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February 26, 1970 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1970-02-26

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Page Eight

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Thursday, February 26, 1970

Page Eight THE MICHIGAN DAILY Thursday, February 26, 1970

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By PAT ATKINS
Executive Sports Editor
WHEN FORMER Michigan wrestlers come back to the U-M
campus, one of the first questions they ask assistant wres-
tling coach Rick Bay is, "How's coach's driving?"
"I tell them," Bay says, "that it's about the same. It's four
hours to Columbus and then three hours to the Ohio State
Union. That's where we usually get lost-in town. His retort is
that he always gets us back alive."
In his 45 year span as head coach of wrestling at Michigan,
Coach Cliff Keen has brought back many wrestlers.
A few weeks from now, he will sit on the sidelines of his last
Big Ten wrestling tournament, held here this year in his honor,
and he will analyze each individual match as carefully as he has
weighed each bout for the past 45 years .Now and again Coach
Keen will stand to yell a few words or pace in front of the bench
row of folding chairs, and then edge stiff-backed down into an-
other seat.
It will be a long way in miles and minutes, in accolades,
in acquaintances, from a gym in Oklahoma where he began
wrestling to the one here in Michigan.
There has Peen one great consistency, though-Coach Cliff
Keen.
Forty-five years ago he told'a Daily reporter, "Amateur wres-
tling has been recognized in the last few years as one of the
leading sports and is gaining prominence in all of the colleges
and uhiversities. It is growing by leaps and bounds and is
destined to take its place as one of the most popular indoor
sports."
He could have said, and probably did say, the same thing
yesterday.
Another indoor sport, basketball, first set him on his wres-
tling career-. "I was shooting baskets-it was in my freshman
year," Keen recalls. "A little guy on the wrestling team was
practicing, and he wanted someone to work out with. I had never
wrestled before, but I was big and strong. Heck I could murder
that little guy."
It didn't go quite as he had expected. "Much to my con-
sternation, I found he could handle me with ease," Keen says.
Curiosity got the better of him and Keen soon had the matman
showing him a few holds. Ed Galleger, the Abner Doubleday of
amateur wrestling, was the coach of the Oklahonia A&M team,
and after hearing a few of the coach's words at practice, Keen
was out for the team.
That was some fifty years ago.
If it hadn't been for World War II, those fifty years of devo-
tion to amateur wrestling would have been cut in half. Keen
acquired his law degree from Michigan in 1933. He got out right
in the depths of the depression, expecting to practice law one
or two years and also coach. He practiced law for nine more
years, coaching in the afternoon and trying cases in the morning.
"Just when I was definitely, absolutely, positively, going into
law full time, the war came on and I volunteered to help set up
the Navy's wrestling program," Keen says.
WAR TIME construction restrictions had also affected the
Ann Arbor building trade, making it difficult for Keen to
find an office to set up his practice when hereturned. He took
the Michigan job for "one more year," in order to locate office
space and because Athletic Director Fritz Crisler asked him to.
"Then I just got back into it," he states.
And he added 25 more years to his Michigan tradition. Last
year's team captain, Pete Cornell talks of Keen's heavy reliance
on the tradition of Michigan wrestling. "Coach Keen says some-
thing to the effect that when you step out onto the mat in the
Maize and Blue, the meet is 50 per cent won. A little bit of that
sinks in. Michigan teams have done so well and so many wres-
tiers have come before you, it gives you a definite edge."
But even before Keen was molding the Michigan wrestling
tradition, back when he first came to the school, the appeal to
tradition was there. Jim Kelly, Michigan's first national wres-
tling champion in 1930, explains, "He hasn't changed any I don't
think in all those years. Even way back then in the 1930's he

emphasized Michigan as a great school to go to. That was true
even though at that time he had just come from Oklahoma."
- Keen's exposure to Michigan began at A &M where Johnny
Maulbetsch, Michigan's All-American fullback in 1914, was
athletic director and football coach.
Keen, who was born on a ranch in western Oklahoma,
played football, basketball, and wrestled. He tells his wrestlers
now that when he was at Oklahoma, he was in a fraternity and
would get up and run five miles before breakfast. His fraternity
brothers thought he was weird.
After graduation, Keen took a position at Frederick, Okla-
homa, coaching high school football. While there he coached his
team to a conference championship, and the next year a state
championship.
Wrestling at Michigan had been given the status of a minor
varsity sports two years before, and the Wolverine athletic
department was looking for a permanent coach.
In its first two varsity years, 1922-23 and 1923-24, the team
fared poorly. In those two years, first under the tutelage of
Peter Botcher-"former professional wrestler and at present the
proprietor of the Majestic billiard room on State Street" accord-
ing to the 1923 Michigan Daily-and then under Coach Dick
Barker, the team had not won a single meet in the conference.
They beat Michigan Agricultural College for their only meet win
in two years.
IT WAS TO this uninspiring scene that John Maulbetsch
recommended Keen in 1925. And Keen wasn't long in fash-
ioning some great individual wrestlers. Four of his matmen made
the 1928 U.S. Olympic team, including Ed Don George who was
later to become a famous professional wrestler.
"Cliff was a little bit heavier than me," Kelly says, "but not
much. He would wrestle Ed Don George just to keep him in shape
and George considerably outweighed him. Cliff had a lot of
trouble keeping him in shape,"Kelly adds with a chuckle.
Each wrestler has his own story about Coach Keen's con-
ditioning. Bay says, "He's 68 years old and still suits up for prac-
tice, still demonstrat~es for the team. He amazes me with his
muscle tone. I wrestle fellas on the team from Bohouse on down,
but in his forearms and hands even now Coach Keen has more
strength than anyone I ever knew."
"He can put the legs on anybody on the team and they can't
get," this year's captain, Jess Rawls, states.
And in one of his classes a few years ago, so the tale goes,
there was a big tackle. Keen told the guy, "I'm going to put a
pinning hold, the guillotine, on you." The tackle emphatically
asserted, "You're not going to pin me." Keen replied, "Yes, I
am," and proceeded to accomplish his stated objective.
Much of the reason for his physical ability comes from the
mental conditioning Coach Keen feels is inherent in the sport
of wrestling.
"I know some of the boys don't realize it," Bay says, "be-
cause we work on holds and moves over in the practice room, but
Coach Keen is showing them an awful lot about themselves,
about discipline, about respect for authority, about respect for
teamwork, and respect for the hard work necessary to obtain
a worthwhile goal."
His approach is not to overwhelm a wrestler as some coaches
do. Chip Warrick, one of Keen's wrestlers in the mid-forties
and now president of the wrestling alumni association, notes,
"Coach Keen was a leader, not a pusher. He was never quick to
anger. It takes a lot to get his goat."
Keen has not altered his style since then. For some of the
younger wrestlers, his low pressure attitude has been difficult to
understand. Jess Rawls explains, "By the time you have his
experience, you're set in your ways. You don't want to change
strategies that have worked well in the past. Some of what he
says may seem stupid to us, but we don't understand.
"He doesn't get on you, stay on your back. It hurts him to
stab a guy, but sometimes it's necessary. I never saw a coach like
him. He knows how to approach a guy."
Recruiting, because of Cliff Keen, is also different at U-M
then at any other wrestling strongholds. Keen's theory is that
an athlete goes out for a sport to benefit from it. "It was a
privilege to represent your university," the coach says. "They
don't pay you to take history. Why should they pay you to
wrestle?"
Assistant Coach Bay has the same philosophy. "He doesn't
believe in recruiting and neither do I. I hope to God we can
survive with this philosophy. We feel that Michigan is going to
do a lot more for this boy than he'll do for Michigan. Coach Keen
doesn't feel he has to go out and beg somone to come here."
Consequently the team doesn't get a lot of what Bay terms
"raw, animal talent." Keen's great attribute, Warrick explains,

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"was that he could take guys like me who had never wrestled
before and turn them into fairly good wrestlers."
ON THE BENCH during a meet that low pressure attitude is
visible. It's rare that Coach Keen shouts at his players or
the referees. "A lot of thought goes into what he says." Bay
states. "It's carefully thought out, not a wild impulse, When he
does jump up to yell at someone, it's to gain a reaction, hopefully
a favorable reaction, from a guy on the team. No one's infallable.
It doesn't always happen. But he has poise bellowing at the top
of his lungs because he knows what he's doing."
Keen's heart attack a decade ago may have mellowed his
antics some. It came during the period when he was setting up
his wrestling equipment company and designing a new head-
gear. "The heart attack was about the same as Bo Schem-
bechler's," Mrs. Keen relates. "It could happen to anyone if
they're worried about things. He fully recovered, but as you get
older, you have to watch yourself."
One other aspect of his life was changed, too, Mrs. Keen
recalls. "He quit smoking as soon as he had the heart attack.
He used to go out in the corridor and smoke so his boys wouldn't
see him. He never did want them smoking, of course. He quit
smoking right then and said never again."
It is to his business, now a nationally known manufacturing
and supply company for wrestling equipment, that Keen plans
to turn to when he gets out of coaching.
"Now that he's getting out of coaching," Mrs. Keen adds,
"he said that we won't see anyone anymore. I told him that
now we'll see everyone." His ability to remember each wrestler,
almost to the point of knowing what they were doing yesterday,
has swayed many matmen to come to Michigan.
One of the first impressions Bay has of Keen came when
the coach was showing Bay the campus. The two had stopped
off in the wrestling practice room, then in the IM Building.
"I'd been in other wrestling rooms where they had the pictures
of past champions on the walls, but he could tell me about
what each of those guys was doing that day. I knew right then
that anyone who could formulate a type of relationship with a
wrestler that could last a lifetime was who I wanted for a coach.
He was interested in you far beyond those four years."
EACH YEAR, during the annual homecoming banquet when
the varsity wrestlers get together, Keen gets up to say a few
words. Then he will go around the room, row by row saying
hello to the people in attendance, and perhaps tellingsome story
about one of the grapplers.
"In practice, he's always talking about how past wrestlers
beat somebody and what move they made," Rawls says. "He
might forget to pick you up. He might come out of a building
and get into the wrong car. But he doesn't forget his wrestlers."
That assurance was what convinced Jess to come to Mich-
igan. As a wrestler, he didn't want to be used two years and then
forgotten when his tender was up. As a black, he didn't want to
be used as he had been used in the South. "Coach Keen told me
he wasn't a prejudiced man," Rawls states. "There weren't a
lot of black people who wrestled at Michigan, but he said that
didn't mean he was prejudiced."
In the nationals last year, Jess just missed finishing first
in the country. His only loss was a narrow 6-5 decision to John
Woods, and it came on a takedown with only 20 seconds left in
the bout. It was a disappointing moment for Jess, but the grap-
pler relates emotionally, "Coach Keen came over to me and said,
'Jess, you're the first black guy to win anything for me.' I said,
"Yeah, coach, I know what you mean." And I thought, "That's
not the last thing I'm going to win for yo.
With conviction in his voice, Rawls states, "Maybe I wasn't
his first national champion, but I'm going to be his last."
That intense personal motivation is not atypical of wres-
tling. But the coach behind it is. When his wife comments, "He's
no angel. The next time I have words with him, I'll call you.
He's human," some of the perspective returns.
But, as his assistant coach says, "In 45 years of wrestling,
the opponents have changed, the schedules, the assistant coaches,
the rules have all changed. The one thing that's never changed
in Michigan wrestling is Cliff Keen."

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