Oklahoma State has the winningest program, in any sport, in NCAA history.
No school has won more championships in a single sport than Oklahoma State, the University of Wrestling. The Cowboys have won a record 34 NCAA team wrestling titles. Beginning in 1928, OSU won the first four NCAA championships ever held, and 18 of the first 21. Along with Iowa State, Oklahoma State is one of two schools to amass over 1,000 dual meet victories.
OSU wrestling is a dynasty defined. The school has produced 134 individual NCAA wrestling champions and 425 All-Americans. A Cowboy has been named Most Outstanding Wrestler at the NCAA championships fifteen times. The Pokes have an all-time dual meet record of 1,021-113-23 and have captured 47 conference crowns. In all, Oklahoma State grapplers have won 234 individual conference titles.
The Oklahoma State wrestling program is judged by a different standard. Boasting a rich and storied tradition, only six coaches have led the Orange-and-Black during their 104-year history. In more than a century of wrestling, OSU has reeled off unbeaten streaks of 70, 73, 76 and 84 straight matches. All four came under the direction of different coaches.
Having only had six head coaches in more than a century, Oklahoma State wrestling is an enigma. Only Kansas basketball, which has been led by eight coaches over a dozen decades, comes close.
Remarkably, OSU has never undergone a “down” period. Under John Wooden, UCLA won ten NCAA basketball titles in 12 years between 1964 and 1975. Today, the Bruins are in ruins. UCLA has gone from a perennial Final Four program to one that now celebrates making the First Four. Alabama has won 17 college football championships. But in the quarter century between Bear Bryant’s departure and the arrival of Nick Saban, Alabama won only three SEC football titles. Even Iowa, the second-winningest wrestling program in history with 23 NCAA national championships, has suffered a let-down. The Hawkeyes have won 33 Big Ten titles, best in conference history, but only six in the past 20 seasons.
One of four Big 12 schools that competes in Division I wrestling, Oklahoma State fielded its first grappling squad in 1914. A.M. Colville coached the team, which lost its first dual meet to Texas. The next season, the legendary Ed Gallagher took over the program. Although Gallagher never wrestled competitively, he excelled in football and track at OSU. In 1908, he ran for a 99-yard touchdown against Kansas State, still the school record for the longest run from scrimmage. The Father of Modern Amateur Wrestling, Gallagher led the Pokes to their first national title in 1928. He then reeled off nine of the next ten NCAA championships. Ed Gallagher coached OSU from 1916 to 1940, going 138-5-5 including 19 undefeated seasons and 11 NCAA titles.
Perhaps no program in any sport can match Oklahoma State’s legacy of coaches. When Ed Gallagher died of pneumonia in 1940, Art Griffith took the reins. In 13 seasons in Stillwater, Griffith produced ten undefeated teams, captured eight NCAA team titles, and retired 78-7-4. One of Griffith’s wrestlers, Myron Roderick, succeeded his coach, winning seven national titles while producing 79 All-Americans. Tommy Chesbro was next. Although he had the misfortune of coming along during the Dan Gable era at Iowa, Chesbro captured one NCAA title and passed Gallagher as the winningest coach in OSU history. In 15 seasons in Cowboy Country, Tommy Chesbro amassed a dual mark of 227-26-0 for a remarkable .900 winning percentage.
Ed Gallagher, Art Griffith, Myron Roderick, Tommy Chesbro and John Smith have all been enshrined in Oklahoma State’s Athletics Hall of Honor.
The Pokes have been led by John Smith since 1992. The former Cowboy is the most decorated American wrestler in history, with ten world-level gold medals. With a record of 426-62-6, Smith is also the winningest coach in OSU history. The Smith family legacy at Oklahoma State is unparalleled. John was the first wrestler to win the Sullivan Award as best amateur athlete in America, was a three-time All-American and won two NCAA titles. Older brother Lee Roy was a three-time All-American and 1980 national champion. The youngest Smith brother, Pat, is the first-ever four-time NCAA champion. John Smith has coached OSU to five NCAA titles, including four in a row from 2003 to 2006.
Since 1924, Oklahoma State has been represented at all but one Olympics in which the U.S. has competed. Ten O-Staters have been selected as coaches or managers, and 31 OSU grapplers have been named to the Olympic team. Since 1924, ten Cowboy athletes have earned a total of 13 gold medals at the Summer Games. From 1923 through 1936, 15 of Ed Gallagher’s wrestlers qualified for U.S. Olympic teams. Four of them earned medals.
The epicenter of the University of Wrestling is Gallagher-Iba Arena. Named after Edward Gallagher and former OSU basketball coach and athletic director Henry Iba, the 13,600-seat venue is known as the Rowdiest Arena in the Country. After setting a new wrestling attendance record in 2001, Gallagher-Iba Arena was named “Best College Gymnasium” by CBS Sportsline.com. Dubbed the Madison Square Garden of the Plains upon opening in 1939, GIA has hosted more 40 undefeated seasons. The Pokes were perfect at Gallagher-Iba Arena between 1939 and 1951, then did not lose in their fabled arena from 1959 to 1967.
A 15-time Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year, John Smith led Oklahoma State to 18 conference titles. In 28 seasons at OSU, he has mentored 32 NCAA champions and 129 All-Americans.
Oklahoma State’s biggest rival is the University of Oklahoma, located 80 miles south, in Norman. The schools – whose matchups are called the Bedlam Series – have been competing against each other in football since 1904 and in wrestling since 1920. Despite the popularity and visibility of the games played on the gridiron and hardwood, the roots of the Bedlam Series lie on the wrestling mat. The term “Bedlam” originated when the rivals collided in a heated dual match at Gallagher Hall [now Gallagher-Iba Arena]. A newspaper writer was said to have emerged from the steamy gym exclaiming to a throng gathered outside, “It’s bedlam in there!” Winners of seven NCAA team titles, OU has one of the top wrestling programs in the nation. But they are no match for OSU, which holds an all-time Bedlam Series advantage of 141-27-10.
The great Dan Hodge is a native of Perry, Oklahoma, a hotbed of high school wrestling. Perry is also the hometown of Jack van Bebber, a three-time NCAA champion at Oklahoma State and 1932 Olympic gold medalist in freestyle welterweight. Born on May 13, 1932, Mr. Hodge wrestled for the University of Oklahoma, where he was undefeated and recorded 36 pins in 46 matches. A three-time conference champ at 177 pounds, Danny Hodge was never taken off his feet as a collegian. The only amateur wrestler ever to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Hodge is one of two collegiate champs to have won three straight NCAA titles in the same weight class and pin all three of his finals opponents. The other is Oklahoma State’s Earl McCready, who did it from 1928 to 1930.
Awarded to the most outstanding college wrestler of the year, The Dan Hodge Trophy is the wrestling equivalent to the Heisman Trophy. Two Oklahoma State Cowboys have won the Dan Hodge Trophy. In 2005, heavyweight Steve Mocco won the award, while Alex Dieringer, a 165-pounder from Port Washington, Wisconsin, was named Hodge recipient in 2016.