Lynn remembered as a great coach, great man


Photo courtesy of ISU athletics

Steve Lynn, left, Jason Woods and Danny Harris talk during a track meet. Lynn helped coach Harris to three national championships and a silver medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics.

Alex Halsted

Steve Lynn turned to Danny Harris following a long workout and presented him with a time.

The next day, Harris would run the 400-meter hurdles against Edwin Moses, who had won 122 consecutive races in the event. Lynn had worked with Harris for three years to reach that point; he was the “architect” of Harris’ plan to beat Moses.

“Steve told me the day before I got on the plane, ‘Hey, you’re ready to run a 47.5, based on that workout that we did,'” Harris said. “He said to get on the plane, relax and go run fast.”

This wasn’t unusual for Lynn; he knew his runners well, and he knew their times, too. During his 14 years as head coach at Iowa State — part of 30 years total with the program — Lynn coached the Cyclones to 15 Big Eight Conference track and field titles and left his mark on numerous athletes.

Following a fall at his home Jan. 11, Lynn passed away last Wednesday from injuries sustained from the fall. He was 61.

Lynn was married to his wife, K’Lynn Kuehl Lynn, and had two children, Erica and Scott, both of whom he coached while at Iowa State. He left behind many friends, former athletes and an abundance of stories and memories.

Teaching his runners to be “winners”

As much as Lynn wanted to see his athletes perform well on the track, he was equally enamored with their success following their athletic careers and wanted them to do things right.

When Harris arrived as an 18-year-old freshman, Lynn pulled him aside prior to his first national championship.

“[He] let me know that I had a chance to win my first national championship, but when I won it, that I should always remember to be happy, but to celebrate with dignity,” Harris said. “At that point he wasn’t teaching me how to win, he was trying to teach me how to be a winner.”

The people who knew Lynn described him as the “world’s greatest storyteller” and said the coach had a way with words. He also had a way with people.

Coaching hundreds of athletes in his three decades at Iowa State, Lynn found a way to connect with each of them.

“You could be from Williston, N.D., or Kapsabet, Kenya,” said ISU track coach Corey Ihmels, who ran when Lynn was a coach. “He found a way to have something in common with you.”

That quality stretched beyond track and field. In 1996, when Mike Green started working in communications for the athletic department, Lynn took him into his circle.

Lynn, who was a caddy on the PGA Tour prior to his time at Iowa State, loved to golf, and so did Green. From that point on, the two, along with many other friends, spent countless weekends on the courses in Ames.

Green said Lynn often talked about his athletes, adding he never knew anyone Steve couldn’t get along with.

“They knew they could always turn to him once their careers were over,” Green said of Lynn’s athletes. “They knew they could always call him and he’d help them out and talk to them.

“He did that to the day he died.”

Around 1999, Lynn was there for Harris when his former runner was diagnosed with cancer. Without family around for Harris, Lynn and his wife were there to console him in his difficult time.

“Steve was there for me,” Harris said. “He drove from Ames three or four times a week to come see me in Des Moines.”

Building a path for success

When Harris crossed the line in 1987 to beat Moses and snap his record streak, the time next to his name read: 47.56. His coach was right on the mark.

Harris wasn’t surprised.

“It was what I expected,” Harris said. “When coach told me I’m ready to go run 47.5, I believed him. I trusted Steve. When he told me something I believed it. He never told me anything that wasn’t true or didn’t come to fruition.”

That is how the people who knew Lynn remember him.

“He was honest; he was real,” Ihmels said.

Harris’ most profound memory of Lynn has nothing to do with winning one of his three national championships or earning a silver medal in the Olympic games. Lynn was like a father to Harris, and his presence in Harris’ life went beyond any athletic accomplishment.

Harris returned to Iowa State and finished his degree in 2010. That’s when he heard the profound words from Lynn.

“The best thing that Steve ever told me was that he was proud of me for coming back,” Harris said with pause. “He was proud of me for coming back and finishing my degree.

“That meant more to me than all of the other stuff.”

Lynn is remembered by the people who knew him not simply for having 55 All-American sprinters and hurdlers, or for coaching four Olympian and World Championship runners.

Steve Lynn’s life stretched beyond athletics. It is for those things that those closest to Lynn cherished him.

“It wasn’t just about athletics, it was about him wanting us to be good people and to be successful in life,” Harris said. “That goes beyond coaching — that’s teaching and a lot of character — and that’s the man he was.

“He was a great coach and a great man.”