Dan Coughlin says he’s ‘retired,’ but has more tales to tell in latest book, ‘Just One More Story’

November 25, 2018

Dan Coughlin says he’s ‘retired,’ but has more tales to tell in latest book, ‘Just One More Story’

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Dan Coughlin, the ironman of Cleveland media, says he’s done. You can’t blame him after more than five decades covering sports of every sort in newspapers, radio, TV and books.

You also can’t believe him.

The 80-year-old is just a few weeks beyond a bout with pneumonia that “had me flat on my back in the hospital for eight days.”

“You know my story about that,” he says. “When an 80 year old guy goes in the hospital for eight days, the next thing you hear is ‘Visiting hours are 2-4 and 6-8.’ Not at the hospital, but at Chambers’s Funeral Home.”

Danny Chambers can relax. Coughlin is back on his feet and hawking his fourth book, fresh off Cleveland’s Gray & Company presses: “Just One More Story … A Last Batch of Stories About the Most Unusual, Eccentric and Outlandish People I’ve Known in Five Decades as a Sports Journalist.”

He hawked it on “Friday Night Touchdown” on Channel 8, where he’s been a regular for years covering high school football. He’s sitting for a podcast interview at Gunselman’s Tavern soon, though he’s not in the prime podcast demographic. He listened to one once, “Worthy of the Jersey” by Eric Flannery, head basketball coach at Coughlin’s alma mater, St. Edward High School.

He even showed up at his granddaughter’s kindergarten class (he has four children and 11 grandchildren) to read from “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” but he wore a shirt that read, “Ask me about my book.”

“You get three people on a street corner, I’ll give a speech if they buy a book,” he said.

That doesn’t exactly sound like a guy ready for the easy chair of retirement.

“This will last three months, and then it’s over,” he said.

But is it? He’s welcome back to the high school football show whenever he wants to drop in. And while the back cover of “Just One More Story” blares “Dan Coughlin swears this is his final collection of sports stories,” it’s not exactly a sworn affidavit. There’s no notary seal. And he’s still saying, “That’s a great story...that could make a chapter.”

“Just One More Story” is an apt title for Coughlin’s Cleveland media career, which began in 1964 at The Plain Dealer on the high school beat. Over the years he also covered college football, professional soccer and boxing. He was the backup writer for the Browns and Cavs, traveled with the Tribe for two years when he was on the baseball beat, and covered 17 Indianapolis 500 races.

He was there for some infamous moments, attempting to interview two teens who had jumped up on to the visitor’s dugout at Cleveland Municipal Stadium during 10-cent beer night in 1974. One of them slugged Coughlin in the jaw. The ninth-inning riot that ensued forced the Indians to forfeit the game.

He was the emcee in 1980 when Ted Stepien, former owner of the Cavs, pulled a stunt to celebrate Terminal Tower’s 50th birthday and drum up publicity for his professional softball team. Stepien tossed softballs off the building, and his pros were ready to catch them below. But two of the balls ended up pelting patrons, breaking one woman’s wrist.

In 1982, with Coughlin and wife Maddy growing a family (two of their four kids had been born), he took a generous offer to jump to the Cleveland Press. The paper folded three months after he started there, though he’d signed a contract and had the cushion of three-years of paychecks to figure out the next step.

He immediately did some morning radio sports reports on the bombastic Gary Dee’s morning show on WHK. Six months later, he was signed to replace Dee, whose ratings were good but whose over-the-top style was turning off advertisers. Coughlin turned off listeners. “I took their ratings from a seven-and-a-half to a one-and-a-half in six months,” he said. He was no longer the host and the format was changed from country music to rock’n’roll.

He got his foot in the door at Channel 8 when the station tapped him to do some reports for its “PM Magazine,” which had done a feature on him when he moved to The Press. The sound man recommended him for the gig. Three years later, as his last check from The Press was arriving, the station signed him to a three-year contract to cover sports on television, a career that lasted more than three decades.

He also wrote a sports column for the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram and the News Herald in Lake County.

In 2010, Coughlin produced his first book of stories with Gray & Company, “Crazy With the Papers to Prove It.” Later came “Pass the Nuts” and “Let’s Have Another.”

Coughlin always had one more story to write, to broadcast, or to deliver from a barstool after a long day on the sidelines.

And “Just One More Story” is chock full of them.

We learn that legendary baseball broadcaster Harry Caray, when he worked for the White Sox before his Cubs career, took a liking to Coughlin’s writing and invited him for a pre-game interview in 1979. What did he like about Coughlin’s writing? He topped every game story with what he calls “four lines of light verse.” For every game. For two years.

Stuff like:

“You cannot overemphasise

The artistry of that guy Wise.

He plugged the Tribe’s titanic leak

And snapped our ten-game losing streak.

“Every night I’d have to start working on the poem with two innings left in the game. How many words rhyme with lose?” Coughlin told me recently as we met for a burger and some banter at one of his favorite local haunts, Herb’s Tavern in Rocky River. “There’d be a rally in the top of the ninth and I’d be saying, ’Don’t tie, don’t tie, don’t win! It’s already written!”

Coughlin tells us that the Daniel Reuttiger, lionized in the film “Rudy,” was actually disliked by his Notre Dame teammates and that coach Dan Devine wasn’t won over by a player protest, but planned to get him into a game all along. Interesting factoid: Reuttiger, a lifelong Catholic became a Mormon last year.

Flash-in-the-pan Cleveland Indian Joe Charboneau wanted to be a movie star, Browns running back Greg Pruitt made $57,600 on the TV show Superstars and the journalism major wrote producers a compelling letter to get on to the show. Dino Lucarelli, former publicity director for the Indians and Browns, just couldn’t watch when Karl Wallenda would traverse Cleveland Stadium on a high-wire. Wallenda, he tells Coughlin, drank a “huge glass of vodka” before he went out on the wire.

Coughlin didn’t just stand there and take notes to get his stories. He regales us with in “Just One More Story” with tales of his participatory journalism, beginning with a foot race against 1932 Olympic gold medalist (and 1936 silver) Stella Walsh in 1967. She was 30 years older and gave him a 10-yard head start, nearly catching him on a 100-yard dash. She lined up again, this time starting even, and blew his doors off.

Coughlin suited up for practice with the Parma High School football team that same year, in the wake of George Plimpton’s “Paper Lion.” Coughlin was in his late twenties and had a baby face, but the kids caught on quick. He lasted through four practices. Coughlin swam with the girl’s swim team at the YWCA. And in 1996, while at Channel 8, he drove a stock car at Barberton Speedway. He flipped it, was rushed to the hospital, and then sent home with muscle relaxers. He’s still not over the back pain.

“I’m now hobbling around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame,” he writes to end the chapter, “Victor Hugo can write my obit.”

Hugo, having died in 1885, is not available.

No matter. There are many more Coughlin stories to share before that one is written.

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