History of College Football in Iowa, Part Four

Although the last half of the 1950s were some of the greatest seasons in Iowa Football history, things were not great in the athletic department. Head Coach Forest Evashevski had always said that he would not grow old in coaching, but his relationship with Athletic Director Paul Brechler helped to expedite his timeframe. There were rumors that the two had not seen eye to eye for several years, but it all boiled to the surface in 1959.

In October of that year, Brechler received a $2,000 raise from the Iowa Athletic Board of Regents for turning down the AD position at the University of Pittsburgh. The bump in pay raised his total compensation at the university to $18,500.

The reaction of Evashevski to Brechler's raise was quick and stunning. One day later, Evy "threw a blockbuster into the Iowa Football picture," as one newspaper described it, by announcing his resignation, to become effective at the culmination of his contract. The contract was effective until 1964. In addition, he released a statement in which he asked the Athletic Board if he could receive permission to look for a job at other universities.

Immediately the feud became the major story in the state. The "I" Club, by a majority vote, demanded Brechler's resignation because he did not support the coaches. Soon after, an effigy of Brechler was hung outside of Memorial Union on campus while an effigy of Evashevski was found in an elm tree outside of Schaeffer Hall. Both men publicly downplayed the problems for a few months after that until Brechler disclosed in February of 1960 that he had taken the job as the commissioner of the Skyline Conference. The clash between the coach and the director, which Evashevski would later describe as "a complete destruction of confidence in each other," became secondary to the new problem of determining Brechler's successor. After many meetings in the summer, the athletic board agreed to name Evy as the new athletic director if he would agree to coach only one more season. The coach would also get to recommend a coach as his successor on the sidelines. In one of the strangest moves ever made in the history of Iowa Football, the university negotiated with one of the best coaches in school history to stop coaching!

In his last season on the Iowa sidelines, Evashevski's Hawks did not disappoint. The only loss of the season was 27-10 at Minnesota when Iowa went into the game as the No. 1 team in the nation and Minnesota No. 2. The next week Purdue upset Minnesota and Iowa knocked off Ohio State in Evy's last game at Iowa Stadium as head coach. Iowa beat Notre Dame in the season finale and finished No. 2 nationally in the UPI poll and No. 3 in the AP. Minnesota was voted as the national champ, although the Gophers subsequently lost to Washington in the Rose Bowl. In those days the title was decided at the end of the regular season.

Evy's handpicked successor for the 1961 season was Jerry Burns. The 33-year-old Burns had been on the Iowa football staff since 1954, and was known as one of the better offensive minds in college football. However, he had no head coaching experience at the college level, and had spent most of his time on the Iowa staff coaching the offensive backfield. His lack of a resume did not bother many national pollsters as the Hawks were the preseason No. 1 choice in the preseason poll issued by the Associated Press. Like most seasons, the hype surrounding the Hawkeyes before the 1961 season had more to do with the success of the previous campaign. Only eight starters returned in 1961.

Although the Hawks were inexperienced in 1961, they did return all-American halfback Larry Ferguson and quarterback Wilburn Hollis. The team started off the season with a 4-0 record against tough competition, but the wheels started to fall off right from the opening game. Ferguson was lost for the season with torn knee ligaments in the 28-7 win over California, and Hollis broke his wrist in a dramatic 35-34 win over USC. They went on to impressively beat Indiana and Wisconsin before losing the last four conference games. The preseason No. 1 avoided their first losing season since 1952 by hammering Notre Dame, 42-21 to finish 5-4. They forced 11 turnovers that day to supposedly give Coach Burns and the Hawkeyes some momentum heading into 1962. 1962 was even a stranger season than the previous one. The Hawks pulled a rarity by beating both Ohio State and Michigan in the same season, yet finished only 4-5. 1963 was another average season as Burns' squad was 3-3-2. The gridiron eleven started off 3-0 in 1964, but lost the last six games to finish the season.

The Burns era had been viewed as underachieving heading into the 1965 season, but that year proved to be one of the most disappointing seasons in school history. Despite the mediocre years in the Burns era, Playboy magazine picked Iowa as its preseason No. 1 team in the country and predicted the team would finish with a 9-1 record. It seemed crazy to predict a team that high that finished 3-6 the previous year, but several of the losses were by a close margin. In addition, the team had Gary Snook, one of the nation's top passers in 1964; Karl Noonan, one of the top receivers in the country; John Niland, a preseason All-American at offensive guard; a veteran defensive unit and several highly rated sophomores.

The Playboy prediction was completely wrong as the Hawks finished 1-9. The team struggled to score points, and the fan base turned on the players. In particular, the fans turned on Snook in the Minnesota game in midseason. Much like what was directed towards Kyle McCann in the 2001 Michigan game, Snook and the Iowa Coaches were booed unmercifully in the fourth quarter. Besides the revulsion felt by Burns, the rest of the coaching staff, and the media in the state, Gopher coach Murray Warmath told reporters, "That was the most sickening sound I've ever heard in any stadium."

Despite having great players like Larry Ferguson, Wally Hilgenberg, Mike Reilly, and others mentioned above, Jerry Burns was fired after the 1965 season after he posted his fourth non-winning season in five years. He would go on to have success in the NFL as an assistant coach for the World Champion Green Bay Packers and those very good Minnesota Vikings teams under Bud Grant. Burns would get his chance to become a head coach again in the 1980s as he took over the Vikings, but the same inconsistencies and problems he had in Iowa showed up again with the Vikings. He was fired and replaced by former Hawkeye running back Dennis Green in 1992.

While the Iowa program was on the decline in the 1960s, Ron Schipper was elevating Central Football into a small college powerhouse. Schipper replaced longtime coach Richard Tysseling in 1961, and immediately turned the Dutchmen into an Iowa Conference power. In his first seven years his teams finished 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, 1st (tie), 1st, 1st, and 1st. Unlike other football programs that have a good decade of football before declining, Central did not slide after the 1960s. The program went on to win 21 Iowa Conference titles between 1961 and 2001, and even claimed the Division III National title in 1974. In all, the Dutch have qualified for post-season play 17 times. Never known as a great passing team, Central found success with hard-nosed defense and a strong running attack on offense. More than anything, the teams were tough and did not make mistakes. It was football in a very high form.

Parsons College also played football at a very high level in the early 1960s as they tied for the league title in 1960 and won it outright in 1961 and 1962. Edsel Schweizer and Luther College still continued to be a power after becoming very strong in the 1950s. The Luther Norsemen tied for the league crown with Parsons in 1960, and won the league outright in 1963, 1970, and 1971. The Norse finished on top in 1971 even though Central had the great Vern Den Herder playing defensive end. Den Herder won the league MVP and would go on to star for the Miami Dolphins.

The late 60s and most of the 70s were some of the least successful seasons in Iowa Football history. Coach Ray Nagel had an exciting football team in 1968 that could run the ball and score points at a high level, but they also gave up lots of points in exciting shootouts during a season that resulted in a 5-5 record. Despite the mediocre team record, star RB Ed Podolak made the year one to remember with his incredible performances. However, that was the last year that most Hawk fans care to remember until Hayden Fry was hired to take over the program in 1979 as the decade of the 70s saw four different head coaches and seven Iowa teams with poor records.

Partly because of Iowa's struggles and partly because of having good coaches, Iowa State had their best decade in school history in the 1970s. They never won a conference title or a bowl game, but they were a competitive team that had above average records in several seasons. Johnny Majors was the head coach at the beginning of the decade, and he helped to build the ISU program before leaving to build great programs at Pittsburgh and Tennessee. Majors' 1976 Pittsburgh team featured Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett and won the National Championship. Usually losing a coach like Majors would destroy a program like Iowa State, but Earle Bruce also proved to be a very good coach. Bruce took over in 1973, and by 1976 had turned the ISU program into maybe the 4th or 5th best program in the top-heavy Big Eight. His 1976 team was perhaps his best at ISU as they went 8-3 and finished 18th in the final Associated Press rankings. The team lost three of the four games against good teams on the schedule, but they did beat Nebraska for the first time since 1960. However, for having perhaps the best season in school history, the team was not chosen for post-season play as Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, and Colorado were chosen instead.

In 1977 and 1978 Iowa State did qualify for bowl games after finishing in the middle of the Big Eight standings, but they lost both games. Even so, the 1976-1978 seasons are still considered the most successful period in school football history. Coach Bruce left after the 1978 season to replace the fired Woody Hayes at Ohio State, and had instant success in directing the Buckeyes to the 1979 Big Ten title. He continued at the helm in Columbus until being fired in 1987 after losing in the last seconds to Iowa on a Chuck Hartlieb to Marv Cook TD pass.

Nationally people were shocked that Bruce was fired since he won multiple Big Ten titles and beat rival Michigan on fairly regular basis, but he was fired because the team did not seem to be competing enough for national titles and winning Rose Bowl games. His successor, John Cooper, won more games, but did not win conference titles or beat Michigan with near the same frequency that Bruce did. Cooper was then fired after the 2000 season for not beating Michigan or winning bowl games on a fairly regular basis. Neither coach could live up to the supposed expectations that legendary coach Woody Hayes created in Columbus. For the last five years of his career, Hayes could not live up them either.

Hawkeye Insider Top Stories