Remembering Whitey

May 18, 2011


Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The recent death of Whitey Piro made me recall an interesting piece of Hawkeye lore. Whitey came to Iowa in 1952 as part of Forest Evashevski’s first football staff and helped coach the Hawkeyes to Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships in 1956 and 1958. He is also remembered for his scouting report on Minnesota in 1953.

In studying the Golden Gophers that season, Whitey noticed that their star tailback, Paul Giel, faked a pass when he was going to run the ball, and faked a run before passing it. Giel was one of the best dual-threat backs in college football at the time, and was a huge part of Minnesota’s offense.

“His tendency to fake run and fake pass, before doing the opposite, was so strong that we developed our entire defensive scheme on it,” Evashevski once told me. When Giel showed pass, the Hawkeyes swarmed him. When he showed run, they dropped off in pass coverage.

Did Whitey`s observation and Iowa`s game plan pay dividends? Did they ever! Giel ran for only 13 yards and passed for a paltry 22 as the Hawkeyes blitzed the Gophers 27-0. It was considered Iowa’s greatest Big Ten victory in 31 years and was witnessed by 53,355, then a record crowd at what is now known as Kinnick Stadium.

Piro remained on the Iowa football staff until 1965, then moved to the university’s personnel office. He retired in 1985 and was 93 years old when he died April 18.

Giel played professional football, then became a popular radio and TV personality in the Twin Cities before serving as director of athletics at his alma mater.

Evashevski won two outright Big Ten titles and shared another in his last five seasons, then retired to become Iowa’s director of athletics through the 1960s. He died a year ago at 91 years old.

Bump Elliott was another member of that Hawkeye football staff of 1953, and he succeeded Evashevski as Iowa’s AD in 1970. In the 1980s, Elliott directed the Hawkeyes through their most successful decade in school history. He has been retired for 20 years and lives in Iowa City.

When I asked Elliott about that 1953 Minnesota game he smiled and said, “We just smothered the Gophers that day, thanks to Whitey’s scouting report. Whitey was an outstanding coach and an exceptional scout. In looking at Minnesota, he saw something that allowed us to stop a great back like Paul Giel, and Iowa got its biggest win in a long time.”

Added Elliott: “Whitey was a good friend and a great Hawkeye fan. We’re going to miss him.”

Yes he was, and yes we are.