Finishing On Top: Chuck Yagla

Jan. 4, 2013

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Believe it or not there once was a time in University of Iowa wrestling history when the rafters were void of NCAA championship banners. The school was not without its individual champions, but from 1911-1974, the NCAA team title had eluded the Hawkeyes.

Enter Chuck Yagla.

The Waterloo, Iowa, native and Columbus High School graduate wasn’t highly sought after following his prep career. But Iowa wanted him, he wanted Iowa, and as the story goes… they both lived happily ever after.

Yagla became the 13th national champion in school history when he won the 150-pound title in 1975, and in doing so he helped the Hawkeyes win the first NCAA team title in school history. He was one of five All-Americans in the lineup, but he humbly acknowledges the credit for breaking through in the team race went beyond the men in the circle.

“I had a good career at Iowa and was there during the start of the so-called dynasty,” said Yagla, who was also a two-time Big Ten champion from 1975-76, “but my freshman year was Dan Gable’s first year as an assistant coach and Gary Kurdelmeier’s first year as a head coach. So it was only partly because I was there that good things began to happen at Iowa.”

Kurdelmeier is often credited for engineering the Hawkeye dynasty, and all Gable did was win 15 national titles, but Yagla didn’t simply fall into some good timing. He arrived on campus eager to learn, ready to sacrifice and determined to improve. Fortunately, his coaching staff didn’t make any qualms about what it would take for that to happen.

“Before Gable showed up I didn’t know how hard you could work and how much time you can put into it,” said Yagla. “I worked out, obviously… worked out hard I thought, but with Gable’s influence I won a lot of my matches simply because of conditioning. By the time the third period rolled around I was in better shape than the opponent.”

Yagla won 129 matches before his Iowa career ended in 1976 with his second, and the team’s second, NCAA title. He was named Outstanding Wrestler of the NCAA Championships that year, becoming the first Hawkeye to ever win the award.

He left school intent on making the 1976 Olympic team. He was named an alternate that year, but he represented the United States at the 1977 and 1979 World Games, and in 1980 he was a member of Team USA at the Moscow Olympics.

Yagla also joined the Iowa coaching staff in 1978. He was an assistant on Gable’s staff for four years, each year ending with NCAA and Big Ten titles.

“A lot of all that success goes back to the work ethic I developed wrestling,” said Yagla. “The discipline, conditioning, working hard, having a positive attitude and being motivated. All those things translate into the working world wonderfully. It really prepares you well for whatever you want to accomplish later in life.”

Yagla once considered becoming the head man in Iowa’s corner, but with Gable at the helm he realized that dream was a long time off, so in 1983, he became an NCAA wrestling official. He was the judge and jury for Division I wrestling for 24 years, working dozens of NCAA and Big Ten Championships until retiring in 2007.

“I didn’t want to be one of those that did it longer than I should have,” said Yagla. “I’m not sure when you know that is, but I decided to get out when I thought I was very capable.”

Like any man with Yagla’s integrity, it was just another decision he’s been able to live with.

“When I retired I had a two-year old grandson, so I had no regrets on retiring from refereeing and seeing my grandson and spending time with my family.”

And he has also since regained his Iowa bias.

“I’m back on the black and gold train,” he said. “I still go to Big Tens every year, I go to nationals every year, and I have season tickets so I can go to all the meets. I’m once again able to wear my black and gold and cheer loud and proud.”