Bob Siddens, legendary wrestling coach at Iowa’s Waterloo West High School who coached future NCAA champs Dan Gable and Dale Anderson among others, passed away in his Cedar Falls, Iowa home in his sleep Thursday after a long illness. He was 93.
In 27 seasons as head coach at Waterloo West — from 1951-1977 — Siddens coached the Wahawks to 11 state titles while compiling a dual record of 327-26-3, including an 88-match win streak that ran from 1968 to 1975. In addition Siddens coached 51 individual state champion wrestlers, and 33 state runner-ups.
Arguably Siddens’ most famous pupil was Dan Gable, who Siddens referred to as Daniel. From 1964 to 1966, Gable posted a 64-0 mark for Siddens while winning three state titles before going on to win NCAA championships at Iowa State, a gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and become a coaching legend himself at the University of Iowa.
“Sadly, my high school coach and one of the greatest influences in my life, Bob Siddens, has passed away,” said Gable. “I sincerely believe that of all people I’ve been associated with, Bob Siddens, has been the biggest factor in building my desire and attitude in wrestling. Just one big ‘thank you’ to him for helping me set my lifestyle as well.”
Another of Sidden’s great wrestlers, Dale Anderson, a two-time state champion and two-time Michigan State NCAA champ, told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier of his immediate reaction upon learning of the death of his high school mentor.
“When I found out I couldn’t even talk,” Anderson told his hometown newspaper. “I had to hand my phone off to Sandy (Anderson’s wife.).
“It’s such a loss to so many people. I was the luckiest man in the world to have him as a coach, mentor and for many years now, one of my best friends.
“He will be looking down on me tonight smiling and be happy for me, so I will try to be happy,” said Anderson, who was about to be inducted into the Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame.
Another one of Bob Siddens’ top wrestlers, Don Huff, a two-time Iowa titlewinner who later served as an assistant, then successor, to the coaching legend, said, “He was so successful because he could adapt to the wrestler. In the wrestling room, he was all business. And he got you to buy-in. He’d build you up if you were doing something he liked, he’d have you demonstrate it and by the end he had a room full of confident kids.”
Before Waterloo West, a life as wrestler
Robert Saunders Siddens was born on April 29, 1925 in Council Bluffs, Iowa along with a twin brother Charles. The biography “Siddens!” by the aforementioned Don Huff and famous wrestling historian Mike
Chapman opens with the story of when five-year-old Bobby and Chuck got a formal introduction to wrestling — pro wrestling, that is — at the Civic Auditorium in Omaha, Neb. The twins wrestled each other in the opening match at a 1930 event at the arena “for the Junior Championship of the World.”
The Siddens family moved to Eagle Grove, Iowa when Bob was young. At Eagle Grove High School, Bob Siddens was a multi-sport athlete, participating in football, baseball, track and wrestling. Bob was a four-time state qualifier, placing second in the Iowa state finals twice.
In the fall of 1947 — after having served his country in World War II — Siddens enrolled at what was then called Iowa State Teachers College (now University of Northern Iowa) in Cedar Falls. He wrestled for legendary coach Dave McCuskey at 175 pounds. Among his teammates were Gerry Leeman (future Lehigh University coach) and Bill Koll (future Penn State coach, and father of Cornell University coach Rob Koll), both NCAA champion wrestlers who went on to wrestle at the 1948 London Olympics. In fact, Siddens was a college roommate of Koll.
Siddens was modest about his on-the-mat career. When inducted into the Des Moines Register Hall of Fame, Siddens said, “I was better than average. When we wrestled strong teams, I often ended up wrestling the other team’s weakest man so I could win.”
Siddens the official
Bob Siddens made a name for himself as a high school wrestling coach. However, he also served as a referee for a number of years in NCAA Division I matches, officiating at 27 NCAA national champion events. In fact, Siddens was inducted into the National Referees Hall of Fame, “That is the story that gets lost sometimes,” said Kyle Klingman of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo, Iowa, and columnist for WIN (Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine). “As big of an influence as he was on so many wrestlers, he was an influential wrestling official that got a lot of officials into the business.”
Awards and honors
Over the course of his long life and successful career, Bob Siddens was showered with numerous awards and honors. One of the most notable: his name graces the gymnasium at Waterloo West High.
In addition, Siddens was welcomed into a number of halls of fame, including: The National Wrestling Hall of Fame, the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame, Iowa Officials Hall of Fame, United States Wrestling Federation Hall of Fame, National Referees Hall of Fame, the National High School Sports Hall of Fame and the International Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Lee Roy Smith, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, said this of Siddens, who was welcomed into the Hall as a Distinguished Member in 1980 (the same year as Dan Gable): “Bob Siddens is one of the greatest high school coaches of all time,. He created a culture of excellence among his student wrestlers at Waterloo West High School that created not only an Iowa high school wrestling dynasty, but also produced multiple alumni who went on to win NCAA individual titles and Olympic medals.
“It is rare for someone who enjoyed so much success as a coach to crossover and become a successful referee at the highest level of our sport,” Smith added. “His demeanor and values, both on and off the mat, set the standards for sportsmanship and integrity.”
Kyle Klingman, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum, said this of Bob Siddens: “He had so much to give and tell. He loved to visit and have conversations with people. We’d introduce him to visitors and they’d have two-hour conversations where they’d get the inside scoop on the psychology of the greatest high school wrestling coach in history. It was a great outlet for his legacy.”
Bob Siddens is survived by his wife Joyce, six children — JoEllen, Scott, Todd, Beth, Erica, and Kara — as well as thirteen grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.