By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Dan McCarney won’t leap a snow fence to get into Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 3. That’s a perk of being named honorary captain for the University of Iowa football team.
McCarney, now 63 and living in Sarasota, Florida, grew up in Iowa City, attended City High School, and lettered for the Hawkeye football team from 1972-74. He was team captain as a senior.
Some of his first memories of watching the UI football team were when he joined a group of elementary school friends and they would sneak into what was then known as Iowa Stadium.
“That was back in the days when they didn’t have a bazooka and Tommy Gun waiting for someone to sneak into a game. It was a snow fence,” McCarney said. “You grow up a Hawkeye and so proud of it. To have a chance to come back and witness in person the great tradition being sustained and the great success Iowa is having is a thrill to me.”
McCarney attended practice Friday morning in the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center, chatting with University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and catching up with former coaching cohort Bernie Wyatt. Tom Cecchini, McCarney, and Wyatt were Hayden Fry holdovers from Bob Commings’ staff in 1979.
Iowa was 2-9 in 1978 and after a 42-7 loss at Michigan State that season, Commings was let go. McCarney didn’t know what he would do. He had opportunities to work as a realtor, in a bank, or in a lumber yard. But first, he had a 15-minute interview with Fry, in what McCarney assumed was a formality before being shown the door and out of the Hawkeye program.
“I’m thinking I’m going to be the fastest interview. Why wouldn’t I be?” McCarney said. “I had the least amount of experience and I was the youngest. About 20 minutes into the interview Hayden said, ‘Dan, what do you think about being my tight end coach for about $18,000?’ I jumped off the couch and started hollering. I didn’t think I had a chance to be an assistant for coach Fry.”
McCarney coached Iowa’s defensive linemen from 1979-89, including Dave Haight from 1985-88. Haight is a member of the 2016 National Iowa Varsity Club Athletics Hall of Fame.
“I was here from the very first day Hayden Fry took the job,” McCarney said. “Kirk Ferentz and I were two of the youngest line coaches in America, by far. To be here from the beginning and experience that turnaround and bringing respect, honor, and dignity to Iowa football and then to see all the success that has been sustained through the years when the baton was passed from Hayden Fry to Kirk Ferentz and the great job he has done makes you feel really good.”
A highlight for McCarney during his playing career was a 21-10 victory over UCLA on Sept.21, 1974, in Kinnick Stadium. Five of Iowa’s six wins with McCarney as a player came at home.
“I had many more memories as a coach,” McCarney said.
None were grander than the one Nov. 21, 1981. Iowa defeated Michigan State, 36-7, the same day Art Schlichter and Ohio State upset Michigan, 14-9, sending the Hawkeyes to their first Rose Bowl Game in 23 years.
“When you look up and here come roses out of the press box into Kinnick Stadium as a young man that grew up in this town,” McCarney said. “It was my first opportunity to go to a bowl game and it was the Rose Bowl. It’s going to be hard to ever top that one.”
“I was here from the very first day Hayden Fry took the job. Kirk Ferentz and I were two of the youngest line coaches in America, by far. To be here from the beginning and experience that turnaround and bringing respect, honor, and dignity to Iowa football and then to see all the success that has been sustained through the years when the baton was passed from Hayden Fry to Kirk Ferentz and the great job he has done makes you feel really good.” — Dan McCarney, UI football honorary captain
From 1990-94 McCarney worked as defensive line coach and defensive coordinator at Wisconsin. He was head coach at Iowa State from 1995-2006 before stints at South Florida (2007), Florida (2008-10), and North Texas (2011-15).
Before McCarney took over at Iowa State, the Hawkeyes had won 12 straight in the series. That streak reached 15 games until the Cyclones prevailed, 27-9, in 1998 in Kinnick Stadium.
“Any time you get a chance to match your talents, abilities, team, coaches, players and be fortunate to come out on top (against Iowa), it is always a major, major accomplishment,” McCarney said. “What I tried to do was turn the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry back into a rivalry.
“You always have mixed feelings (coaching against your alma mater), but your focus, loyalties, and commitment is to those players and those coaches.”
When McCarney is introduced to cheers from 70,000 fans Sept. 3, he will think of his father, Patrick, a former police chief in Iowa City.
“My dad is in the honorary letterman’s club here,” McCarney said. “He never put on a jock strap in his life but for his contributions and his love of this place. He passed when he was 84. I will remember dad (Sept. 3) and appreciate all the great memories we shared together at Iowa.”
Iowa opens the season against Miami (Ohio) with kickoff set for 2:32 p.m. (CT). As significant as it is for McCarney to return to Kinnick Stadium, it is also noteworthy that the opponent is Miami (Ohio). With McCarney as head coach, Iowa State defeated the Redhawks, 17-13, in the 2004 Independence Bowl.