By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Carl Jackson has seen the best of Iowa football. He’s also experienced the other side of the coin.
Jackson joined head coach Hayden Fry in 1979 and moved from North Texas State to Iowa, a program that had a run of 17 consecutive non-winning seasons.
“I didn’t know anything about Iowa, and I didn’t know who to call and ask,” Jackson said. “So I was very apprehensive. But we got it going in three years.”
Iowa’s share of the 1981 Big Ten title and a spot in the 1982 Rose Bowl is one of college football’s greatest stories.
When Kirk Ferentz was hired to replace Fry in 1999, he talked Jackson into returning for another rebuilding project. Jackson, who got a Super Bowl ring as running backs coach with the San Francisco 49ers in 1994, says he had to think long and hard about Ferentz’s offer.
“We had a great experience there before,” Jackson said. “My wife and I had friends here. And I felt like we could get it done.”
Three years later, Iowa won the 2001 Alamo Bowl, with an Orange Bowl bid and a share of the Big Ten title following in 2002.
Ferentz kicked off his 20th season as the Hawkeyes’ head coach Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Fry also coached 20 seasons.
“In today’s age that’s unusual,” said Jackson, who retired after the 2007 season. “I guess Iowa is that kind of place. They give a guy a chance to do things.”
Jackson was in Iowa City over the weekend for a reunion of Fry’s 1983 coaching staff, considered one of the greatest in college football history.
Ferentz was offensive line coach. Jackson was running backs coach. Also making it back were Bill Brashier, defensive coordinator; Bob Stoops, graduate assistant; Dan McCarney, defensive line coach; Don Patterson, tight ends coach; Del Miller, receivers coach; Bernie Wyatt, defensive ends coach; and Bill Dervrich, strength and conditioning coach.
Also on that staff were Bill Snyder, offensive coordinator, and linebackers coach Barry Alvarez. Fry, 89, was not able to attend.
Brashier, a member of the National Iowa Varsity Club Hall of Fame, who retired after the 1995 season, remembers the first time Fry mentioned Iowa to the staff at North Texas State.
“We said, ‘Where is it at?'” Brashier recalled.
And then he played a big role in putting Iowa back on the college football map. Brashier is one man Ferentz studied, searching for coaching keys to success. Brashier was watching Ferentz, too.
“I knew he was special, I sure did,” Brashier said. “I think that everyone who was around him knew he was going to be pretty good and he was going to rise up as far as he could go.”
Stoops was hired by Oklahoma a day before Ferentz was hired by Iowa in 1999. So technically, he was the nation’s longest-tenured head coach by a day when he retired in June of 2017.
“I was actually up here for a day after I retired,” Stoops said. “I got a chance to see Kirk, and I handed the reigns over to the longest tenured coach.”
Stoops was a part of two national championships, as defensive coordinator at Florida (1997) and head coach at Oklahoma (2000).
A four-year starter as a defensive back at Iowa (1979-82), Stoops calls Fry and Ferentz “two great people, two great leaders. Coach Fry was a great mentor to me. And then Kirk, a mentor and a great friend. He’s done an awesome job here and I’ve always been for him. I’m always proud to be a Hawkeye.”
Iowa is home for McCarney, too. He was raised here, attended City High, and played for the Hawkeyes as an offensive lineman (1972-74) before joining the coaching staff as a graduate assistant in 1977.
A former head coach at Iowa State and North Texas who was defensive line coach for a national championship team at Florida in 2008, McCarney said that seeing two coaches at one school for 40 seasons is remarkable.
“Almost unheard of,” McCarney said. “You stop and think about all the years we spent together and building this thing together. Then to see one of our own get the baton from Hayden Fry and keep it going here. You don’t see that much. You see changes, revolving doors, presidents, athletic directors, what have you done lately? Not much stability. There’s stability here.”
Every assistant coach on that staff except Brashier, Jackson, and Wyatt went on to become a head college coach.
“We sure wouldn’t have turned this program around without the contributions of those three,” McCarney said. “Unblieveable coaches and people.”
McCarney said members of that 1983 staff are forever indebted to Fry for the opportunities he provided.
“Do you think we would have ever had the chances we did without coach Fry? Not a chance,” McCarney said. “Collectively, what we did is pretty special. It’s nice that a lot of people recognize the job coach Fry did, and the great tradition that has continued under Kirk Ferentz.”