Former Iowa Athletic Director Bump Elliott passes away at 94

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Bump Elliott. waves to the fans. Photo courtesy of Hawkeyesports.com.

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - My first week on the job at the Iowa City Press-Citizen was in June 1991, and by then, Bump Elliott already had announced his plans to retire as the Iowa Athletic Director.

Bump officially retired in August 1991, so I barely had two months with him steering the Hawkeye ship.

Bump once joked to me that he knew exactly when to retire, and that’s when he saw me coming.

We stayed in touch over the years, mostly through my job, but Bump was always nearby after he had retired.

He and wife sat in the same two seats for men’s basketball games for years at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. I remember looking over many times and seeing Bump in his seat near the tunnel.

I hadn’t seen much of Bump lately, though, and then came the sobering news on Sunday that he had passed away at the age of 94.

It didn’t come as a surprise, but it still was jarring to learn that a true Hawkeye legend was gone.

Michigan fans are feeling the same sadness that Hawkeye fans are feeling right now because Chalmers “Bump” Elliott was their legend before he became a Hawkeye legend.

Purdue also shares a part of Bump’s legacy because that is where college started for him in 1943. The Bloomington, Ill., native received varsity letters in football, baseball, and basketball at Purdue, before being called into active duty in late 1944, serving with the Marines in China.

After being discharged from the military, Bump enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1946 and joined the football team for whom his brother Pete Elliott played quarterback.

In 1947, Bump played for an undefeated and untied Michigan team was known as the "Mad Magicians.” He led the Big Nine Conference in scoring, won the Chicago Tribune Silver Trophy trophy as the most valuable player in the conference, and earned All-America accolades.

Bump graduated from Michigan in 1948 and then quickly started rising up the ranks as a college assistant coach, including at Iowa where he worked under fellow Michigan graduate Forest Evashevski in the 1950s.

Bump would return to Michigan as head coach in 1959 and held the position until 1968. His best season was in 1964 when Michigan won the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl.

Bump then made a decision in 1970 that would change the course of his life, and would change the course of Iowa Hawkeye athletics forever.

Bump succeeded Evashevski as the Iowa Athletic Director, and to say that the athletic department was in turmoil at the time would be an understatement.

Evashevski was in the midst of a well-publicized feud with then head football coach Ray Nagel, and moral was low.

Elliott would prove to be the perfect hire, although, there were some doubters after his first two picks to be the head football coach at Iowa had failed, and miserably in the case of Frank Lauterbur, who only won four games over three seasons as head coach from 1971-73.

Bob Commings was close to getting Iowa over the hump again in football, but he was fired after five consecutive losing seasons from 1973-78.

Bump probably had one last chance to get it right in football or he would’ve been fired, and he struck gold by hiring Hayden Fry shortly after the 1978 season.

Bump also hired Dan Gable, Lute Olson and Tom Davis as head coaches, and Iowa won 41 Big Ten Conference championships and 11 NCAA titles under Bump’s watch.

Bump's influence on women's athletics is another part of his rich legacy.

He worked closely, and willingly, with former women's athletic directior, Dr. Christine Grant, and together they built Iowa into a broad-based power in the 1980s.

Some refer to the 1980s as the glory years of Hawkeye athletics, and that was true in many ways. The football team experienced one of the greatest turnarounds in Big Ten history; the men’s basketball team made the 1980 Final four and was ranked No. 1 nationally during the 1986-87 season, while the Iowa wrestling program grew into a dynasty under Gable.

The Iowa baseball program also had sustained success during the 1980s under Dunae Banks.

And it all started with the person in charge.

"Bump was a difference-maker in my life and the lives of many others," Gable said in  a release. "I felt lucky to be under a guy who knew very well what he was doing in terms of his business. At first, he didn't make any promises, but he said, 'you do well, and I will do well for you,' and he honored that."

The three words you hear the most when friends and former colleagues talk about Bump Elliott are integrity, humility and trust.

Bump had a burning desire to win, but not at the expense of his character.

He worked at Iowa at a time when college sports was filled with scandal and controversy, but still never lost touch with his moral compass.

Bump was considered a head coach's athletic director because he went out his way to support his head coaches and they trusted him.

"As a coach who worked for Bump, you had a sense that he was there with you all the way, in understanding the demands of coaching in the Big Ten Conference," Tom Davis said in a release. "He was a coach's director of athletics, and he was always in the room with you.

"He was a pleasure to work with, and I know Hayden Fry, Dan Gable, Duane Banks, all the others, would say the same thing. 

It’s sad and unfortunate that I couldn’t reach out to Bump’s son, Bobby Elliott, for comment about his father.

Bobby passed away in June 2017 at the age of 64, and I still remember the pain and anguish on Bump’s face during the celebration of Bobby’s life at Hancher Arena.

It nearly brought me to tears, watching a father say goodbye to his beloved son.

I talked to Bobby enough over the years to know how much he respected and admired his father. He admired Bump for all of his accomplishments, but more so because of his class and integrity.

Bobby once told me that he was so proud to be Bump Elliott’s son, and so lucky to have him as a father.

I’ve lived in Iowa City for nearly 30 years, and still haven’t heard anyone say a bad word about Bump Elliott.

He was a great athlete, a great leader and administrator, but even a better person.

RIP Bump.