Nothing Like Fry Day in Iowa City

Hayden Fry was chosen as the Homecoming Parade's Grand Marshall and will be recognized during halftime of the Michigan game for his recent election into the college football hall of fame. The Hawkeye coaching legend met with the local press Friday afternoon to discuss the honor. He also talked on many other subjects, including the '85 Michigan game, the state of the program, playing tricks on Bo Schembechler and much more.


Coach Fry came to our university about the same time that I did. The football team was down. He showed us, not only how to pursue excellence, but how to achieve it. His 20 years at the University of Iowa, not only inspired our university community, and me personally, it also gave us huge sense of Hawkeye Pride. The same can be said for Coach Fry's influence on our state. Thanks in large part to his raising the Hawkeyes to national prominence, Iowans from boarder to boarder knew that the UI was all about high achievement. Our citizens increased their sense of pride in the entire great state of Iowa. Coach Fry set the bar high for the future of Hawkeye football, Hawkeye athletics in general and university achievement overall. Today we are larger, stronger and a more accomplished institution than we were two decades ago. Hayden certainly has something to do with that. Even now, some years after his retirement, he remains committed to the excellence and progress at the University of Iowa. He continues to work hard for us. He continues to represent us wonderfully. We're all grateful for the legacy and the continued support of our coach, my friend, Hayden Fry.


Thank you David. Well, this is a super great honor. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the work of the homecoming committee. They worked extremely hard. They're also beautiful young ladies, and I enjoyed working with them. President Skoroton and I have been friends for years and years. I had the opportunity to serve on several committees with him. I'm sure that he's doing an excellent job as the president of the University of Iowa, although I haven't been here to observe it. I have to assume, kind of like the acceptance of Coach Ferentz and others, that you people in the news media keep a positive attitude about everything. Even though, we might have a few turnovers and penalties from time to time, in the long haul everything is going to turn out OK. I know President Skorton has got quite a job to do, and he's off to a beautiful start.

This tribute to me is in recognition of all of the wonderful players that I had at several universities, particularly here at the University of Iowa, and the great assistant coaches that I had. I had great administrators. People that let me coach and paid my assistants that let me keep one group for seven years without a turnover. All of those guys are head coaches today and doing very well. I've had 16 (assistants) become head coaches from my career and 26 (players) became assistant coaches. I don't know how many players I've had go into the NFL. What I'm trying to get across to you is that of all the players that I was located, this was my favorite.

I made the observation after being 9-2 and 10-1 at North Texas State because of the politics involved in intercollegiate athletics at that time, we didn't receive an invitation to go to a bowl game. I told my coaching staff at North Texas that we're going to go some place. Fortunately we had the opportunity to go to Ole' Miss, Oklahoma State or Iowa. I told the coaches to get film from each school. We'll study the film, and we'll make a decision. I just had hustled $25 to build a new basketball arena, and I was over with the women's basketball coach going through some business. On the way back to the office, I made up my mind as the athletic director and head football coach, that we were going to go.

I walked into the staff room and Coach Bill Brazier, who was the defensive coordinator with me for 24 years, was showing films of Iowa at the time. I turned the lights on and I said "You coaches, have you made a decision yet what we're going to do?" And Coach Brazier in his high twang Texas voice said (Fry does an impression) "Coach Fry, (laughter) we made up our minds." I said "Really Coach Brazier? What are we going to do?" He said "We going to go to Iowa." I said "Bill, I don't even know where Iowa is located." (laughter). And he said "Sit down Coach Fry and look at this film." So I did. And right off of the bat, it panned Kinnick Stadium. It's filled with around 53,000 people at the time. Iowa made a first down and everyone in the stadium just came alive. It was unbelievable. I was sitting there thinking "Gee whiz, I wonder what they would do if we scored a touchdown?" (laughter) That was the motivation, really, to come up here. I was never disappointed with the people, the loyalty. I will always be extremely grateful to everyone for the assistance of making life pleasant for me.


What was it like to see guys that you recruited as walk-ons like Bruce Nelson and Dallas Clark become first-team all-Americans?

You know, that was kind of the history of my career. I took one guy and gave him the last scholarship we had because we didn't have anyone else to give it, Walter Chapman down at North Texas. He becomes an all-American defensive nose guard and then played professional football. Our last scholarship, by the way, and I don't want to embarrass him...Marv Cook was such a good athlete in high school. They played him at all positions. We couldn't make up our mind. He received the last scholarship we had that year. Of course, Marv became an all-American, etc. Through my career, I always had to take tight ends and get them on a good weight program and feed them pretty good and move them inside. They had more speed and agility as tackles and guards and even a couple of centers.

But yeah, that last group that graduated last year, I jokingly told Coach Ferentz that 17 of those guys were the last ones that I recruited. And then, Bob Elliott did a wonderful job of keeping them together after I left and I had the prostate cancer and resigned. Coach Ferentz has done a wonderful job. Anywhere you go with a new system, new coaches, it takes a while to get it across to the players, lay the foundation and I think last year was proff that Coach Ferentz and his staff are doing a super job. Of course, I still get a kick of out some of the second-guessers. Like losing last week and...I ate Coach Ferentz out. I said "You don't ever tell the news media that you made a mistake, like on the coin toss. (laughter) That's just rediculous. You give up two points to Arizona State the week before. You know you're defense is playing. You've got a tremendous wind blowing at Michigan State. Why not kick off? Hold them. They're going to have to punt. You get the ball at midfield. You've got great field position and go. Well, it didn't work out that way. That's football. It didn't work out for Michigan against Oregon. It didn't work out for Oregon the next week against Washington State. That's just football. You have to learn how to roll with it. I had more fun with the news media than anybody. I always knew that you had a job to do. But if you kind of got off in left field a little bit, you know, I might curl your hair. (laughter)

What do you expect from tomorrow's Iowa-Michigan game?

First of all, it will be a very good game. The Michigan-Iowa games have always been good games, exciting games. Sometimes you see great defense and not much scoring. Other times you see wide-open offense. It's hard to really predict. I do know this having been a coach for 47 years that the injury situation always plays a big part. The years that we didn't do well, if you go back and check the injury report, we had a bunch of guys - I'm talking about key people - that were injured. The years we had great years, we very seldom got anyone hurt, just like Kirk last year. Freddie Russell hurt his shoulder and a couple of other guys got bruised, but he didn't lose any of those studs.

I watched last week. The Chandler kid is going to be a fine quarterback. I know some people are already down on him. The kid is from junior college. He never played Big Ten football. It's a heck of a jump. And he lost his two top receivers. You could tell when he dropped back his feet were moving a little bit more than usual. He tried to force the ball several times, particularly to Ochoa, who is going to be a great receiver and punt return man and kick return man. But you have to get used to working with it. It doesn't just come like that. If you guys in the news media just give that kid Nathan Chandler a chance, he's going to be truly outstanding. I can see that in him, his ability, his mindset.

I had a great thrill last year. I had (Brad) Banks over in the Hula Bowl. We sat down and talked about the offense and the style he had been running and how Coach Ferentz and his staff had changed things to meet the abilities that he possessed to fully utilize them and leave other things out. I'm sure if Kirk needs to make any adjustments with Chandler, he'll do that. Iowa football is in great hands. I think that you have a wonderful future ahead.

You've got to recruit though. That's the whole secret. All the time that I was here, my biggest disappointment, and I never could say this publicly because I didn't want to hurt any feelings, is that there was a tremendous drop-off from my No. 1 player a specific position and No. 2 or No. 3. Where as at Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, those teams, they run in a No. 3 and he looks just like No. 1. So, that's always been a difference in quality and depth. So once again, if you don't get many people hurt here at Iowa, the No. 1s can normally play with anyone. When you start getting the Tim Dwights and the Harmons and the Chuck Longs, people like that wounded, you're not going to do well. If you keep them healthy, you're going to compete with anyone.

How do you feel about being a first ballot hall of fame inductee?

You can't believe how many people from Texas as well as Iowa are going to go to New York. I don't know how they're going to afford it. It costs you an arm and a leg to go to the Waldorf-Astoria. Maybe we can get some housing someplace else, the YMCA or some place. (laughter) But we're going to have great representation there. I'm hoping that Mr. Bowlsby and the athletic department will have representation there. This is a great, great honor. And represents more the state of Iowa than anything else. The greatest thrill to me personally is the fact that Jerry LeVias, the first black scholarship player in the Southwest, I gave it to him and that's the greatest thing that I ever did in football, and he is being inducted at the same time that I am in December. That's a great honor to be going in with Jerry. He's the closest thing to Tim Dwight, for those of you who know Timmy, that I ever had.

What does it mean to you that Bo Schembechler, a good friend of yours, will be presenting you with the plaque tomorrow?

I couldn't have picked a better person. Coach Schembechler is one of the greatest coaches, one of the greatest competitors, and since we stopped coaching together, one of my greatest friends. (laughter). I had a lot of fun with Bo. He never understood me. (laughter) I always had the philosophy that after a light workout on Friday, all the hay was in the barn, and now let's have a little fun and try to develop a positive attitude with the players. I carried it a step further. I tried to joke and cut up a little bit with the opposing coach. They were always uptight in pregame warmup. I'll remind Bo tomorrow. I'm going to say up in the press box "Coach Schembechler, watch the Iowa snappers and tell me what you think." When we were No. 1 and they were No. 2, I changed my guards and centers positions in the pregame warmup. The guards were snapping the ball back to our punter. They were bouncing them back on the ground. They were snapping them over the head of the punter. Bo comes down and he gets to watching it. I'm standing there trying to keep a straight face. (laughter) (Fry breaks into a very good Bo impression) "Coach Fry, you're not going to let that guy snap during the game are you?" I said "Coach Schembechler, we don't plan on punting tonight" and walked off. (laughter)

He chased me down to the end zone. He had been having heart problems, and he offered me a piece of his sugerless gum. I grabbed the whole pack and took off. I still got that as a keepsake. (laughter) Of course, he spent all day spending white butcher's paper on their dressing room walls. Most coaches don't do that because they're not that smart. They don't know that pink is suppose to be passive. If I had painted it red, it would have been too agressive.

What are some of your favorite memories from that 1985 game?

Gosh, we had a lot of great things happen against Michigan. The two biggest things that happened were on fourth down and one, and they go for it. We call a base defense because we've got a great, great, great linebacker named Larry Station. The only thing that we ever told Larry, Coach Bill Brazier and Barry Alvarez both coached Larry, is that go get the guy with the ball. They gave the ball deep to the tailback. And Station, he could anticipate and figure out what was going on quicker than any linebacker that I ever had. He met the ball carrier three yards deep and we took over and then Chuck Long, we drove the length of the field.

The second was Rob Houghtlin being ready to kick the field goal and they called timeout. He trots off of the field laughing, puts his arm around me and he says "Coach, can you believe it, they're trying to ice me?" We had a nice little conversation. He trots back out on the field and he gets ready and they called time out again. He was ready to kick and right at the last second they called time out. This time he walks off of the field with his head down. I said, "Uh-oh, we're in trouble. They've gotten to him." He gets to the sideline, puts his arm around me again and says "Coach, you know my grandfather died a couple of weeks ago. He's upstairs looking down on us. I'm going to kick this one for him." He turned around and walked back out on the field.

There were a lot of things to remember - the total environment, the coverage, bringing in the candles because it was a twilight kickoff, misty rain, one of the officials didn't show up and they had to get a substitute official. The guy was from Iowa. I won't mention his name, but I think it was the last game that he ever officiated. (laughter) Helverson stretched out in the back part of the end zone and caught a touchdown pass. He was inbounds a yard and a half, two yards, and this official ruled him out. Of course, we could all see it on the replay. But I'm saying to myself as the game progressed "This would be a real tragedy of we lost this game because we didn't get credit for that touchdown." But we finally won it. I don't think Michigan had given up a touchdown up until that point during the season. Bo and I will have a lot of fun in the press box. He's a great guy.

Do you still get a little nervous when Michigan and Bo come to town?

No. But I wouldn't be surprised if Lloyd Carr, who is also a great coach, did have old Bo say a few words to the troops before kickoff.

Last year, you name came up in regards to getting back into coaching. Were you really serious about maybe wanting to get back in?

I was serious at this point. Baylor University, a school where I played college football and got my degree and then went back as an assistant coach, it's really been embarrassing what's happened to them through the years. Since Grant Taft retired, they just haven't fired a shot. They flew out to see me and wanted me to come out of retirement. I told the president, "Mr. President, if you cannot find a good coach, this is the only school I would give consideration to to help turn the program around. If it takes me two years, three years or what, I'll hire a real good staff and then I would want the authority when you hire me to appoint my assistant coach as the head coach when I retire." Well, that sounded great to them. But the coach from Kentucky (Guy Morriss) evidently met their criteria, which made me real happy because my wife would have shot me if I would have come out of retirement. (laughter) It turned out real good.

What do you miss the most about Saturdays, game days?

Well, you know, I had more fun than anyone. I was a hands-on coach. I made the game plan. I called all of the plays. The reason that I did that was that it kept me studying the game. I had to know all about the defenses, all of the secondary coverages, the stunts, the blitzes and everything in order to attack them from an offensive standpoint. That really kept me involved. I've been a quarterback, junior high, high school, Marine Corp, college, the whole thing. So, I didn't think that anybody could do a better job than I could. As a head coach, I put a lot of my good players over on defense. I remember what Bear Bryant told me when I was a real young coach. I was asking him "Coach, how did you win this many games, etc.?" He said "Son, just remember one thing, if the other team can't score, you can't come out worse than a tie." (laughter) I thought that was great advice. We always tried to play real good defense and then build our offense as we went along. Game days were super though. I was completely relaxed on game days. I would put on my white pants and my shades and tell the opposing coach a few jokes in pregame warmups and shake him up a little bit.

I can't repeat the greatest pep talk I ever gave my team. We had 17 players on our team at Iowa from Texas. We had four assistant coaches plus myself. The University of Texas had been No. 1 in the nation for eight years. They obviously were upset when they've got to go to the Freedom Bowl. They thought that they were much better than us. Psychologically we had an advantage right off of the bat. But it then became a monsoon. In pregame warmup, Chuck Long could not hand the ball off without fumbling. Jonathan hayes dropped 14 passes in pregame warmup. Everybody was so uptight. They wanted to win so bad. I stopped them right at the door of the locker room before the opening kickoff and I told them a little story. As you know, we got 55 points real quick. They had a great, great team and a great defense, but I told how mich of it is the mental aspect in any sport but particularly in football.

Hayden, do you know that that's the only time that you ever opened the dressing room to the press?

It was probably by mistake. (laughter)

That's what I wanted to ask you. Looking back, do you feel like you were treated fairly by the press in the state?

I think I was treated super, but I didn't want them to know that. (laughter) There's no question about it. When I retired, I made a point to tell Hlas, I wanted Mike to know that I knew he had a job to do. I didn't always agree with what he said. But he was a good target. I had a couple over in Des Moines that were good targets. You've got to get your message across. You don't want to alienate yourself with everyone. Every now and then, in sports, you have to do that. You can't be lovey-dovey all of the time because if you lose enough games it doesn't matter how nice you are. You're still going to get fired. The bottom line is that the only thing that is really important is that it's a business. Look at all of the money. Football and basketball pays for everything, other than what they fundraisers can get, for all of the men's and women's sports. And it's gotten completely out of hand. I'm for coaches making all of the money they can, but it's completely out of hand in my opinion. What happens if you start paying these astronomical salaries, now you've got to meet the budget. If you don't go to a major bowl game, you're not going to make the budget. If the basketball team doesn't go pretty high in the NCAA Tournament, you're not going to make the budget. It puts pressure on the coach of that particular sport. Well, what's the next step? The next step is he's going to try, not all of them but some of them, are going to start cutting corners because they want that edge. That's how it is. That's not right. I don't know what's going to happen. Bob knows that he can't keep raising ticket prices every year to get the revenue. Everybody should be able to participate, men and women. They're entitled to it. But it's getting out of hand.

Are you concerned what could happen in football if players get to go to the NFL any time they want?

By rights, they're entitled to go if they want to. When they get out of high schoo, there's not anything that says that they can't go except the NCAA doesn't want them to, for a good purpose. They want them to come to college because college is the NFL farm system. Then the commissioner of the NFL, they think they're really doing us a favor by saying you've got to complete your sophomore year. Somewhere, something is going to happen. The Clarett case may bring it to a head.

I think they should be entitled to make their own decision. It's like I've always been in favor of legally, through the NCAA rules, be able to pay the young man something. That helps eliminate the cheaters and the guys that you never hear about trying to give them money or automobiles or whatever. If the university could give them something...well, you can't give it just to the football players without giving it to the other sports. Now you're talking about a larger budget. Where's the money going to come from? There are a lot of problems that need to be worked out.

I've always been in favor of having an eight-team playoff after the bowl games and get the real champion in football. The president don't want to do it. I don't know how President Skorton feels about it. Even if you just took the top four teams after the bowl games and had the winner of those two games play for the national championship, look how much revenue that would generate to help. You split it up like you do the basketball receipts from the NCAA to help pay for some of this stuff. Most of those games are played during the holidays. They're not interferring with the academic life. But that's always been what the presidents have thrown out. It doesn't if you check the calendar. Football is the only sport that I can think of where you go by polls. Most of those guys that vote in the polls never had on a jock strap. How do they know?

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