Lately, I've found myself over at Sports Reference's college football site quite a bit, looking at Iowa's past results throughout history. After going back through the Ferentz and Fry years, I found myself gravitating to the late 1950's (you know, since the 60's and 70's were such a clusterfuck) and the fantastic Iowa teams led by none other than Forest Evashevski.
Evy, as most people called him, had an interesting career at Iowa. He coached a total of nine years for the Hawkeyes. The last five of which, are some of the greatest football Iowa has ever played. In the late 1950's, Evy (known for his stubborn ways) and Iowa's Athletic Director Paul Brechler had a public feud. Brechler left that year to be the commissioner of the Skyline Conference, and Evy tried to lead the Hawkeyes to more glory from above in 1961. As most Hawkeye fans know, however, Evy was a better coach than he was an AD. After he left the coaching seat, Iowa went into a tailspin that would take decades to correct.
So, to review very briefly: 1) Evy was not the most pleasant man in the world. 2) He was a terrible Athletic Director. But, this post isn't about either of those. Instead, this post is about his nine year career as the head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes, and just how damn good he was at his job.
Let's start off by looking at the stat that coaches are most judged by. Wins.
It's pretty clear that it took Evashevski a couple years to build the program up. The first four years saw mediocre results, at best. Over the final five years, though, he made Iowa a powerhouse. Since the schedule was shorter back then, compared to how many games teams play now a days. Let's look at win percentage.
We get the same graph again, only this time we can see the percentage of games that Evy's teams won every year. First off, I calculate win percentage for this post slightly different, than if you were to go and look at Sports Reference's website. They take out the ties, in what they call their Win-Loss%. I want to know what percentage of games on their schedule Evy's teams won, so I include the tie games in the denominator. That is why I call what I am calculating, Win %, and not Win-Loss %.
Anyway, in his first four years as coach, Evy's teams peaked at winning 55.6% of their games. He did that twice. Over his last five seasons, Evy's worst season matched the peak of his first four seasons. In his other four seasons, Evy won 90%, 88.9%, 80%, and 77.8% of his games.
If we divide his career pretty closely down the middle, we can pretty much categorize Evy's career into two era's: 1) The Rebuilding (1952-1955) and 2) The Domination (1956-1960). I want to discuss these two era's separately, and at the end, combine them to look at Evashevski's career at Iowa, as a whole.
When Evy took over the coaching job at Iowa in 1952, the Hawkeyes had been pretty irrelevant for the last decade. In fact, 1942 and 1946 were the only times that Iowa was over .500 in the past ten years. Both teams were led by Eddie Anderson (1942 in his first tenure at Iowa, and 1946 in his second tenure at Iowa), who was somewhat successful in his career at Iowa (he was mostly known for the 1939 Iron Men team with Nile Kinnick). However, the Hawkeyes hadn't really had a truly great coach since Howard Jones was at the helm from 1916-1923. So, Evy was inheriting a rebuilding project.
1952 was the classic first season on the job, going 2-7. 1953 and 1954 looked promising, as Iowa cracked .500 both years. But, 1955 didn't look like a step in the right direction.
Now that we've seen the results, how did Evy's teams get those results?
The chart above, shows how good Evy's team's were at putting points on the board and keeping them off the board, relative to the conference average. 100 is the B1G average, as is indicated by the blue line. A score of 105 is 5% above average, 95 is 5% below average, and so forth.
The first year, unsurprisingly, was bad. Iowa scored 30% less points per game than the B1G average, and they were 25% worse at keeping points off the board. After 1952, however, Evy's offenses were above average every year. In 1953, the team was 11% above average in points per game, and 37% above average in points allowed per game. That was the only season in his first four, where his offense and defense were both above average.
That 1953 team was very good. Unfortunately, it was a team that was snakebit in close games. Evy's team was 1-2-1 in games decided by 8 points or less. Their only close win was a 19-13 win over Indiana. Their two close losses were to Michigan (13-14) and Wisconsin (6-10). The tie came in the infamous "Fainting Irish" game against Notre Dame, that ended in a 14-14 score. Evy's team was clearly above average, and probably should have finished with a better record that year.
Over his first four years, Evy finished with a record of 15-19-2 (.417 Win%). That was only good enough for the eighth best Win% in the conference over those four years. His conference record of 11-14-1 (.423) was seventh best in the conference.
As for scoring, over those four years, Evy's teams were 2% above average in points per game (18.5 ppg to B1G averge of 18.1), while finishing 7% below average at keeping points off the board (17.4 ppga to B1G average of 16.2). Evy's offenses were above average, but everything else was lacking in his first four years at Iowa (aside, from the 1953 season). The next five years, though, would be different. And in a good way.
Looks a bit different than the one from 1952-1955 doesn't it? 1956 was the year that Evy rolled out the wing-T offense, and started running roughshod over college football. Let's see how good these teams were.
Also quite a bit different than the one from 1952-1955. The wing-T offense made Evy's already above average offenses, soar to new heights. The first year of the wing-T just happened to be the worst year for points per game in The Domination era. They were only 27% above conference average in this category. Every other year they were at least 40% above average. The defenses were also above average every season in this era, with the 1958 defense being the worst, at 4% above average. Evy's team's were very good at keeping points off the board, but they were clearly superior on the offensive side of the ball.
The 1959 team was very similar to Evy's 1953 team, in that they had problems in close games. They were 0-3 in games decided by less than 8 points. They lost to Northwestern (10-14), Purdue (7-14), and Notre Dame (19-20). Iowa was also 1-1 in games decided by exactly 9 points. They beat Ohio State (16-7) and lost to Wisconsin (16-25). They obliterated their opponents in the other four games that weren't as close, outscoring California, Michigan State, Kansas State, and Minnesota 165-20 (Which, skewed their points per game total that year. Math!).
1960 may have been the most impressive team of this era (1958 isn't far behind), considering they played such a hellish schedule. Every one of Iowa's opponents, except Notre Dame, was ranked in the polls when they faced Iowa. Their only loss was to #3 ranked Minnesota, who finished with the same 8-1 record as Iowa, but represented the B1G in the Rose Bowl, where they lost 7-17 to Washington. That Minnesota team was crowned National Champions, because the final polls were voted on before the bowl games (WTF!?!?). Anyways, moving away from the Gophers cheap National Championship that year. Iowa's 8 wins came against teams that ranged from #19 to #3 in the polls. They finished the 1960 season #3 in the polls, averaging 26 points per game and allowing 12.
Over this five year period, Evy was simply the best in the conference. He was even better than the legendary Woody Hayes. Iowa was first in the conference with a record of 37-8-2 (.787 Win%) and a conference record of 22-7-1 (.733 Win%) from 1956-1960. Woody Hayes' Ohio State was second with a record of 31-12-3 (.674 Win%). Iowa's offense was the most explosive in the conference. Their 26 points per game was 46% better than the B1G average of 17.9. The next closest was Michigan State who averaged 21.4 points per game (only 20% above average).
As we know, Evy's defenses were good, but not on the same level as his offenses. Over these five seasons, Evy's teams were second in the conference at keeping points off the board. They averaged 11.7 points allowed per game, which was 21% better than the B1G average of 14.7. They were tied with Michigan State in this category. Both teams trailed only Hayes' Buckeyes, who allowed 11.1 points per game (25% better than average).
Evy had Iowa on top of the conference, and had made them one of college football's powerhouses. He took Iowa to two Rose Bowls and won them both handily. He just missed out on the Rose Bowl in the 1960 season, as Minnesota was Iowa's only loss, and they got the call to Pasadena. Four of these 5 teams finished in the AP Top 10: 1956- #3 1957- #6 1958- #2 1960- #3. The 1958 team was even crowned National Champions by the Football Writers Association of America, but finished second in the Associated Press and United Press polls. Iowa was an elite team over these five years, and it was all thanks to Evy.
We've seen that the first four years of his tenure were pretty mediocre. We've also seen that the last five years as Iowa's coach, were simply some of the best football Iowa has ever played. Well, how about when you combine them?
Evy's final record at Iowa was 52-27-4. His .627 Win% was third overall, over those nine years. He only finished behind Ohio State (.723 Win%) and Michigan (.676 Win %). He finished second in conference Win %, though. As his .589 Win % (33-21-2) was slightly better than Michigan's .583 Win % and only behind Ohio State's .721 Win %.
His offenses, of course, were the best in the B1G over that nine year span. In eight of his nine seasons, Evy was above average in this category. In a time where the B1G average was about 18 points per game, Evy's teams averaged 22.7. That was good for 27% above average. The next best team was Michigan State at 22.1, or 23% above average.
His defenses weren't too shabby either, as his teams were above average in points per game in six out of his nine seasons as coach. Iowa's teams gave up 14.2 points per game over his career, while the B1G allowed an average of 15.4 per game. Overall, Evy's team was tied with Michigan for third over this time period, coming in at 8% above average. Ohio State and Michigan State were number one (24% above average) and Purdue came in at second (9% above average).
Evy was definitely a polarizing person. If you were an Iowa fan, you loved him. If you were anybody else, you probably hated him. From the stories of him fighting with Alex Karras to his public feud with Paul Brechler, there is plenty of evidence to support this claim. He also wasn't a very good Athletic Director. However, when it came to coaching, he knew what he was doing. In 1953, his team just couldn't win the close games. Otherwise, he may have started his domination of college football before 1956. When he brought out the wing-T in 1956, though, it was go time. His defenses were good, but his offenses were high octane, and could put points on the board with the best of him. In a time where the norm was 21 points per game, Iowa and the wing-T put up 26.
And that's why I think it's important to separate the man from the coach. Because the man may not have been liked by everybody, but the coach was a genius, and was adored by all Iowa fans. Which is why he is, without a doubt, one the greatest coaches to ever roam the sidelines of Iowa Stadium.
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