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Top 5 all-time coaches: Iowa Hawkeyes

The success of any college football program ultimately begins with finding the right head coach. Those men who have won the most generally share an ability to lead, strategize and recruit better than their contemporaries, and they are remembered long after their time in charge is complete.

This week on the Big Ten blog, we’re taking a look at the top-5 coaches over the years for each program. Some are more widely recognized than others, but all had a positive impact on the fortunes of their respective programs.

Next up: Iowa Hawkeyes

1. Hayden Fry, 1979-1998 (143-89-6)

He coached 10 Top 25 teams, led his team to three Rose Bowls and won three conference titles. But Fry’s importance extends well beyond those accolades. He inherited a struggling program that was coming off 17 straight non-winning seasons, a program that hadn’t won more than five games in close to two decades. Fry turned that around almost immediately, and he became an icon for it. By Year 3, the Hawkeyes were a force in the conference -- and they stayed that way for most of Fry’s tenure. He set the foundation for where the Hawkeyes are today.

2. Kirk Ferentz, 1999-present (127-87)

Some analysts already believe Ferentz has surpassed Fry. It’s certainly close. Ferentz was a four-time Big Ten Coach of the Year to Fry’s three times, and he’s coming off a season in which the Hawkeyes started 12-0 for the first time in school history. Fry might’ve laid the foundation that helped set up Iowa’s future success, but Ferentz has continued it. Fry spent 20 years at Iowa; Ferentz is on his 18th season. He could be remembered as the Hawkeyes’ best by the time he hangs up his whistle.

3. Forest Evashevski, 1952-1960 (52-27-4)

No, he didn’t coach nearly as long as Fry or Ferentz. But Evashevski can easily stake a claim as one of the Hawkeyes’ best -- and for good reason. He coached the only team in Iowa history that shares part of a national title. In 1958, the Hawkeyes finished 8-1-1 and dominated No. 16 Cal in the Rose Bowl, 38-12, en route to earning national title honors from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He finished his career with two Rose Bowl wins, three conference titles and a top-5 finish in the coaches’ poll on four occasions. His five-season stretch from 1956 to 1960 might’ve been the best in Hawkeyes history.

4. Howard Jones, 1916-1923 (42-17-1)

In the 16 years before Jones, Iowa managed to win just two conference titles. With Jones? Iowa won back-to-back conference titles and went a perfect 7-0 in 1921 and 1922. Those two seasons have been the only time in Iowa history where the team has finished perfect -- with no ties and no losses. Jones coached seven programs over 32 years, and he’s incredibly underrated. Of Iowa’s 12 coaches who’ve been a part of the program for at least 40 games, none have finished with a higher win percentage than Jones (.708).

5. Alden Knipe, 1898-1902 (29-11-4)

He wasn’t the Hawkeyes’ football coach for long, but he still played an important role: He helped oversee the Hawkeyes’ move into the Big Ten (then known as the Western Conference). He took over in 1898, and Iowa joined the conference in 1899. He led the Hawkeyes to an 8-0-1 record that year and the next, when Iowa officially started league play, the Hawkeyes again went undefeated with a 7-0-1 record. Only Jones and Knipe have ever coached undefeated seasons for the Hawkeyes. Knipe coached four different varsity sports while at Iowa, including track, baseball, football and cross country.