When we think of great head coaches in Iowa Hawkeye history, perhaps the biggest name we think of is Hayden Fry. But there have been other coaches that have taken Iowa to bigger and better places. One, in particular, is Forest Evashevski. Here is the story of this remarkable former Iowa Hawkeye coach and athletic director.
Forest Evashevski was born February 18th, 1918 in Detroit, Michigan. Not a lot has been written about his childhood, but we know that he was good at several sports in high school but was not allowed to play football until after his freshman year.
Evashevski was a smallish kid when he first tried to play football but ended up getting bigger and eventually joined his school’s varsity team playing linebacker and tackle. He was a pretty good player back in his time but had some issues staying healthy. In fact, he suffered from the effects of head trauma because he spent some time in the hospital after making a tackle in a game. He needed an operation to help with a cerebral hemorrhage because of playing the game.
His days of playing football were not over, however. He went to the University of Michigan and played quarterback. Evashevski’s play quarterback was not like that of a typical quarterback today. Teams ran the ball much more back then so he was asked to block and he blocked very well. Evashevski was the lead blocker for Michigan’s Heisman Trophy-winning running back Tom Harmon. He also played linebacker and played well at that position. Evashevski was quite a character and was a good student to boot.
Following football, he had planned to go to law school, but the Second World War started, and he was pressed into service. Upon his return from the war, Evashevski decided that he wanted to try law school again but was called into action as a coach by Clarence Munn. His coaching career had begun.
Evashevski was an assistant coach at Michigan State and then moved on to Washington State University. He helped improve the Cougars and made them winners after 20 years of losing.
After narrowly missing out Evashevski, the Iowa Hawkeyes landed him and made him the 19th head coach in their long history. That happened in 1952. He took over an Iowa team that did not have a history of winning. In the sixteen seasons, before he Evashevski got to Iowa, they had only three winning seasons and hadn’t won the Big Ten title in about thirty years. Something had to change and Evashevski was the guy to change it.
Early on in his career at Iowa, he was the first coach to upset Ohio State in what was then known as Iowa Stadium. The Buckeyes were heavily favored in their first visit to the stadium but Evashevski had his boys ready. They ended up upsetting Ohio State 8-0. Sound familiar? He had brought a winning attitude to Iowa and the players and fans loved him for it.
He also brought a fighting spirit to the team and wasn’t afraid to exhibit that spirit himself and with his players. Evashevski almost got into a fight with some fans at one point because of what he was saying. A week after that, following a game against Illinois which saw fighting and ejections, an Illini player punched an Iowa fan and broke his jaw. As a result, games between the two teams were not allowed to play one another for 15 years.
Aside from the attitude and spirit that Evashevski brought, the Hawkeyes started to become winners. In 1953, there was the famous game between number one ranked Notre Dame that had some controversy. Iowa led the game at the end of both halves, but Notre Dame players went down with “injuries” to help stop the clock to give the Notre Dame offense some time to get together and get a play called. Pure speculation, of course, but that’s what it appeared like according to first-hand accounts.
The game ended up being a 14-14 tie. Iowa may have won had the current rules for injuries been put in place.
Thanks to the tie, Iowa moved up further in the rankings as they ended the 1953 season in ninth place. The 1954 season saw Iowa go 5-4. The Hawks took a step backward in 1955 going 3-5-1. Iowa had a shot to go the Rose Bowl in 1956 but first had to first defeat Minnesota then Ohio State to win the Big Ten title. Evashevski had an interesting way of firing his team up for that Minnesota game, one that we will cover in a future article.
Iowa beat Minnesota and the beat the Buckeyes 6-0. The Rose Bowl came next and they played Oregon State whom they defeated 35-19.
The Hawks had a strong season in 1957 starting it off 5-0. They ended up tying Evashevki’s college team, the Michigan Wolverines and then faced Ohio State again. The Hawkeyes were not able to get the best of OSU however. The loss was Iowa’s only loss of the year and they finished the season with a 7-1 record and were ranked sixth in the country in the polls.
Iowa closed out the 1958 season with a 7-1-1 record and a ranking of number two.
Things started to go downhill for Iowa and Evashevski a little in 1959. The Hawks earned a 5-4 record and weren’t playing as well as they had been. Add to that the fact that he and Paul Brechler, Iowa’s athletic director were at odds with one another for several seasons, this meant trouble. This went on until Brechler departed. It was key because Evashevski would later move into Brechler’s role after he retired from coaching. But he had one more season to coach.
Evashevski’s final season as the Iowa Hawkeyes’ football coach saw him lead the team to an 8-1 record. What may have been most important was that they were able to defeat Ohio State and share the Big Ten title with Minnesota. Iowa also came in second in the AP poll that year.
Evashevski moved on to his role as athletic director after that season. During his time with the Hawkeyes, he had compiled a 52-27-4 record and were in the AP’s top ten five times. They captured two Rose Bowl berths and three Big Ten Titles.
Jerry Burns took over as his replacement as coach. The Hawks didn’t finish with a strong record, gaining just five wins with four losses. In fact, it would be the last time the Hawkeyes would have a winning record for the next 20 seasons. The dark ages of Hawkeye football had begun.
Evashevski, after much discord and controversy, was fired from his post as athletic director. He got into sports broadcasting for a little while but withdrew from public life. Evashevski passed away on October 30, 2009. The school recognized his passing by having decals put on the player’s helmets that read “EVY.”
He was put in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame before that in 1989.