As new Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema puts the final touches of the hiring process, it's clear that he's following through on his promise to build a coaching staff "second to none."
I'm reminded of Hayden Fry's words on the day Bielema was introduced in Fayetteville. Fry knew that Bielema, one of his former players and coaches at Iowa, would assemble a staff full of men with desire to be head coaches.
That's what Fry did at Iowa. Among his former assistants to become college head coaches are Bob Stoops, Bill Snyder, Barry Alvarez, Bo Pelini, Kirk Ferentz, Mike Stoops, Mark Stoops, Dan McCarney, Chuck Long and Jim Leavitt.
Perhaps those Bielema has brought to Arkansas (Jim Chaney, Chris Ash, Sam Pittman, Charlie Partridge, Joel Thomas, Randy Shannon, George McDonald, Taver Johnson and a yet-to-be named tight ends coach) will be head coaches some day, too.
Fry said he recognized Bielema as head coach material when he was asked to be a graduate assistant for the Hawkeyes after his brief fling at the NFL was done in by a bad knee.
Bielema told Fry he was considering taking a job as a financial analyst, something he had trained for in college.
"I told him he shouldn't do that because he'd be wearing a suit and tie every day," Fry said. "You won't like that."
Fry's belief is that you hire only coaches that want to be head coach for two reasons, they have "ethics of a higher order" and they are motivated to the absolute max.
"Those that want to be head coaches model themselves as head coaches because of their goals and that develops a stronger staff," Fry said. "I learned that under Frank Broyles. And then, when they start becoming head coaches, new ones see that it's the right place to come to make that next step, too. It starts a chain reaction of good coaches wanting to work at your school. And it sets you up to win, too."
Fry explained that to all of his assistants and knows that Bielema understands.
"If they move on, fine," Fry said.
That comes from a man who used a one-year stop at Arkansas under Broyles to prepare himself for the SMU head coaching job. He coached the offensive backfield for the Hogs in 1961.
Fry said it was a good time to tell his story from the pre-game of the Sugar Bowl between Arkansas and Alabama for the first time for print.
"I've told this privately, but it's never been written," he said. "You go ahead."
The story is full of Hall of Fame names with Arkansas ties.
"I was running the pre-game drills with the backs to get them loose," Fry said. "Bear Bryant walked down to the Arkansas end, saying he wanted to meet me. Really, I thought he just wanted to get a better look at Lance Alworth. You know, Frank hired me at Arkansas and told him my only job was to find some new ways to get the ball to Lance.
"A security man came out of the tunnel of the end zone and told me that he had an emergency phone call from Lamar Hunt and it was a call I should take."
At first, Fry decided to stay with his players. Bryant convinced him the security guard had the right idea, take the call.
"Bear and I both knew that Hunt was the lead man on the job search at SMU," Fry said, "a job I had already turned down because they wouldn't let me recruit black players."
Fry asked Bryant if he'd continue the drills for his backs while he was gone and Bear started laughing and growled, "No, I don't believe so."
"So I got Barry Switzer and Fred Akers, two of our GAs, to handle it," Fry said. "I took the call."
Hunt said The Methodist elders have taken a vote and it's 19-0 to allow Fry to take a black athlete if he would take the job at SMU.
"I asked him, ‘A black athlete? One?'" Fry said. "I figured that would be a start and I took it. A few years later we recruited Jerry Levias and that broke the color barrier in the south.
"Funny thing, I didn't ask about money. I just assumed it was a head coach salary and it would be good."
It wasn't so funny when he opened his first SMU check. That's when he remembered what Broyles told him when he was hired at Arkansas, that many of his assistants were making better than a lot of head coaches around the country, even the SWC.
"My first check at SMU turned out to be below my last check at Arkansas," he said. "My annual salary at Arkansas was $13,900. I was getting $13,000 at SMU. It was the last time I failed to discuss money before accepting a job."
Then, he relayed another message he always had for coaches when they take a head coaching job away from his staff.
"Don't worry so much about the money," he said. "It takes care of itself. You win, they'll give you more. You lose, they are going to fire you. So just win and you'll make plenty. Even after that, I never read a contract in 47 years of coaching. It all works out."
It works out if you hire assistants that want to be head coaches.
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