Sunday, November 1, 2009

Forest Evashevski, Football Coach

Forest Evashevski came to Iowa in the 1950s with a Michigan background and the Delaware winged-T offense.

He took over a downtrodden program whose last great memory was the 1939 season when Nile Kinnick was an all-American.

Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan, in one order or another, were the top dogs in the Big Ten back then. Evy beat all three of them in his first two seasons as head coach of the Hawkeyes.

Woody Hayes, the Ohio State coach, should have known what was coming when Evy snatched three of the best Ohio high school stars, including an end named Jim Gibbons, in his very first season of recruiting. Gibbons caught the game-winning touchdown pass in Iowa's upset victory over an OSU team that had national championship aspirations.

Two years later two of Iowa's most promising recruits were suspended after two young women who were not students filed sexual assault charges against them. Ultimnately the charges were dismissed when defense lawyers produced records of previous convictions of the complainants on prostitution charges -- in Columbus, OH.

I was a young sportswriter when Evashevski, the newly-hired Hawkeye coach, made his first speaking visit to eastern Iowa. Thinking to be helpful, I told him about a high school freshman the local folk thought would blossom into a very special player. "I've been in touch with Kenny's Dad," Evy replied. "I think he'll play at Iowa some day."

Play indeed. Kenneth Allen Ploen led Iowa to the Rose Bowl, where he was the most valuable player in a one-sided victory over Oregon State.

Evashevski seemed to be a step ahead of everybody -- including the fiery-tempered Hayes. Twice Evy outfoxed Hayes by installing entirely new offensive and defensive schemes just for the Ohio State game.

I learned of Forest Evashevski's death, at age 91, on the same day that I watched an Iowa football team remain undefeated through nine games by making an improbable comeback to beat Indiana 42-24.

Kirk Ferentz, who coaches the Hawkeyes these days, attributed his team's success to its "mental toughness."

Surely Evy was smiling in his new grave.

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