IOWA CITY — Dan McCarney spoke with the fire he ordinarily saved for a pregame speech to one of his football teams.
McCarney talked for over 20 minutes Saturday morning at the service celebrating Bob Elliott’s life, and it was passionate.
“He was my hero,” McCarney said. “I loved my time with him.
“He was pure, uncompromising, uncommon.”
Elliott died of cancer July 8. He was 64.
McCarney was one of dozens of former colleagues and players in a crowd that nearly filled the lower section of Hancher Auditorium. Among current head coaches in the crowd were Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema.
McCarney, Iowa State’s head football coach for 12 years, knew Elliott for almost four times that long. The Iowa City natives were teammates and roommates when on the Iowa football team in the 1970s, and were graduate assistant coaches together at Iowa.
In 1999, Elliott had a bone-marrow transplant to combat a rare blood disease. The next year, he was coaching alongside McCarney in Ames.
“That guy could have been a Hall of Fame athletic director like his dad (former Iowa AD Bump Elliott),” McCarney said. “But I told him he belonged between the white lines. ‘College football needs you,’ I told him. ‘If you have the strength, if you have the courage, if you have the energy to come back, I want you with me.’ ”
Elliott joined him, and Iowa State went 9-3 and 7-5 in 2000 and 2001.
“It’s no secret and no surprise those were the two best years in the history of Iowa State, back-to-back,” McCarney said.
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He went back further than that when recalling when Elliott joined Hayden Fry’s staff in 1987 to start his 11-season run with Fry, the last three as defensive coordinator.
“Barry Alvarez left our staff to go to Notre Dame,” McCarney recalled. “(Then-defensive coordinator) Bill Brashier and I went to Hayden and told him ‘You’ve gotta hire Bobby Elliott.’ He said ‘Don’t worry about it, fellas, I’ve already thought about that.’ ”
Joe Schmidt IV and Matthias Farley played at Notre Dame when Elliott was on the football staff there from 2012 to 2016, and both spoke at Saturday’s service.
Farley, now a safety with the Indianapolis Colts, shared the story of a visit he made to Elliott’s office when he noticed a poem called “Invictus” that was framed on the coach’s desk.
“He asked me if I knew it,” Farley said. “I said ‘Yeah, it’s a great poem. I have the whole thing tattooed on my back.”
That got a big laugh from the crowd, as did this:
“He said ‘You could’ve just memorized it.’ ”
In a more serious moment, Farley said he broke his thumb in Notre Dame’s 2012 win over Oklahoma, and “I was kind of freaking out about it. (Elliott) said ‘I’ve broken my thumb, you’ll be fine.’
“I had surgery on it. The first person I saw when I woke up was Coach Elliott.
“It’s one thing to tell somebody you care about them and love them. It’s another to be there when they need you to be there.”
Bo Porter, a former manager of the Houston Astros, was a football and baseball player at Iowa. He was recruited by Elliott to come to Iowa from his New Jersey home. Elliott basically talked Porter out of going to the University of Miami when the Hurricanes were college football kingpins.
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“When I’m asked who the most-influential person was in my life,” Porter said at the service, “without hesitation, I say it was Coach Bob Elliott. … Coach Elliott was sent into my life by God.”
Elliott dealt with illness the last two decades. He had a kidney transplant in 2013.
“I told him life was just not fair,” McCarney said. “But not once did I ever hear him say that.
“About tough times, he said you can make it your excuse or make it your story. Bob Elliott made it his story.”