McCool was a true legend, and an even better friend

By Matt Levins For The Predicament

Dan McCool with Dan Gable

I will never forget Dan McCool.

McCool, a former sports writer for the Des Moines Register who spent much of the last decade writing wrestling books and meeting people, died on Monday.

McCool’s death leaves a huge void in the sport of wrestling that can never be filled.
Growing up a wrestling fan, I read McCool’s stuff often. He became a role model of sorts from a distance. McCool and I share a passion for wrestling, a love we enjoy sharing with others.

I often heard stories about McCool, how intimidating he could be. When I first saw him at the state tournament at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines back in the 1990s, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the man — and scared.

McCool was a mountain of a man, someone you certainly wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of. I tread lightly when I was around him, letting him finish his interview before I approached a wrestler.

I learned a lot just from observing McCool. He was the consummate professional, yet I loved the way he conducted his interviews. He was always prepared and had a conversational approach. It wasn’t reporter interviewing wrestlers or coaches. It was two guys talking about the sport they loved. He shared that passion with everyone he talked to.

I really didn’t get to know Dan until the mid-2000s when the state tournament moved across the street to Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. There, the media was seated at tables on the floor level, where there was plenty of commotion, not to mention fans screaming in your ears 10 feet behind you.

Much to my chagrin at the time, I walked in to find my spot on press row. Somehow, Iowa High School Athletic Association Information Director Bud Legg had seated me right next to McCool, front and center in the row. On McCool’s right was Andy Hamilton, another legend when it comes to wrestling.

Oh boy, I thought, this is going to be a very long three days. I was just hoping I didn’t do anything to upset Dan.

As I sat down ad set up my computer, trying my level best to stay out of Dan’s way, I was shocked when Dan turned to me and asked, “Would you like some candy?” What? Are you talking to me? “Help yourself anytime you want.”

Dan was also well known for having a huge stash of candy at his work station, which he generously shared for the asking.

I got to know Dan a little bit during those three days and I admired him all the more. What were all these people talking about? Why was I scared of this guy? Dan was a true gentle giant. If I ever had a question, I had the unofficial Encyclopedia of Wrestling in Iowa sitting to my right.

Dan actually proved to be a lifesaver in 2007. I was scheduled to receive the Media Award on the Saturday of the state tournament that year. My wife, Jennifer, was planning to make the trip up that morning with her sister, Tammy, to walk out with me while I received the award.

It just so happened that a blizzard blew in that day, bringing over a half-foot of snow and leaving the roads treacherous. But my wife and her sister missed the turnoff for I-235 in Des Moines and somehow ended up in Winterset, with time ticking down.

My wife called me, frantically trying to find their way to Wells Fargo Arena. Dan, sensing what was going on, turned to me and said, “Let me talk to her.” Dan calmly gave them the directions and they arrived just in the nick of time.
That is the kind of guy Dan McCool was.

Through the years, I would run into Dan at the state tournament and various events. He always made it a point to come over, shake my hand, ask me how I was doing and stroke my ego a bit by telling me how much he appreciated what I was doing for wrestling.

The last time I saw Dan was Feb. 22 between sessions of the state tournament. Wyatt Schultz, owner and photographer of The Predicament, went up to the concourse with Wyatt’s wife, Kirsten, and spent nearly an hour shooting the breeze with Dan and his wife.

As usual, it was a barrel of laughs listening to Dan’s stories, something I know I needed after a long three days and with a stressful night of finals ahead.

Dan McCool may be gone, but he will never be forgotten. He was a true ambassador and friend of wrestling. I was truly privileged to call Dan a friend and a mentor.

So long, old friend, until we meet again on that big mat in the sky.