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Wine Online: Remembering Evy
Former Iowa football coach was both 'brilliant,' 'intimidating'

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Nov. 3, 2009

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    IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Fifty years ago the most popular and recognizable person in our state was -- by far -- the University of Iowa football coach. Forest Evashevski, who died Oct. 30 at age 91, had just coached the Hawkeyes through three consecutive seasons that have never been equaled in school history.

    From 1956 through 1958 Iowa won two outright Big Ten championships, routed two Rose Bowl opponents, ranked among the nation's top five teams each year, and was awarded the 1958 national championship by the Football Writers of America.


    The Hawkeyes lost only one game each season, and their three-year record of 24-3-2 has been surpassed only three times in Big Ten history -- twice by Michigan and once by Ohio State. It was a glorious time for Iowa football, which had not won a Big Ten title since 1922 and had usually been buried in the second division during the intervening years.

    Evashevski became Iowa's head coach in 1952 when he was only 33 years old, but the result of one game his first season sent a message to the college football world. His winless Hawkeyes hosted a powerful Ohio State team that had scored 130 points against them the previous two years.

    The week of the game Evy (as he was called) installed an offense that spread his team across the field and had his quarterback call plays at the line of scrimmage. The final score was 8-0 and Iowa's victory was no fluke. Iowa controlled the ball and Ohio State gained only 42 yards rushing.

    "The Big Ten had to be made conscious that Iowa was in the league," said Evy in recalling the biggest upset in college football that season. He also drove home a not-so-subtle point that the conference was now dealing with a highly innovative and imaginative coach at Iowa.

    Competition in the Big Ten was not new to Evashevski, who played quarterback for a Michigan team that beat Nile Kinnick and the legendary 1939 Ironmen (Iowa's only loss that season). He was captain of the Wolverines his senior year and was awarded the Big Ten medal.

    After serving with the Navy during World War II, Evy went into coaching and got his first head job at the age of 30. He took Washington State from nowhere to title contention in the Pacific Coast Conference in three years and drew attention from other schools.

    Two of them were Indiana and Iowa, and both made him a job offer in 1952. After consultation with his mentor, Fritz Crisler at Michigan, he chose Iowa, where he reasoned statewide support would be easier to achieve.

    It only took two seasons for Evashevski's Hawkeyes to crack the Top Ten nationally. They finished No. 9 in 1953.

    During spring practice of 1956, his staff installed a new offense that would be called the Wing-T. It combined single-wing blocking with T-formation deception. "And it had an extra dimension" said Evy. "The quarterback, by virtue of the bootleg, could fake the pass or endanger the flank."

    And he had the ideal quarterback to fill this role in Kenny Ploen. A gifted athlete, Ploen triggered the Hawkeyes to their first Big Ten championship in 34 years and a 34-19 Rose Bowl win over Oregon State.





    In the early 1950s some Big Ten football teams had token racial integration, but there were few blacks playing in the league. Evashevski changed that by actively recruiting black players.

    Among his first was the "Stuebenville Trio" of Cal Jones, Eddie Vincent and Frank Gilliam. They came out of the same town in Ohio and all were exceptional players. Jones won the Outland Trophy and is one of only two Iowa football players to have his number retired (the other is Nile Kinnick).



    Through the next four years, Iowa was one of the most explosive and prolific teams in college football as Evy continued to refine the Wing-T. His 1958 team rewrote the Rose Bowl record book in routing California 38-12. Evashevski, not yet 40 years old, was considered the brightest young coach in college football and his Hawkeyes were among the elite programs.

    With rugged good looks, a muscular physique and a deep, penetrating voice, Evashevski had a powerful presence. He was a brilliant leader and a powerful motivator. He was both charming and intimidating.

    "He was like an E.F. Hutton commercial," recalls Jim Zabel, who broadcast Iowa football games on WHO radio. "When Evy entered a room and spoke, everyone listened. He was charismatic at a time when few people knew the meaning of the word."

    Randy Duncan, who was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy as quarterback of Iowa's 1958 team, puts it this way: "The players had enormous respect for Evy, but let's face it, we were scared to death of the man. He had us all intimidated."

    In the early 1950s some Big Ten football teams had token racial integration, but there were few blacks playing in the league. Evashevski changed that by actively recruiting black players.

    Among his first was the "Stuebenville Trio" of Cal Jones, Eddie Vincent and Frank Gilliam. They came out of the same town in Ohio and all were exceptional players. Jones won the Outland Trophy and is one of only two Iowa football players to have his number retired (the other is Nile Kinnick).

    The 1958 Hawkeyes featured two black running backs, Bob Jeter and Willie Fleming, who are among the best in school history. Jeter set a Rose Bowl rushing record of 190 yards that was only recently broken.

    After sharing the 1960 Big Ten championship with Minnesota, which represented the conference in the Rose Bowl, Evashevski quit coaching to become Iowa's full-time athletic director. He was only 42 at the time.

    He continued to direct Iowa's sports programs for another 10 years, then retired to Petosky, Mich., where he lived until his death. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000 and will be remembered as one of the greatest Iowa coaches of all time.

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