AMES, Iowa — Perhaps more than any single one man, Les Anderson experienced the sum of Iowa State’s decorated wrestling program. As a competitor, coach and administrator, Anderson was an integral part of Cyclone wrestling for more than five decades.
Anderson passed away Friday morning in Ames. He was 74 years old.
Anderson’s contributions to Iowa State’s wrestling legacy are unique. Universally respected, he is a member of the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame (1984), the ISU Letterwinners Club Hall of Fame (2004) and a distinguished member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame (2004).
A native of Clarion, Iowa, Anderson had an impressive prep career under the tutelage of his prep coach Dale Brand. As a defending state champion, his single loss came in his senior year in the final match of the state tournament. His final high school record was 61-1-1. Having battled polio, his doctors advised him not to continue wrestling in college. However, Anderson and his parents chose a different path and headed to Iowa State after a personal visit to his family’s home by Cyclone head coach Harold Nichols.
As a wrestler for ISU from 1958-60, Anderson was a three-time All-American, two-time national champion and two-time Big Eight champion at 130 and then 137 pounds.
Anderson was Nichols’ first NCAA champion in 1958, winning the 130-pound NCAA title in Laramie, Wyo. The No. 2 seed, he beat top-ranked Max Pearson of Michigan, 7-5 in the championship final. The Cyclones finished second in the team standings to Oklahoma State.
Anderson was the top seed at the 1960 NCAA Championship in College Park, Md. Wrestling at 137 pounds, Anderson topped No. 2 seed Lester Austin of Syracuse to claim his second national championship. Iowa State was second to Oklahoma in the team race.
When Anderson walked off the collegiate mat for the last time, he left behind an Iowa State record of 50-3-1.
Anderson wrestled at the international level, finishing fifth at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1956 before being an alternate on the 1960 Olympic team. He was 14-2 in international competition.
After graduation, Anderson coached at the prep level for Blue Earth (Minnesota) High School. Blue Earth finished in the state top 10 in each of Anderson’s four years as head coach, taking third place twice.
Nichols called Anderson back to Iowa State in 1964 to form one of the most successful coaching tandems in NCAA wrestling history. As an assistant from 1964-74, Anderson and Nichols coached ISU to five NCAA team titles, three second-place finishes and tutored 20 individual national champions and 47 All-Americans.
Anderson, who earned BS and MS degrees from Iowa State, left the Cyclones in 1974 to become the head wrestling coach at Washington. He mentored the Huskies until 1978 and then returned to his alma mater to again assist the Cyclones. His second stint as an ISU assistant was from 1979-92, helping head coach Jim Gibbons to win another NCAA team title in 1987 and tutoring 14 individual national champions.
ISU wrestlers earned All-America honors 67 times from 1979-92. He spent his final two years at ISU in 1993 and 1994 as a compliance director and athletics coordinator. Anderson was named Amateur Wrestling News Assistant Coach of the Year in 1985.
Anderson was one of the first coaches to implement summer wrestling clinics, a concept that became the norm. For seven years he was on the Board of Directors for the National Wrestling Coaches Association and helped initiate the first annual coaches convention. He served as director of five NCAA and one AAU National tournaments and participated in the formation of the United States Wrestling Federation, serving three years on the Board of Directors of USA Wrestling.