Read: Hayden Fry will always be a Hawkeye

The beloved Hayden Fry was there for Iowa when the program — and the state — needed him.


Brian Ray

Former University of Iowa head football coach Hayden Fry signs copies of his book “A High Porch Picnic” Tuesday March 2, 1999 at the Jacobsen athletic building in Iowa City. Fry’s book will be available to the public Wednesday night at Carver Hawkeye arena. (Brian Ray/The Daily Iowan)

Robert Read, Assistant Sports Editor

When it’s said that somebody embodies a program, few times is it ever true.

When it comes to Hayden Fry, it couldn’t be more accurate.

Fry is a native of Eastland, Texas, and was a head coach at the college level in the Lone Star State for 17 seasons before coming to Iowa City, but as far as the Hawkeye community is concerned, he belongs to Iowa.

In Fry’s introductory press conference at Iowa, he promised he would turn the perennially-losing Hawkeyes into a winner. At the time of his retirement, he said he would always be a Hawkeye.

Both proved to be true.

He took an Iowa program that was stuck in the gutter — in a similar state to where Rutgers is today, for perspective — and within three years went to the Rose Bowl. His legacy and list of accomplishments would only grow from there.

When Fry finally succumbed to his battle with cancer — a disease he had been fighting since he retired at Iowa, Fry was apparently too stubborn to lose that fight in the first 20 years — part of his family’s statement made one thing clear:

“Though Hayden was born in Texas and moved there more recently to be closer to our family, his love for the University of Iowa, his players and coaches, the people of Iowa, and the state of Iowa, is well known. Hayden often shared, ‘I’ll Always Be a Hawkeye.’”

Part of Fry’s fiery persona was always evident. He was going to do whatever he felt was best, no matter what others thought.

As head coach at SMU in 1965, Fry made Jerry LeVias the first black scholarship athlete in the history of the Southwest Conference.

“Coach Fry,” LeVias said in a release, “caught a lot of hell for doing what he did.”

Fry brought that attitude to Iowa City.

The cowboy hat-wearing Texan made it clear that he had what it took to make the Hawkeyes a winning program, whether Iowans at the time believed him or not.

“Hayden was always on the cutting edge and looking for the best people, regardless of race, creed, or color,” said former Iowa defensive back Merton Hanks, who played for Fry from 1987-90. “What he did at Iowa, really rebuilding that program to what it was to, quite frankly, national power.”

On the field, he installed an offense that embodied a smash-mouth ground attack and an innovative passing game. Fry, never afraid to take a chance, was good for a trick play or two, as well.

When Fry took the Hawkeyes to the Rose Bowl after the 1981 season, it snapped a 13-season streak of either Ohio State or Michigan representing the Big Ten in Pasadena.

Fry was there for Iowa off the field when the state needed it too.

When the Farm Crisis hit Iowa in the early 1980s, Fry showed his support for Iowans farming across the state with the “America Needs Farmers” movement.

When a campus shooting in 1991 devastated the state, Fry decided to take the decals off of every player’s helmet as a sign of support to the victims.

Fry was larger than life in his time coaching at Iowa and continues to be even after his death.

Fry’s legacy will live on with Iowa forever.

When the Hawkeyes swarm the field at the Holiday Bowl, players will be donning Fry’s Tigerhawk on their helmets, wearing the uniforms of Fry’s creation.

Should the Hawkeyes win, maybe Iowa throws it back to a Fry tradition and celebrates with the hokey pokey in the locker room.

If so, somewhere, the man behind the aviator sunglasses, donning his signature mustache and white pants would be nodding in approval — shaking it all about.