillwater community put on a fundraising event at the school's
Lewis Field football stadium so that coach Gallagher could travel
with his wrestlers to the Berlin Olympics ... then take a side trip
to Vienna to be tested by physicians there, at the request of his
son Clarence, a doctor.
To help lighten his load, in 1938, Ed Gallagher retired as director
of physical education at Oklahoma State, but continued on as
It was about this time that construction began on a new, $500,000
arena on the Oklahoma State campus that would serve as home for the
Cowboy basketball and wrestling programs. Completed in 1939, what
was originally called the 4-H Club and Student Activity Building was
state-of-the-art for the time, featuring an air-cooling system ...
and over 5,000 theater-type seats, as well as collapsible bleachers
for wrestling events, bringing total seating capacity to nearly
February 3, 1939 was declared "Gallagher Day" in Stillwater, in
honor of the beloved wrestling coach. It was that day that the new
arena -- nicknamed "the Madison Square Garden of the Midwest" -- was
officially dedicated. That night, the facility hosted its first
event, a dual meet with Indiana University, one of the top programs
of the era. The Cowboys defeated the Hoosiers 18-9.
At the end of the 1939-40 season, outdoorsman and hunter Ed
Gallagher went to the Rocky Mountains for an extended vacation.
While in Colorado, he collapsed and died on August 28, 1940 ... just
a week shy of his 54th birthday.
His funeral was held at the new arena that had been named in his
honor (and is still home to the wrestling Cowboys, now called
Gallagher-Iba Arena, having been substantially upgraded and expanded
in 2001.) Thousands came for the funeral for the man referred to in
obituaries as "the Dean of Collegiate Wrestling" and "the Knute
Rockne of the Mats" (referring to the legendary Notre Dame football
coach killed in a plane crash a few years' earlier).
Reading the text of the 1939 "Gallagher Day" souvenir program and
the 1940 Redskin yearbook -- the last featuring Ed Gallagher as
coach -- has added poignancy now. Even though he had been battling
Parkinson's for years, there was optimism in the words in these
publications produced in the last year of his life. In the
"Gallagher Day" program, long-time friend and sportswriter Randle
Perdue began his profile of the coach with this positive paragraph:
"The big news about Ed Gallagher is that he is improving in health!
In recent weeks he has found a new medicine, the result of long
search by his son, Dr. Clarence Gallagher, and evidently it is
effective. Ed has gained nearly twenty pounds in weight. He is more
cheerful, more hopeful. He is optimistic about the future. In fact,
he has made a date to go quail hunting next fall. It will be his
first time in about five years. When Ed gets back to quail hunting,
he will be the Ed Gallagher of old."
In the 1940 Redskin yearbook, the last line of text in the
description of the Cowboys' 1939-40 season closes with "With two
intercollegiate champions and several intercollegiate runners-up
returning, Coach Gallagher should have little trouble turning out
another national championship for Oklahoma A. and M. College in
1940-1941." (Art Griffith became the Oklahoma State head wrestling
coach upon Gallagher's passing in 1940. The Cowboys were 6-0 for the
1940-41 season, winning four individual titles and the team title at
the 1941 NCAAs.)
The Gallagher legacy
In tallying up the accomplishments of the Ed Gallagher era, the
stats are impressive: 19 undefeated seasons out of 23 ... only two
losses in the last nine seasons ... six AAU (Amateur Athletic Union)
team titles ... ten outright NCAA team titles (tied for first for an
eleventh)... 73 NCAA and AAU individual champs ... and three Olympic
Ed Gallagher's legacy goes far beyond those stats. He coached a
number of wrestlers who went on to become high school and college
wrestling coaches themselves. Among the Cowboys turned coaches:
Cliff Keen at the University of Michigan ... Paul Keen at Oklahoma
... Buell Patterson, who coached at Kent State, Nebraska and
Illinois... Rex Peery at Pittsburgh ... Fendley Collins at Michigan
State ... Joe McDaniel at Syracuse and Wyoming ... and Orion
Stuteville at Northwestern.
Buell Patterson weighed in with his thoughts on coach Gallagher: "A
reason that the men who have worked under Ed like him so well is
that if he lost a match, they never received a bawling out. And
believe me, it is a lot of satisfaction to give all one has for a
man and know that what one gives will be satisfactory with him, even
if one makes mistakes."
Another one of his coaching proteges, Carl "Dutch" Voyles (who
coached at Duke and William & Mary), said of his mentor: "No one
ever said an unkind word about him. That must have been because Ed
was so full of kindness himself ... there are all too few men like
Gallagher in this world of ours."
In his article about Ed Gallagher for the 1939 "Gallagher Day"
program, Randle Perdue said of the man he had known since 1911:
"Applicable adjectives, on which Ed's friends all agree as
describing him, include honest, fair, clean, square, quiet,
unassuming, uncomplaining, canny, crafty, foxy, firm, shrewd,
fearless, modest, sincere, stubborn, determined, and uncompromising
- altogether friendly and possessing a fine sense of humor..."
"Gallagher has never been cocky, or disagreeably boastful. He has
taken his victories graciously. He has never complained about a
referee's decision -- at least not publicly."
The legacy of Ed Gallagher lives on in so many ways, beyond having
his name on an arena ... or the annual award that bears his name,
given to an Oklahoma State wrestling alumnus. (Among the past
honorees: Bobby Douglas, Doug Blubaugh, John Smith, Pat Smith, and
Kenny Monday.) His analytical, engineering-based approach to amateur
wrestling revolutionized the sport. The success of his Cowboys
helped launch high school wrestling programs throughout the state of
Oklahoma, making the Sooner State a leading hotbed for wrestling to
this day. What's more, the foundation of success laid by Ed
Gallagher and his wrestlers has been built upon over the decades to
the point where today, the Oklahoma State Cowboys still claim the
most individual and team titles in NCAA wrestling.
Edward C. Gallagher
Head Wrestling Coach, 1915-40
11 National Championships
Despite never wrestling in an organized
program in high school or college, Gallagher was an
exceptional athlete, playing football and ran track for
Gallagher set records in the 100-yard dash
and hurdles that stood for 30 years. His run of 99 yards
against K-State in 1908 remains an OSU football record for
the longest run from scrimmage.
Gallagher poses for a team photo with the
1920 varsity Aggie Wrestling squad.
Gallagher's "Cowboy" wrestlers always made an
impression wherever they went - including the 1927 team
visiting the White House in gear appropriate to their
nickname. The Stetson hats and flannel shirts leant the A&M
wrestlers an even greater mystique.
During the Gallagher era, the A&M wrestlers
competed in roped-off rings, similar to what is seen today
in boxing or professional wrestling.
Oklahoma A&M marked the first wrestling dual
ever at Gallagher Hall with the celebration of "Gallagher
Day" against Indiana.
The "Madison Square Garden of the Plains,"
Gallagher Hall was named after Coach Gallagher and has
remained home to the fabled Cowboy Wrestling program since
The tradition of excellence built by
Gallagher at OSU led to enormous crowds packing Gallagher
Hall to the rafters.
The 1940 Wrestling Aggies pose before
boarding an airplane. The 1940 team won Oklahoma State's
11th wrestling championship, and was the final team coached
by Gallagher before he passed away.