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Evashevski put Iowa on map

BY BRENDAN STILES | NOVEMBER 06, 2009 7:20 AM

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Last weekend, the state of Iowa lost an icon.

Forest Evashevski had one of the greatest impacts on the Hawkeyes being where they are today.

In nine years as the Iowa head football coach, he enjoyed success never before witnessed in Iowa City. He guided the Hawkeyes to two Big Ten championships during a three-year span between 1956-1958, a period former Iowa Sports Information Director George Wine calls the best ever for Hawkeye football.

Those conference titles led to the only two Rose Bowl wins in the history of the program, the first coming against Oregon State in 1957 and the other against California in 1959.

“After the first Rose Bowl victory, he really, in my view, owned the state,” said legendary Hawkeye voice Bob Brooks, who worked for KCRG radio in Cedar Rapids when Evashevski coached at Iowa. “He was the most important figure in the state, and of course, drew the most attention.
“He promoted. He used the press as a tool for his program, and most of us just kind of went along with it.”

As a coach, Evashevski implemented an offense called the Wing-T, which allowed the Hawkeyes to be more dynamic with their play-calling. That showed in the play of quarterbacks, such as Kenny Ploen and Randy Duncan, each of whom was the conference’s Most Valuable Player during the years they won their respective Big Ten titles.

In fact, in 1958, Duncan became the first of three Heisman runner-up signal-callers produced by Iowa.

The Hawkeyes also played what was considered “one-platoon football,” in which players played on both offense and defense.

But the one part of Evashevski’s legacy Wine believes doesn’t get enough recognition, though, was his role in not only integrating Iowa football, but Big Ten football.

Under Evashevski’s watch, Iowa landed a well-known trio from Steubenville, Ohio — Eddie Vincent, Frank Gilliam, and Calvin Jones. Jones went on to win the 1955 Outland Trophy and, like Nile Kinnick, had his number retired by Iowa.

The Hawkeyes also had a couple of phenomenal running backs during their Rose Bowl season in 1958 with Bob Jeter and Willie Fleming in the backfield. Wine considered both backs two of the best he had ever seen suit up in Black and Gold.

“He wasn’t the coach who brought in the first black [player], but like Hayden Fry, he had a lot to do with integrating college football,” Wine said.

After rushing for 194 yards on nine carries in the 1959 Rose Bowl, which is still an Iowa bowl game record, Jeter went on to play defensive back in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers, winning two Super Bowls under head coach Vince Lombardi.

During a 2007 interview with The Daily Iowan, Jeter, who died of a heart attack last November, credited some of his success in Green Bay to his college coach, saying Evashevski and Lombardi were very similar.

“Both of those two guys were the best coaches I ever played under,” Jeter said. “They taught me a lot about football, and the name of the game, and how to play the game. Playing for Evashevski got me ready for Coach Lombardi.”

Now in 2009, the current version of the Iowa Hawkeyes under head coach Kirk Ferentz are seeking to reach new heights — something Evashevski and his teams found themselves doing half a century ago.

“He was the foundation builder for future coaches who came here,” Brooks said.


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