Still Crazy After All These Years
Mix these attributes: funny, informed and charming into a pot and stir. Place them into a sports wrap and the resulting dish is none other than Dan Coughlin.
There is no doubting Dan's Irish heritage. As they say, he "wears the map of Ireland on his face." Two of his grandparents were born in Achill, County Mayo, Ireland and the rest were from the U.S.
He says, however, "I grew up an American family in the main stream of Lakewood Ohio. With the exception of playing hooky on St. Patrick's Day to go to the parade I was just the average American kid."
Dan Coughlin at age 3
He was born at the end of the Depression, in 1938. His father was West Side Irish, but his mother grew up in East 146th and St. Clair. When Dan was first born they lived with his mothers parents in Collinwood but about the time Dan turned three his father moved them back to the West Side in the bottom of a double house behind St. Ignatius High School.
Dan Coughlin in 8th grade
Eventually they moved to Lakewood, St. Clement's parish, and that is where Dan grew up.
Dan went to St. Edward's High School and then spent two years in the Army, 1st Armored Division.
Although Dan always loved sports he describes himself as an average "not exceptional player." "[I] wasn't good enough to make the football team at St. Ed's. Got cut four straight years. But I tried to play everything. Played baseball, but wasn't very good. I can still remember a hit I got off of Jim Carey who later signed with the Red Sox. "
In his many career day talks, Dan tells students "If you're looking for a job, a good place to start might be a church. I landed my first newspaper job in the summer of 1961. I hadn't been in the service yet. Back then everybody had to do their two years or their 6 months in the military if you could walk without a limp. But some of us thought we might slip through. I'm 22 years old working on my first newspaper job and they put up the damn Berlin Wall. August of '61. Kennedy says he's going to activate two new divisions right away. One of them, the 1st Armored Division, that's where I wound up. I was drafted in November."
Dan Coughlin in 1962 - age 24
When his two year assignment was nearing an end he wrote letters to multiple newspapers. The St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote back saying they had a position available for a general assignment reporter. "This was the home of the Pulitzer Prize. The St. Louis Post Dispatch. I probably would have won a couple of them - I was going to be the great political writer for the Post Dispatch."
All he really knew about St. Louis was that Stan Musial played there. The interview was set for the day after his discharge - November 22, 1963. Of course, this is a date most Americans will recognize. He drove through Dallas on November 21st to get to the Statler Hotel in St. Louis, passing through the exact route which would become infamous the following day.
"About 12:30 I was getting out of the shower, getting ready for my interview. TV on for company. A woman was playing the piano on KXMO TV and suddenly stopped. An off-screen voice said 'The president has just been shot in Dallas. We don't know if he's dead yet, but I know all interviews will be off now."
He called the managing editor's secretary and said he was going to fly back to Cleveland and would contact them in a week or so when things calmed down. The next day he went to 12:00 Mass at St. Clement's and ran into an old friend J. Ralph Novak, who was head of Catholic Charities and a former newspaperman with the Cleveland News. He had stayed in touch with all of his old contacts and had an "inside scoop" that the Plain Dealer was going to have an opening in Sports because of a pending retirement.
He made a call on Dan's behalf, Dan went to an interview and by January he was working for the Plain Dealer in the Sports Department. "The Post Dispatch is still waiting for me to call back and re-schedule that interview." So, of course he tells students to "try Church" for networking.
"I damn near put WHK off the air. I was doing a little sports commentary on WHK shortly after the Press closed. The Malrite people were so quick to call me. They knew exactly what they wanted me to do."
Dan Coughlin interviews Collinwood Football
Coach Joe Trivisonno in 1965
What they wanted was to put together a sports commentary on the Gary Dee Show. It was live, from his home. "So every morning I would go on the air in my underwear." In September, 1983 after doing this for about a year, he was called in for a meeting. He anticipated being fired and told them that was okay - "they had been very generous to me for very little work and I was still being paid from The Press…" They insisted he come down anyway. It turned out they were not going to fire Dan - they were going to fire Gary Dee.
In addition to his ratings going down, Dee's antics were affecting revenue at another Malrite station, WMMS, so they decided to let him go. They wanted a friendlier format, what we would today call "political correctness".
Dan's life was never conducive to early morning activities. "I spent a life working for a morning newspaper where every night I was either at a game or working at the paper or in a bar. In the morning I would sleep 'til I wasn't tired anymore. That worked great for 18 years. The only time I would set the alarm was if I had to catch a plane in the morning."
Dan Coughlin working at the bar
Dan was given the job as morning man doing country music. "We played Islands in the Stream twice an hour". They tried three different partners with him. The third one clicked but it was still not what Dan was good at. People just weren't listening. "We tried to be funny, but we weren't. "In 6 months I took the WHK ratings from a 7.5 to a 1 and a half." As a result, they took Dan off the air and put him back on sports commentary, and changed their entire format. They gave up on country music and went to old-time Rock n' Roll - known as 14K. "Now I had listeners again."
Dan's personal life was as interesting as his business life. He'll tell anyone who asks the best place to meet someone is at a funeral home. "People are usually sober. They're clean. They're dressed up. They're on their best behavior. And you know you have something in common".
It was at McGorry's Funeral Home that Dan met his wife, Maddy. She lived in the same apartment building he did, and worked at the Plain Dealer as an advertising sales person. But their paths never crossed because he was always travelling (50,000 miles a year) with the baseball team.
Maddy and Dan Coughlin
He called her a few days later, and of course they had a commonality of friends and experiences. They still remember whose wake it was, Joe Holland. Dan and Maddy named their first son, Joe. Partially for Maddy's sister Josephine (Josie), but also for the man who unknowingly brought them together.
Maddy was a Magnificat girl, who grew up in Lakewood - one of eight children. Her brothers went to Ignatius, but he "accepted them anyway."
Dan and Maddy have been married for 30 years They have four children, Joe, John, Mike and, Mary.
Maddy and Dan Coughlin expecting their first child
As a child Dan always loved the sports writers of a newspaper. "I would study those box scores on the living room floor, elbows up. I always loved it." He is concerned about the trend toward paperless books, magazine and news. "I don't know what I'm going to do if I don't have a paper to read in the morning. I can't read the paper on a tablet." He says when he does read something on-line and a commercial pops up, he has no idea who the ad is for. "All I'm doing is searching for the "X" so I can get it off the screen."
Dan can figure an ERA in his head "that involved multiplying by nine by the way… But remember I had a Catholic school education."
One of the things he thinks should be mandatory before a person can be a reporter is their ability to diagram a sentence, another lesson drilled into his head in Catholic school. He even sends emails to other writers pointing out (in his humorous/serious way) their misuse of words like "who" and "whom."
"Back in our day…… I had the meanest nun in the world, Sister Aurelia. I wrote a column about her in Avenues Magazine one time. She was so mean I wrote that she must have worn barbed wire underwear. I got the nastiest letter from a monsignor… scolded the hell out of me…. She was fed up with a life time of snotty little kids… we learned to diagram or die! But once you can diagram a sentence… you automatically picture the diagram in your head and use the right word because you know… Sister Aurelia… one of the most influential people in my life by teaching me to diagram sentences."
He also believes all reporters should have to take at least a year of Latin. "I made my oldest son, Joe, take Latin at St. Ed's and he's mad at me to this day. If you don't know alumnus, alumni, alumna, alumnae, you can't write for a newspaper."
He is adamant in his quest for proper English. He remembers years back when he spotted an article in the Plain Dealer. A female graduate of Oberlin College was donating millions of dollars and much to Dan's horror, she was referred to as alumni, which would make her a male former student. He still gets upset about this today.
As a little quiz he asks "What is the plural of octopus?" The answer can be found at the end of this profile.
Dan learned a lot about himself during the writing of his book. "When I put all those stories down on paper I realized 'Hey, I had a good time.' People where in and out all the time. Characters. Real characters, in and out. Wild S*^t happened all the time. I would answer the phone and never know what adventure would happen next."
He answered one day and it was George Steinbrenner's secretary saying "George would like you to meet him tomorrow morning 7:00 - Burke Lakefront Airport. You'll be back in time for dinner." He got there and there was a private plane waiting.
George Steinbrenner was already in New York. Also on board was Dan McCarthy, Gabe Paul, F.J. Steve O'Neill; these were his new partners in the Yankees. He was going to introduce them at a luncheon at 21 in New York at noon. When they landed in New York there were limos waiting which took them right to 21. Steinbrenner introduced his partners to the New York media. By 5:00 Dan was landing at Burke Lakefront Airport. "Stuff like this happened all the time. Amazing."
Other favorite memories involved going to Thistledown with Junior O'Malley. He met Junior in 1964. Dan would paste up the race results and every day about 3:00 this "big burly guy in a black cashmere coat with a racing form hanging out of the pocket would come bustling into the sports department… he's lean over the race wire "right under a sign that said no loitering."
Junior O'Malley became one of his dearest friends and godfather to one of his children. "He was one of the most degenerate horse players that anybody would ever know." Junior took Dan out to Thistledown and told him what horses to bet on for each of ten races. "At the end of the day, I had ten losers. Junior said 'Do you realize how hard that is?' Junior was enough of a character and a friend to warrant Chapter One in Dan's Book.
Sports Writers and Characters - Dan Coughlin and Dennis Lustig
Sports writers are different from other reporters and journalists because part of their job involves opinions and even favoritism. A news reporter should never let the reader know how (s)he feels about the subject he is reporting. But a sports writer, almost by definition, has to allow the emotion and personal feelings show. "It's like covering a concert. If you're the music writer, you are the expert on music, so … you absolutely say whether it was good or bad"
"Newspaper guys actually got along with the people we covered back then. For example, Doug Deiken became a great friend of mine." Doug and Dan got into a pranking contest and Dan learned a valuable lesson "don't ever get involved in a practical joke contest with someone who has time and money." When Maddy and Dan got back from their honeymoon Doug Deiken had installed mirrors over their entire ceiling and bells between the mattress and box springs.
Dan Coughlin and Doug Dieken removing mirrors from the ceiling
Another time, before he was married, he came back late at night from a West Coast trip. Joe Tait was with him. They stopped at Dan's house before Dan was to take Joe home. Dan was concerned because when he talked to his then-girlfriend, Maddy on the phone the day before she sounded different. It turns out she had come into his house to air it out and get it ready for Dan to come back. She discovered the big blow-up doll Deiken had put in his bed, complete with a note. "We weren't even engaged yet. She was just doing me a favor."
Joe Tait and Dan had to take it down to his car to get rid of it. They didn't want the neighbors to see it. Today, their efforts to sneak it in the car would have gone viral on You Tube in minutes.
He says it's not the same now. The environment is not the same. Players and sports writers used to get to know each other. A reporter would go off in a corner and conduct a private interview with a player and every reporter hoped to get the scoop or a story before anyone else. Coughlin points out that now a player talks for about 10 seconds to all of the media at one time and everybody gets exactly the same interview.
He says they also used to fly on the same plane together to away games, which was another time to get to know the players. The teams would send the paper a bill for airfare, hotel and meals at the end of the month. Bill Belichick was the first to change that. Bob Feller had noted something similar to the difference Dan referred to. He said baseball changed when they stopped taking the train. The camaraderie died.
Dan Coughlin, Chuck Webster, George Peters, Ed Chay,
Hal Lebovitz, Peppe Rocoo and Dick Zunt
Dan's views on the sale of the Browns and Art Modell are a little different than one might expect. The story first broke in Baltimore, but was not confirmed for several days. People in Cleveland as well as Baltimore were in disbelief. Saturday morning, Mike Snyder who was working early mornings on WTAM called Art Modell at his home in Waite Hill and woke him up. Half asleep, Art confirmed the sale saying "I had no other choice. I had to do it." That was the first confirmation.
Dan had heard from Modell's PR man that Art was moving to Baltimore, but didn't believe him. He thought he was misleading him for some reason. "As I write in the book, I knew that Art was in trouble. He said that the team was in no shape to be sold." Dan suggested that he tell people he was in bad financial shape but Art insisted that no one would believe him.
Dan agreed "That was true! People talked about how cheap Art Modell was, and he was anything but… Bill Belichick really took advantage of him. Wasted money left and right. The banks became worried about Modell's situation, but the man on the street wouldn't have believed a word of it."
One of the biggest financial problems Modell faced was the loss of the Indians, his prime tenant. "His prime tenant was stolen away from him with no compensation. That was an outrage. People didn't seem to grasp that!... Without the Indians he couldn't keep the stadium going." Dan sympathizes with Modell.
"The City of Cleveland had no right to whine about losing their team to another city. We stole the Cavs from Summit County to get all that tax money...We built a new arena for them...to steal them away from Summit County."
Dan's not sure if the city can financially keep three major sports teams. The Browns and Indians vie for the same sponsorship dollars. All of the teams rely heavily on the discretionary spending of the fans. If unemployment goes up, ticket sales go down. He reminds us that during the halcyon years of the Tribe in the mid to late 90's, the seats were full for every game, but there were no Browns in town to compete for the dollars.
The Indians fielded a winning team, got all the sponsorship dollars and had no competition from the Browns. It was the perfect storm of good fortune for Dick Jacobs. Poor Larry Dolan brought at the wrong time...the Browns came back"
Dan does not believe the Cleveland Browns deserve the support the fans give them. "The National Football League swindled this city. We built them a stadium that can only be used for 10 football games a year, with no roof on it. We can never have such things as the Big Ten Championship game that will go to Indianapolis with a dome. We can play maybe a couple women's soccer games but that's all we can do...We should be ashamed of ourselves because we took it and they gave us junk."
"I'm angry at the NFL. They screwed us and there is no remorse. And the fans here? We're supposed to have knowledgeable football fans in this town? They are so stupid. They spend their money on that junk down there."
Phil Dawson doesn't have to worry. Dan Coughlin kicking in 1965.
According to Dan, athletes no longer need the press. If they want a story to get out they can tweet it. They are already making a huge salary, with or without endorsements, so they are not as hungry to get coverage. Dan used to have the opportunity to get to know the players, even hear their life stories. He could get good interviews, good insight into the players by building a relationship with them. That's no longer possible today.
Even the Cavs players were not adverse to publicity and liked to build relationships with the press. Barry Clemens, who played for the Cavs in the 70's is now Dan's stock broker.
But he points out that it is not just the athlete that has changed. Video tape changed the way things were covered. "That came around in the 80's. Back in the days of film, film was expensive and could only be used once." They would be told by the editor to use 50 feet of film on a story. There were no second takes, no "do-overs". He also says there are too many reporters, because it is so easy now. They set up times for interviews, a mob of twenty guys [reporters] show up and some of the athletes come, most don't.
Jim Bomberg, Dan Coughlin and Bill Kirby
"Back in the days when I was Chuck Heaton's backup on the Browns back in the 60's and 70's I would go out to the practice at Case Western Reserve during the week. I would usually be the only guy there. I could stay and watch practice. One day a drunk stumbled through the gate walking down East 116th Street. Walked right into Brown's practice." The man was slurring his words and saying he could catch better than the Browns were doing.
Art Modell was there and was amused by the man so Modell challenged him. Frank Ryan was the Quarterback and Modell told Ryan to throw him a pass. Of course the man missed the catch and wandered off. "But this is the way things were then. People could look through the fence right at 116th Street and watch the practice, but nobody bothered to. Because you could do it. Because it was always there, nobody paid any attention to it. Nowadays things are so secretive."
Coughlin credits the openness to Art Modell. "Paul Brown would have never allowed that. He practiced at League Park back in the 50's. But Modell was a promoter and liked the publicity."
Dan says Lebron James never called a local reporter by their name. "It was as if these were people who didn't matter … he didn't know their name. Even those who began covering him when he was in high school." Any Lebron interview lasted 3-4 minutes, no more. "He did his duty and that was it." He was able to remember the names of the national reporters however. He described James as "the most pampered athlete we've ever known, but we had to put up with him."
Dan Coughlin doing a live shot at Cleveland Clinic re Lebron James
"After 45 years the only thing that is fun to do anymore is cover High School Football and High School Basketball." Channel 8 asked him to come back and cover high school football on Friday nights and he agreed because "It's fun!"
One of the more well-known stories Dan Coughlin tells is the day he tried out for Parma High School football - - at age 28!. He took the name Dan Jawarski with the team and the by-line was Gilbert Hopeful. The paper only said that there was a writer infiltrating the team as a player. They didn't announce what school he was at for almost a week.
Dan with Parma football team in 1967
"The hope was that every high school kid on a team would wonder if the new guy was the one writing for the papers. And it worked!" He told them he moved from Chicago and had played ball there - making All State. "I could pass for an old-looking player."
"I have enjoyed two great careers. I was there for the best years of newspapers and the best years of television." He rues the demise of newspapers and local television. "Local television now has a very tiny slice of the pie." He says he was a better writer than TV personality but "some people today don't even remember that I'm a writer first. "
Dan Coughlin at Channel 8 with Ralph Tarsitano, Wilma Smith,
Tim Taylor, Dick Goddard and others
Dan is currently on a press tour selling his book, Crazy with the Papers to Prove It. "I never realized how much work it was to sell a book. But it's fun." It is a marvelous collection of memories and stories of his 45 years. Read our review of Crazy with the papers to prove it
By popular request, Dan wrote another book, Pass the Nuts. Read our review of Pass the Nuts
Dan Coughlin signing books
After that, Dan wants to write a tongue-in-cheek religious book where he interviews God and asks the hard questions about the Old Testament. 'Was Jonah really swallowed by a whale and then got spit up on the beach and lived to tell about it?"
Dan Coughlin is a true Schanachie (Irish Story-teller). A good part of what makes his stories so interesting and so much fun to read and listen to is that they are a true accounting of his life as a fun-loving, kind man. He loves people and people love him. When his common-sense, down-to-earth approach to life collides with life's obstacles a good story is sure to ensue.
There is no façade to Dan Coughlin - he is exactly what he seems to be. And what he seems to be is a good-old fashioned nice guy with a story to tell and the expertise to make us want to hear it.
Dan Coughlin in 2011
Note: The plural of octopus is not, as you probably guessed, octopi. Octopus is a Greek word, not Latin. The Latin word is polypus. The plural of octopus is octopuses.
See photos of Dan Coughlin with Lou Holtz, Mario Andretti, Don King and more.
Profiled by Debbie Hanson - June 2011
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