The Iowa City West graduate was a longtime college football coach — including stints with the Hawkeyes and Cyclones. Wochit
Bobby Elliott was a communicator. He was a man who knew how to talk to people because he understood there was worth in every human he met. Players trusted him. Coaches liked working with him. And I learned strong life lessons while only spending one year around him.
Coach Elliott came to Iowa State in early 2000. Dan McCarney just lost his young defensive backs coach, Paul Rhoads, who became the defensive coordinator for the Pitt Panthers. Rhoads was an intense and respected young coach coming up in the ranks.
I was entering my fifth and final season and had one goal in mind: Get this team to a bowl game.
Growing up in eastern Iowa, I had heard Bobby Elliott’s name regularly as a very popular member of Hayden Fry’s Hawkeyes staff. His dad, Bump, had also been the athletics director at Iowa. He had hired some great coaches in his tenure.
The "Elliott" name was a well-known commodity in the state.
There were rumors that when Fry retired, Elliott would be a popular choice as the next Iowa head coach. Either he or Bob Stoops were assumed to be favorites for that job.
When Hayden finally did step down after the 1998 season, Stoops passed over Iowa for the Sooners of Oklahoma. Elliott wasn’t even given an interview and for good reason.
He was on his recovery from an intense battle with ... CANCER?!?!
Even though he was nothing close to being back to full strength, Elliott was hired by his old friend Dan McCarney to replace Rhoads. I believe I first met Coach Elliott at a early-morning conditioning session. It was an odd sight for me: I had seen Elliott wearing only Hawkeye gear during my youth.
At some point that spring of 2000, I became closer to Coach Elliott. He used to chat with me after practice or in the hallway. Of course, I’d ask about old Hawkeye players like Chuck Long or Matt Rodgers, wondering what they were like to coach. Those conversations turned into aspects of this Cyclone team and its coaching staff and how we were going to win that year.
Once the season started, we met at the old Happy Joe's on Duff Avenue in Ames for lunch almost every Friday. I still remember we would both order buffets and he’d only plop $5 onto the countertop. That second buffet was my responsibility.
Over taco pizza and root beer, we would talk for up to two hours about the team. We’d chat about the challenges of the different personalities in the locker room and on the coaching staff. He had known Coach Mac for decades and his insight into the way Mac motivated others and what motivated Mac was invaluable.
Coach Elliott was a communicator. He had the ability to quickly earn trust with almost anyone he met. He liked to talk to people. He wasn’t a loud salesman as a coach. His sale was his honesty and quiet friendliness.
He knew his football well. But our defensive backs learned a lot more about how to play together as a unit — and about life — than just the Xs and Os.
Our defensive backs had an excellent season in 2000. They came up with multiple game-saving plays, something we had failed to do in the past. His players didn’t flinch. They got the most out of their talent and became an asset to our defense.
The rest of our team played well too, finding our way to nine wins and the first bowl game win in Iowa State history.
I have no idea how much of an impact Coach Elliott had on that 2000 team. Heck, he was only there for six months before we opened the season.
One thing I do know is he impacted me that year and for all of the years since 2000.
I believe our sincere conversations had a profound influence on my ability to communicate with my future teammates and coaches as I bounced around the NFL. As a backup quarterback, communication and trust better be strong characteristics. Much of that job consists of helping other players and coaches on the offense function well together, while giving assurance that you will play well if called upon. Coach Elliott helped teach me those characteristics.
My fondest memory was a “foggy” one. After beating Colorado on the road, one of our biggest wins of the year, I sat on the bathroom countertop feeling exhausted. We had finally beaten the Buffs and the win marked our seventh of the season. It snowed about a foot during the game and, again, our defense came up with a fumble recovery late to seal it.
The large bathroom looked more like a steam room. The mixture of snow, heat, sweat and a few tears of happiness caused fog in the entire locker room. I sat there and talked to my freshman-year roommate, Ben Bruns. We came to Iowa State naive 18-year-old kids and were headed to a good bowl game.
Then Coach Elliott entered the room and gave me a big bear hug. He didn’t even really say anything. I could feel how happy he was for me and the team. He knew the challenge McCarney had when he took the job, and the struggles to get to that point.
I will always remember the look on his face during that moment. He looked like a dad filled with pride after watching one of his children win an award.
Coach Bobby Elliott was a good man. He also was an excellent football coach.
As humans, we have the option to connect with every person we meet every day. Our world doesn’t have enough people like Bobby Elliott.
The state lost a good man last Saturday. My thoughts are with his family and all of those who had a chance to cross paths with him.
Thanks Coach, for everything.
You are already missed.
Former Iowa and Iowa State football coach Bobby Elliott died last Saturday in Iowa City. He spent the last 19 years in repeated fights with cancer. He died from complications of the disease.
Sage Rosenfels was a quarterback at Iowa State before playing in the NFL until 2012.