The roots of a tree usually produce an intricate system that goes far down into the ground. When a tree has long tap roots, that is precisely the rationale. No matter how impressive the growth of roots beyond the drip line, the top of a mature tree is more heavy than its' root system. A tree's roots have quite a responsibility. There is no doubt the old ball coach from Eastland, Texas understands one thing: the most important part of a tree's growth is in the first five years after being planted.
One of the strange new phenomenon in the coaching world of NCAA football is about ready to show its face again.
When Wisconsin and San Diego State face of in Madison this weekend (2:30 kickoff, ESPNU), yet another chapter of High Porch Picnic will be written. Badger coach Bret Bielema and Aztec coach Chuck Long are familiar with one another. They've met.
Bielema earned four letters from 1989-92 while a member of the Iowa football program. He enrolled as a walk-on, but was later rewarded a scholarship by his play on the field. Coach Bielema was a member of Iowa's 1990 Big Ten championship team. He would go on to be a full-time starter his final two seasons and was named a co-captain in his final year.
Long was a four year starter at quarterback for Iowa (1981-85). As a senior in 1985, led Iowa to a No. 1 national ranking and in so doing, earned the Maxwell and Davey O'Brien Awards. He came in second in the Heisman voting that year to Bo Jackson - the closest vote in the history of the award. Long became the first player in Big Ten history to surpass 10,000 yards passing and still holds Hawkeye career records for passing yards (10,461), touchdowns (74) and completion percentage (65.0).
So, there is history.
Upon graduation, both gentlemen attempted to play professional football. Chuck Long was a first round (#12) pick for the Detroit Lions. He played eight seasons in the league (1986-94) before retiring. Bret Bielema was signed as a free agent by the Seattle Seahawks, and then ended his career playing in the Arena football league. Both would then catch the coaching bug. They would return to their college alma mater and coach on the same staff from 1995-98. Long would move on to join Bob Stoops in Oklahoma during the 1999 season and help lead the Sooners to a national championship the following year. Bielema remained in Iowa City through 2001 before being asked by Bill Snyder to be a part of the Kansas State coaching staff in 2002-03. Snyder and Stoops grow the same roots, as they both coached and/or played at Iowa, also.
Bielema and Long would be on teams that face Iowa State during the Big Eight (turned 12) schedule. The Cyclones are coached by Dan McCarney, who coached with Snyder and Stoops at Iowa during the 1980's. Another member of that staff: current Hawkeye head man Kirk Ferentz. Bielema was on Ferentz' staff from 1999-2001 at Iowa before moving to KSU. By the way, yet another member of Snyder, McCarney, Ferentz staff: a man named Alvarez…Barry Alvarez. And yet another member - Don Patterson - was on the East sidelines of Camp Randall last week with the Western Illinois Leathernecks. Patterson was on Iowa's staff when Bielema played for the Hawkeyes.
Miami of Ohio has long claimed to be the house where coaches are made, or ‘Cradle of coaches' if you will. Having produced names like Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, Paul Brown and Jim Tressel. That is certainly a laundry list for success in the world of football x's and o's. The modern cradle, however, may very well be birthed in the heartland as well. The new one is called the "Hayden Fry coaching tree".
John Hayden Fry was born in Texas. He would go on to play and coach high school football in that state, as well as be given his first college coaching experience there. Coach Fry was awarded assistant positions at Baylor and Arkansas before earning his first head coaching job at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in 1962. Fry was the first coach in the history of the Southwestern Conference to award a black athlete a scholarship in the SWC when he offered wide receiver Jerry Levias a chance to play. Hayden when on to take over the North Texas program in 1973 and remained there until 1978 when the University of Iowa came calling.
The first two seasons at Iowa were pretty lean with the Hawkeyes winning five and four games, respectively. But, in this third season, the team broke through in year three - winning eight games, garnering the program's first winning season in 19 years, and earning a Rose Bowl berth. Three members of that program, Long, Bob Stoops, and Mike Stoops, would go on to be head coaches in Division I football. Mike Stoops was recently hired as the head man for the Arizona Wildcats.
With names like Bo, Ara, and Woody, you would surely not feel any other school could rival the kind of prowess and success found on the Miami (OH) campus. That is a pretty strong coaching tree. But with Fry's ever expanding grove, perhaps it is time to put another in the nursery. This time, they are all attributed to one person. "Coach Long and I are proud of who we are and where we came from," Bielema states. "We are happy to have been a part of Coach Fry's staff and it grows every day."
On Saturday, the Aztecs will have eight coaches who have either played with or coached along side the Badger head man. That is a lot of leaves that have grown from the branches. Which grow from the trunk. Which grow from the roots. Which all came from one man.
And you will be able to see him watching the game from the High Porch of Camp Randall on Saturday. Coach Fry now resides in Texas and also has a home in Nevada. He has satellite dishes that pick up games all over the country so he can keep tabs on ‘his boys' in the world of college football. When the strange phenomenon happens that two of them face off on the gridiron, he is usually in attendance. It happens every year when Iowa and Wisconsin face off. It will happen when Arizona and Oklahoma begin an annual non-conference home and home series. When Iowa and Iowa State battle, it happens. San Diego State and Wisconsin is another leaf. Kansas State and Oklahoma yet another. Western Illinois and Wisconsin another. There are other coaches from this branch, too. South Florida's Jim Leavitt was a Fry staffer in the 80's. Current Nebraska QB coach Jay Norvell, yet another. You could on with 53 more names.
But there is no need to because the tree is pretty darn big, and the roots are pretty deep.