Time never changed Bobby Elliott.
The former Iowa player and son of long-time Hawkeye director of athletics Bump Elliott coached football with toughness and compassion, creating a unique bond which extended from those he taught more than a generation ago to those who only began learning from him in recent months.
Elliott died Saturday night at the age of 64 following a lengthy battle with cancer, and thoughts from those he coached and worked with illustrate his legacy.
“The world lost a great man last night. Bob Elliott was not just a coach. He was a mentor and most importantly, he was my friend,’’ said Mike Goff, an offensive lineman at Iowa from 1994-97 who went on play 12 seasons in the NFL.
Maquoketa native Sage Rosenfels, an Iowa State quarterback who spent 12 years in the NFL after being drafted in 2001, shared similar sentiments.
“Bobby Elliott was a great man,’’ Rosenfels wrote on Twitter. “We broke bread every Friday to discuss the team. The advice I received was priceless.’’
The players who Elliott coached this spring after being hired in January as the safeties coach at Nebraska expressed many of the same thoughts on social media.
Chris Jones, a senior defensive back, wrote, “Thank you for everything coach Elliott, even that short time we spent meant a lifetime. Rest peacefully.’’
Cornhuskers sophomore Eric Lee wrote, “Limited time with Coach E but he carried so much knowledge and love for the game. Great coach but a phenomenal person. RIP coach.’’
Former Hawkeye Erik Chinander, currently the defensive coordinator at Central Florida, said that Elliott “will live on through many of us that you made into better men.’’
Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who played for Elliott at Iowa and brought him in as an assistant at both Notre Dame and most recently with the Cornhuskers, understands that as much as anybody.
Diaco described Elliott as someone who had been “a father figure and mentor’’ to him for nearly 30 years.
“During my life I have met few people that possess the amount of toughness coach Elliott had, while also possessing the same amount of class,’’ Diaco said. “Coach Elliott had unwavering principles and that combination of traits put him in the company of very few.’’
Iowa director of athletics Gary Barta and football coach Kirk Ferentz released statements offering sympathy to the Elliott family.
"Bob was an outstanding individual with the highest integrity as a person, and as a football coach,'' Ferentz said. "Along with being an outstanding player and excelling in academics during his Iowa career, Bob was a dedicated coach and family man, always putting others ahead of himself.''
Elliott was a defensive back at Iowa, lettering in 1972 and from 1974-76, leading the team in interceptions and pass break-ups as a senior in addition to earning academic all-American honors and receiving the Big Ten Medal of Honor and an NCAA postgraduate scholarship.
He worked in college football as a coach for 38 years, including 11 seasons on Hayden Fry’s staff at Iowa, working as a secondary coach from 1987-94 and returning as the defensive coordinator from 1996-98 after spending one year as the executive director of the UI Alumni Association.
Elliott’s career included three stints as an assistant coach at Iowa State, working there in 1981-82, 2000-01 and 2010-11.
He joined Diaco’s staff at Notre Dame in 2012, hired by Diaco to help introduce the 3-4 defense there, and he left the Irish in January to rejoin Diaco at Nebraska after spending two years as an off-field special assistant to Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
“My heart is on the field with the players, so when this opportunity (at Nebraska) came up, I snatched it,’’ Elliott told the Lincoln Journal Star in a February interview.
He had a chance to teach during spring ball before a form of blood cancer, an issue he had dealt with on and off since first diagnosed in Iowa City nearly 20 years ago, forced him to move into an off-field assignment at Nebraska late last month.
Elliott’s resume included work as a defensive coordinator under Bill Snyder at Kansas State from 2002-05 and Chuck Long at San Diego State from 2006-08.
He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Iowa in 1976, and his career also included stops at Kent State, Ball State and North Carolina.
Elliott’s family issued a statement Sunday, indicated that he passed away peacefully surrounded by family on Saturday night in Iowa City.
“Bob devoted his life to serving as a mentor and coach to countless student-athletes. In his over 40-year career, he was committed to excellence and integrity, sought to bring out the best in everyone and instilled a sense of hope to all he touched,’’ the statement read. “He was a champion and warrior who was steadfast, dedicated and selfless.’’
Funeral arrangements for Elliott are pending.
He is survived by his wife, Joey, children Grant and Jessica, grandchildren Levi and Robin, his father Bump and siblings Bill and Betsy.