A toast to birthday boy Bump Elliott, a giant in Hawkeye history
IOWA CITY, Ia. – The Iowa Pep Band honored Bump Elliott by playing "Happy Birthday" in his honor before the start of Saturday's Iowa-Wisconsin basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Elliott stood, waved and said, "Go Hawks."
Fans clapped, but they should have brought the house down. Elliott, who celebrated his 90th birthday Friday, was Iowa's director of athletics from 1970 to 1991. During that time, Iowa teams had 29 Big Ten titles in six sports, 11 NCAA wrestling titles, three Rose Bowl trips, a Final Four in basketball and a College World Series appearance in baseball.
Chalmers W. "Bump" Elliott ruled without ego. In today's me-first world, his legacy has only been polished since he turned off the office lights for good. When Elliott was enshrined in the Des Moines Sunday Register Sports Hall of Fame, in 2008, I wrote that his legacy was much like his personality — understated but unforgettable.
Let's say you're putting together a Mount Rushmore of Iowa coaching greats. Dan Gable? Hayden Fry? Lute Olson? Tom Davis? Elliott hired them all. I once asked him if Fry, who did the impossible and made Iowa football relevant again, was his best hire.
"I would think so," Elliott said. "Although Dan Gable's not bad."
If there was a Mount Rushmore for Hawkeye icons — coaches, administrators, athletes — Elliott would have to be front and center. And his birthday reminded me how lucky Iowa's athletic department was to have him running the show.
A star running back at Michigan, and former head football coach and athletic administrator at his alma mater, Elliott came to Iowa in turbulent times. The athletic department was a mess after the public and bitter feud between football coach turned athletic director Forest Evashevski and football coach Ray Nagel.
"I wanted to make sure we all worked together and were loyal to each other, the department and the university," Elliott recalled.
Not long after he was settled in his new job, the emergence of women's athletics came full force with Title IX legislation in 1972. Men's and women's athletic programs were run separately at Iowa during that time. Christine Grant, the lead women's administrator, worked with Elliott for 18 years and said he deserved as much credit as anyone for building women's athletics at Iowa.
One of my favorite Elliott stories was told by the late Johnny Orr. One night, the former Michigan and Iowa State basketball coach was sharing a table with Elliott and former Michigan State football coach Duffy Daugherty. Elliott was called to the phone.
When Bump came back, Orr and Daugherty asked him what was up. Non-committal at first, Elliott finally broke the news. He had accepted the job as athletic director at Iowa. Orr said that the three started toasting every Iowa town they could think of.
"Here's to What Cheer," Orr said, making a toasting motion and laughing at the memory.
Elliott's 90th birthday — he celebrated with his family Saturday — is the perfect time to remember the remarkable job he did at Iowa. So let's have a toast. Glasses up. This one's for you, Bump.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.