Catching Up...With Jim Gibbons

In seven seasons Jim Gibbons had achieved more than most wrestling coaches accomplish in careers that span decades. Gibbons became the youngest Division I head wrestling coach when he took over at Iowa State in 1986 for the legendary Dr. Harold Nichols. A year later, at the age of 27, Gibbons led the Cyclones to a national championship.

In all of those seasons with Gibbons at the helm the Cyclones were ranked in the Top 10 in the nation.


Still, the former Cyclone All-American was at a crossroads in 1992. Gibbons was giving everything he had to keep ISU wrestling on top. With designs on starting a family with wife, Anne, Gibbons decided he wasn't getting out of it what he put into it.


"The first year I would have done it for free, but after awhile I wanted a long-term deal," Gibbons said. "I was making $38,000, and I had to either live or leave with it. I wanted a longer term deal and not just a year-to-year contract."


With no prospects of a substantial raise or extended contract, Gibbons walked away with no regrets and peace of mind.


"Frustration (with salary) became overriding," Gibbons said. "It was at least a $60,000 job. There was a lot of pressure with no upside financially. I had some outside income with camps, but I just didn't like the feel of year to year. Somebody could come in and pull the rug out form underneath me."


Gibbons left coaching and delved into the world of finance. He is now Vice President of investments for Wachovia Securities. He also just completed his fifth season as color analyst of college wrestling broadcasts for Iowa Public Television.

"Some people ask me if I miss [coaching]," Gibbons said. "I miss the rubber meeting the road of the coach/athlete relations and practice.


"I have tried to take those skills with me to Wachovia. I never stopped being a coach. I have done a lot of counseling of the guys I have coached. I have stayed in contact with those people."


Gibbons' road to wrestling glory came at Ames High School where he was a three-time state champion.


Before he won the third title Nichols guaranteed Gibbons a scholarship at ISU regardless of the outcome of the upcoming state tournament.


Gibbons called the choice to attend his hometown school "an easy choice."

However, the beginning of his ISU wrestling career was anything but easy. A hip injury and staph infection sidelined Gibbons.


"It didn't start off magical," Gibbons said. "[The operation] set me back mentally. I was in traction and lost 25 pounds in two weeks. When I came back I wasn't strong. I wasn't ready to go. [The injury] fried me mentally."


When Gibbons returned to the mat, he did so with lofty goals in mind.


"[Nichols] showed a lot of confidence in me, he recruited five 134-pounders," Gibbons said. "I wasn't given anything. I had to make the decision to become a champion. Once, I made that decision, it changed my life."


Gibbons graduated from ISU as a three-time All-American and won an individual title during his junior season in 1981.Upon graduation, Gibbons was satisfied with walking away from wrestling. The Olympics didn't interest Gibbons, so he had decided to pursue a master's degree at the University of New Mexico where he was going to assist with the wrestling program.


However, Nichols encouraged his former star to wait a week before he headed south. A week later Gibbons was hired as an assistant coach.


Nichols retired as a head coach in 1985 with an amazing 456-75-11 record. He won six NCAA team titles in his 31 years at ISU.


Gibbons had big shoes to fill, but he erased all doubt of his capabilities when he led the Cyclones to the title in 1987.


"[The title] really meant a lot to me," he said. "I was proud of those guys. They really wanted it."


Gibbons still has the letter that then Iowa head coach Dan Gable wrote, praising him for winning the championship as well as looking forward to more mat battles between the Hawkeyes and Cyclones.


In the end, though, Gibbons was unfulfilled. He tried, with help from then Iowa State men's basketball coach Johnny Orr, to improve his financial status to no avail.


In 1989 Gibbons talked to Orr about how to go about asking for a raise from then athletic director Max Urich.


Orr said, "Gibby, tell them that you love Iowa State, and tell them that you want a long-term deal — you just got married and you are committed to it."

Gibbons did as Orr instructed and Urich immediately said, "You have been talking to Orr haven't you."


If Gibbons had been given the long-term deal he probably would have stayed at ISU. But he doesn't dwell on that. Instead, he enjoys life with Anne and the couple's children — Genna, 12, and Grace, 9.


Gibbons is also proud of the fact his 1987 team is the last Cyclone team to win a title and that the year after he departed, Iowa State boasted seven All-Americans.


"I had the best experience anybody can have at ISU," Gibbons said. "I got a degree there, I met my wife and I won a championship as an athlete and as a coach."


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