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Iowa coaching icon dies over weekend

BY BRENDAN STILES | NOVEMBER 02, 2009 7:20 AM

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Legendary Iowa head football coach Forest Evashevski, who led the Hawkeyes to their only two Rose Bowl victories, died Oct. 30 at his home in Michigan.

He was 91.

His death came about two weeks after officials revealed he had been battling liver cancer, and his passing was confirmed by UI officials hours after the Hawkeyes’ 42-24 victory over Indiana over the weekend.

“He was a great speaker and had a quick wit,” said Jim Evashevski, his second-oldest son. “I think that all went hand-in-hand with being a good coach.”

Evashevski came to Iowa after a two-year head-coach stint at Washington State. His football résumé included playing at Michigan, where he majored in both sociology and psychology, and coaching stints as an assistant at both Syracuse and Michigan State.

During his nine-year head-coach tenure in Iowa City, he won 52 games and guided the Hawkeyes to two Big Ten championship seasons in 1956 and 1958. The two seasons ended with trips to the Rose Bowl — the only two Rose Bowl victories in the program’s history. When his coaching career ended, he became Iowa’s full-time athletics director, a post he held for 10 years.

But there was more to Evashevski then what people saw on the sidelines. Off the gridiron, he was a loving father of seven and did everything he could to allow his children to lead normal lives outside of the spotlight.

Evashevski spent free time with his family at their cottage in northern Michigan. There, Jim Evashevski said, he hunted, fished, and played golf with his kids.

Jim Evashevski recalled one fishing trip he and his older brother Forest “Frosty” Evashevski, Jr., took with their father when he was in eighth grade to northern Canada. He said they caught all assortments of fish, such as lake trout, northern pike, and walleye.

“That was quite an experience,” Jim Evashevski said. “We caught more fish than we ever had in our lives up there. It was a lot of fun.”

Jim Evashevski recounted his father’s sense of humor — something many who knew Forest Evashevski would remember.

“I think his players just liked him as a person, he said. “He went to bat for them.”

Bill Happel Sr. played for Coach Evashevski at Iowa during the Hawkeyes’ 1956 campaign, and after his playing career, he became the team’s freshman coach in the era when freshmen weren’t eligible to play on the varsity team.

Happel was hired by Forest Evashevski at 21, which he said made him the youngest major college football coach at the time.

“I looked at Evy as a man who gave me a chance to come to Iowa and participate on his football team,” Happel said. “I really thought he was a master psychologist, and he was able to get the team up at any time and just press the right buttons.”

Former assistant Jerry Burns had learned about Forest Evashevski’s death Sunday afternoon. Burns, who succeeded Evashevski as Iowa’s head coach in 1961 after serving as an aide for seven years, spoke of Evashevski’s intelligence, toughness, and fairness.

“He had excellent player control and was a very excellent coach — offense, defense, the entire game,” Burns said. “He had an excellent life, and I’m just sorry he passed away and hope everything went well in his final days.”

The legacy of Forest Evashevski will live on in Iowa City, just like that of future head coaches Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz. Jim Evashevski briefly summed up how he and the Evashevski family would want those who didn’t know his father well in one sentence.

“He was a dynamic and charismatic coach who put his kids and family first,” Jim Evashevski said.


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