One thing you’ll never hear is talk about the good old days of Iowa football, unless it goes all the way back to the brief and bright Forest Evashevski era.
Hawkeye football went into deep hibernation after Evashevski retired at just 42 years of age following the 1960 season. Not until Hayden Fry arrived from Texas in 1979 with his “Scratch Where it Itches” mantra did Iowa wipe the sleep out of its eyes.
So picking the 25 best Iowa football victories of the past 50 seasons, a project that kicks off today, has a modern flavor. The games I picked are a combination of comebacks, program-changers and duels between ranked teams.
The games lean heavily to the Fry-Kirk Ferentz side of the ledger, which is no surprise. They have coached the Hawkeyes for 35 of the 50 years covered in the series, and brought winning football back to Iowa.
In the first 15 years of the 50-year window – covering coaches Jerry Burns, Ray Nagel, Frank Lauterbur and Bob Commings – Iowa won three games or less 11 times. There were no winning seasons and no bowl games. The Hawkeyes averaged 2.8 victories over those 15 seasons.
Over the last 35 years, Iowa has had 23 winning seasons, 25 bowl berths and averaged 7.7 victories per season. Fry, who inherited a streak of 17 consecutive non-winning seasons, saw that grow to 19 before a breakthrough season in 1981.
The Hawkeyes upset Nebraska in that season opener at Kinnick Stadium, became the Big Ten co-champions behind consensus all-Americans in defensive end Andre Tippett and punter Reggie Roby, went to the Rose Bowl and finished with an 8-4 record.
That kicked off eight straight winning seasons and bowl appearances under Fry. Six of those teams finished the season ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Before Fry arrived, Iowa hadn’t finished a season in the AP Top 25 since Evashevski’s final team in 1960 was No. 2. Ten of Fry’s 20 teams ended the season in the AP Top 25.
Ferentz, Iowa’s offensive line coach for six of those 10 teams, replaced Fry in 1999. Five Ferentz teams have finished the season in the AP Top 25, and four of those landed in the top 10.
So when you consider the success of Fry and Ferentz, it’s easy to see why they dominate the 25 games selected. Of those games, 12 of them came under Fry, and nine under Ferentz. Three more came under Commings and one under Burns.
As this list is unveiled daily, starting today and running through the Aug. 30 season opener against Northern Iowa, feel free to disagree. And be glad your generation will have some good old days to talk about.
Rick Brown, a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year, covers Hawkeye football and basketball for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football