Aug. 26, 2004
Editor’s Note: The following is the first of what will be a weekly column written exclusively for hawkeyesports.com by George Wine, the University of Iowa’s long-time sports information director who is now retired and living in Coralville, Iowa. George has remained very close to the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI since his retirement and, in fact, has authored two books during that time. The first was a collaboration with the subject of today’s editorial, Hayden Fry, and named “A High Porch Picnic.” The second, “Black & Gold Memories, The Hawkeyes of the 20th Century,” included many of the essays George originally wrote for “The Voice of the Hawkeyes.” As he wrote in the book, “Collectively, they serve as a historical reference, and hopefully provide entertaining reading.” “Black & Gold Memories” is currently available at Barnes & Noble book stores across Iowa and on the world wide web. Learn more about the 2004 UI Hall of Fame inductees Hayden Fry was recently enshrined into college football’s Hall of Fame, a well-deserved honor that got thorough and appropriate coverage by the news media. Hayden had a run of 37 years as a major college coach, starting at Southern Methodist, then moving on to North Texas before winding up his career at Iowa. He enjoyed success at both of his first two stops, which spanned a total of 17 seasons, but it was at Iowa where he made his mark as a big-time college coach.
When Fry arrived in Iowa City in 1979 he found a moribund program that some thought was beyond repair. The Hawkeyes were mired in the Big Ten’s lower echelon and hadn’t had a winning season in 17 years. In those days everyone wanted to play Iowa. Missouri, which recently reneged on scheduled games with the Hawkeyes in 2005 and 2006, would have leaped at the chance to play them 25 years ago. We had all accepted the fact that Iowa football was a Big Ten punching bag, which was the first thing Hayden had to fix. He had to change the attitude. Everyone – players, fans, alumni, students, faculty and administration — had become accustomed to humiliating defeats and second-division finishes. Hayden used his degree in psychology, considerable persuasion and down-home Texas charm to change the negative attitude and convince folks that success was possible and Iowa could be a winner. In his first season, Iowa won five games and finished fifth in the Big Ten, enough success to convert many doubters. In 1981, his third year, he won over the remaining skeptics with an unexpected Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl appearance.
“Perhaps nothing reflects more positively on Fry than the coaches and players whose careers he nurtured. Those now running their own successful programs are Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin, Bill Snyder at Kansas State, Dan McCarney at Iowa State, Don Patterson at Western Illinois, Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, Mike Stoops at Arizona and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. Many others are prominent assistant coaches.”
Another major problem Fry faced when he came to Iowa were sub-par facilities, and that took longer to fix. Coaches’ offices, locker rooms, training rooms and weight rooms all needed an upgrade. There wasn’t even a meeting room where the entire squad could assemble. Ever so slowly facilities improved, but often Hayden had to push and prod. He had been promised an indoor practice facility before taking the job, and when he still didn’t have one in 1984 he started entertaining offers to go elsewhere. The administration got the message, and what we now call “the bubble” was up and running in less than a year.
Five former University of Iowa student-athletes and one coach will be inducted into the National Iowa Varsity Club Athletic Hall of Fame on the evening of Sept. 4.
Athletes Duane Draves, Richard Ferguson, Charles Yagla, Artur Wojdat, and Kristy Gleason will join longtime football coach Hayden Fry as this year’s class of inductees.
The group will be honored at halftime of the Iowa football team’s “Throwback Game” against Kent State at historic Kinnick Stadium.
As facilities improved, so did Iowa’s football fortunes. Over a period of seven seasons (1981 to 1987), the Hawkeyes had the best record in the Big Ten. They won a total of 62 games (an average of nearly nine a year), two Big Ten championships and ended each season with a bowl game. Fry had turned a program that was among the worst in the Big Ten to the very best. Hayden coached the Hawkeyes for 20 seasons, and noted on his Hall of Fame plaque are 143 victories, three Big Ten titles and 14 bowl games. He produced 18 first-team all-Americans. Perhaps nothing reflects more positively on Fry than the coaches and players whose careers he nurtured. Those now running their own successful programs are Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin, Bill Snyder at Kansas State, Dan McCarney at Iowa State, Don Patterson at Western Illinois, Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, Mike Stoops at Arizona and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. Many others are prominent assistant coaches. A persuasive argument could be made that the greatest achievement in Hayden’s career came at SMU, where he defied segregation and integrated the Southwest Conference by recruiting a black player named Jerry Levias. It must have taken enormous courage by both of them to stand up to the ugly racial attitudes of that period. But they did, and football in the south forever changed for the better. When Athletic Director Bump Elliott hired Hayden 25 years ago, he completed a coaching staff that was among the best in college sports. During the 1980s, bowl games for the football team, NCAA tournaments for the basketball team and national championships for the wrestling team were the norm. “The most important thing Hayden did at Iowa,” reflects Bump, “is stay. He stabilized the program and sustained success.” When Fry retired in 1998, he left a program with outstanding facilities and a rich tradition. It was light years ahead of the way he found it. Hayden will be inducted into Iowa’s Varsity Club Hall of Fame Sept. 4. He’ll be honored on the field at halftime of the Kent State game. No doubt he will get a thunderous standing ovation, bring back many wonderful memories, and maybe prompt a tear or two. He gave us a wonderful ride, and we’re genuinely thankful.