Induction into Hawkeyes’ Hall of Fame means a lot to Duane Banks
Duane Banks laughs about how he got the biggest break of his coaching career.
Baseball coach Dick Schultz had just taken over as the head basketball coach at the University of Iowa for Ralph Miller, who was hired at Oregon.
Banks, an assistant baseball coach, was promoted to interim head coach in the spring of 1970.
“Ten days later, we’re playing Michigan State and I’m coaching third,” Banks recalled. “Our athletic director, Forest Evashevski, comes over and says, ‘Banksy, I need to see you.’
“I said, ‘Evy, I’m trying to get us some runs here.’
“He says, ‘You’re my baseball coach, go get ‘em.’ That would never happen today.”
Twenty-eight seasons later, Banks retired as the most successful coach in Iowa history, and Saturday was inducted into the Hawkeyes’ Hall of Fame.
Not bad for a kid from Appleton, Colorado.
“I kid Jim Davis (of KTMM Radio) all the time that he and I grew up in Appleton and he’s the only one who amounted to anything,” Banks chuckled last week before heading to Iowa City for a whirlwind weekend.
Banks spent another three years at Iowa as an assistant athletic director (“It’s way over-rated; coaching was so much more fun.”) and then moved back to Grand Junction with his wife, Jeannette.
The two have bounced back and forth between the Western Slope and Iowa, the tug of watching their grandchildren grow up calling them back to the Midwest, but the winters sending them back to western Colorado.
He’s been instrumental in the free kids clinic becoming a huge success during the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, getting the American Baseball Coaches Association involved with a sponsorship.
Now 72, Banks spends as much time as he can on the golf course, but is still coaching baseball, working one-on-one with several local high school players.
“We’re trying to get them to be seen by college and pro people. If we can get them to be seen, everything else will take care of itself. It’s great; I love it. It’s teaching, and I like to teach,” Banks said.
“It’s payback time for me for what the game gave me. I grew up poor and had nothing going for me. Athletics was my way out and I took advantage of what it gave me.”
After graduating from Fruita High School, Banks played at Mesa College, then a junior college, and then at Northern Colorado.
His first coaching job was at Parsons College in Iowa, and in the summer coached a team in Iowa City. That’s where he met Schultz and eventually was offered a job on the baseball staff.
Two seasons after that fateful conversation with Evashevski at third base, the Hawkeyes played in the College World Series.
“The way we went there; we got beat on Saturday and had to win twice on Sunday and we did it,” Banks said. “You have so many kids in 28 years, so many kids and memories, you remember the things that were funny at the time.”
Banks loves to talk baseball — or any sport — with anyone interested. After five minutes with him, you feel you’ve known him forever. He greets everyone with a laugh and a smile, but the affable former coach was all business on the diamond.
“I was tough,” he said. “I was pretty tough but I thought I was fair. Practices were hard, we worked hard.
“We were in the middle of the United States and we didn’t always get the greatest kids, but they all got better. Kids who came into our program got better because of the discipline we had in our program.”
After moving back to Grand Junction, Banks spent one season as Chris Hanks’ bench coach at Mesa. Travel in the RMAC, though, reminded him of why he retired.
“That bus ride to Kearney, Nebraska,” he said. “That was the trip from hell. Coming home, we had gone what felt like 10 hours and they said we were still in Nebraska.”
Banks’ teams at Iowa went 901-585-4, and in 1991, he was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, one of five to honor him.
“By far this probably is the most important because I spent so many years there and it meant so much to me,” he said of Iowa’s Hall of Fame.
In 2001, Iowa named its baseball field Duane Banks Field.
True to his nature, Banks is humbled by all the honors that have come his way, but can’t help but poke fun at himself for being a member of the Hawkeyes’ Hall of Fame.
“Geez, they got to the bottom of the barrel,” he said, “and my name was stuck on the bottom.”