Solem signed a three-year contract with the Hawkeye’s, replacing coach Burt Ingwersen as the programs 13th head coach. During his first year, the Iowa athletic department was suffering heavily from the Great Depression due to Iowa’s predominantly agricultural economy, making them unable to pay Solem his full salary when he was first hired.
His first year with Iowa would be just as difficult. They won their first game of the season, but then lost their last seven. During the off-season, coach Solem complained that athletes were being discriminated against in Iowa City and were not being hired for normal student jobs probably due to Iowa’s conference suspension a year prior. A private investigator proved this claim to be true.
After years of difficulty scheduling games with fellow Big Ten conference members, who were more accommodating to non-conference rival Notre Dame than Iowa due to the suspension. Solem fought for Iowa to be regarded as an equal member of the Big Ten along with attempting to improve the job prospects for his athletes. The job reforms helped bring in the “finest group of freshmen during my tenure,” according to Solem. This group nicknamed the “Ironmen” included Erwin Prasse and Nile Kinnick.