Leistikow: Bump Elliott's 'iconic' legacy at Iowa was built on kindness

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

To understand the legacy of Chalmers William “Bump” Elliott as Iowa’s athletic director from 1970-91, you couldn’t miss the big things.

The coaching hires were legendary.




Dr. Tom.

He filled a hole in the ground with 15,000-seat Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

In this 2015 photo, former Iowa athletics director Bump Elliott is honored by the Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd for his 90th birthday.

But to truly understand Elliott's legacy, you couldn't miss the small things, either.

Like saving his successor, Bob Bowlsby, a seat each week for lunch at the rotary club.

“It’s probably fair to say it’s not ideal to have your predecessor living two blocks away from your office,” Bowlsby said Sunday in an interview with the Register. “But he never did and said any of the things you feared he might, and he always did and said all the things you hoped he would.

"He was just a true gentleman.”

For 94 years, until his peaceful passing late Saturday night, Elliott was a persistent example of kindness and how to treat people.

You’d never know he was a powerful athletic director by the way he carried himself, whether he was walking into church on Sunday morning with wife, Barb, or into Kinnick Stadium for a battle of No. 1 Iowa vs. No. 2 Michigan in 1985.

“His profile and integrity extended nationally,” said Bowlsby, taking time out of his busy College Football Playoff Sunday as Big 12 Conference commissioner to pay respect to Elliott’s life. “You couldn’t be around Bump very long without understanding the depth of the man; the integrity, honesty and hard work he put into everything he did.”

That humility and access were invaluable as Bowlsby took over for Elliott in June of 1991.

Whatever Bowlsby needed as he transitioned to Iowa from his previous role as Northern Iowa’s athletic director, Elliott would provide.

In retirement, Elliott didn’t have to be there for Bowlsby and Hawkeye athletics; he wanted to be.

The two played lots of golf together — Bowlsby marveled that Elliott probably shot his age “hundreds of times” — at courses in and around the Iowa City area. Elliott offered wisdom to Bowlsby, who became Iowa's AD at the young age of 39 and has since become one of the more influential figures in college sports.

“I considered it a rich blessing to have Bump available. And he always was available,” Bowlsby said. “I never called him when he didn’t respond right away. He was generous beyond any reasonable expectation.”

Yet he was a titan of his time.

And Bowlsby understood that more than anybody.

He experienced the benefits of Elliott's impressive accomplishments.

At Iowa, Bowlsby arrived to a robust financial operation, with successful coaches like Dan Gable (who won 15 national championships in wrestling), Hayden Fry (fresh off his third Rose Bowl) and Tom Davis (who had elevated Iowa basketball to No. 1 in the nation in 1987) in place.

Bowlsby was a low-level administrator at Iowa in 1978 when Elliott boldly hired a brash Texan with cowboy boots and a mustache in an effort to resuscitate a football program that had experienced 17 straight non-winning seasons.

“Bump had been getting some heat for the absence of success in the football program,” Bowlsby recalled. “He certainly hit a home run with Hayden Fry.”

In a recent photo, Hayden Fry and the late Bump Elliott are shown in the Kinnick Stadium press box.

The hiring of Fry would become Elliott’s most profound at Iowa, and for good reason. The move spawned what’s produced nearly four decades of winning football seasons under Fry and Kirk Ferentz, who was hired by Bowlsby in December of 1998.

Without Elliott, there is no Fry.

Without Fry, there is no Ferentz era.

Just think of the impact that successful football has had on this town.

Bowlsby knows that more than anyone. And he will be forever grateful to his humble predecessor.

“He was entitled to and enjoyed an iconic presence in Iowa City,” Bowlsby said. “He cast a long shadow.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.