One-on-one with former Iowa quarterback Chuck Long

Daily Iowan Sports Reporter Chris Werner spoke with Long about his famous bootleg play against Michigan State in 1985 and more from his Hawkeye career.


Shivansh Ahuja

The Iowa football team is introduced during a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 7, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights, 30-0.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

The Daily Iowan: It’s been a little over 35 years since the naked bootleg play [in 1985 against Michigan State] if you can believe it. Is your memory of that play still crystal clear?

Chuck Long: Oh, absolutely. It’s one of those plays that — I’ll tell you what, we never practiced the play, we never knew that play was comin’. In the five years that I was there, we never practiced that play, never talked about it. Never in a training camp, never in a spring ball. It wasn’t even in the game plan that week. It was just a hunch that coach [Hayden] Fry had. You know, we call our last timeout, I get to the sideline thinking, you know, on the two-yard line we’re going to throw the ball, give it to Ronnie Harmon, or something like that. And [Fry] said, he goes, ‘Hey Charlie,’ he called me Charlie, he said ‘Charlie, we’re going to run the isolation play,’ we had an isolation play between the center and guard on the left side, he said, ‘We’re going to call that play, go out and call that play,’ 47 pop out with a lead fullback and everything. And he said ‘Don’t tell anybody but don’t hand the ball off, just keep it, go around the right side and score a touchdown.’ And I thought he was crazy, I said, ‘Coach, if I don’t get in the clock is gonna run out or they get the ball,’ one of the two, and he just said, ‘You know what,’ he goes ‘I just got a gut feeling about it.’ So I went in there and he said, ‘Just run the play, do what I tell you to do.’ So I went in there and called the 47 pop out. I didn’t tell anybody, I kept the ball, went around the right side and it was wide open. Couldn’t believe it.”

DI: Was that play the only time coach Fry ever told you to lie to your teammates?

Long: Yeah, that was it. He just said, ‘Don’t tell anybody,’ because he wanted a good fake out of the running back.

DI: What do you remember about Coach Fry, both as a person and a coach?

Long: He just made it fun. He was very creative, just a genius. You know, when he hit Iowa, he was way ahead of his time. I mean, he was way ahead of what was going on. Much like you see some of these great offenses, you see it today. He was ahead of his time. You know, the Big Ten had the Michigan-Ohio State stranglehold every year. So I think for like 15 years, one of those two teams went to the Rose Bowl every year. Until Iowa. Until Hayden Fry. Hayden Fry made it all possible for everybody. And we went in ‘81 and went to the Rose Bowl. First team [other than] Ohio State or Michigan for about 15 years. And since then, I think every team but maybe a couple, two or three, have gone to the Rose Bowl so, he made it all possible for everybody, that you could do it. He was creative, he was fun. Had a great discipline about him so you worked hard at the same time. He made it so much fun because of his personality. He was a great person. He was a second father to me.

DI: What do you remember about that Michigan State game in ‘85 and then about that ‘85 season in general?

Long: We just became No. 1 in the nation right before that game and, you know, Michigan State had upset alert on their mind. We always had great battles with Michigan State, we knew it was going to be another great battle. And it ended up being that. And then just to win it on a bootleg at the end of the game was just one of those special memories. That was probably the single favorite play of mine. And then, of course, the great team victory that year was Michigan came in No. 2, we were No. 1, that was the best team victory I’ve ever been a part of us.

DI: Those two games, where do they rank in your favorite games you’ve ever played in?

Long: They’re at the top, I mean, the Michigan game is No. 1 on my list. And the bootleg game was easily top-five. Michigan versus Iowa was No. 1 on my list for sure.

DI: 1985 was the last time an Iowa team was ranked No.1 in the country. Is it still a source of personal pride for you?

Long: Absolutely. To get it where it was a downtrodden program before Hayden took over, one of the worst programs in the country, to get it to No. 1 at a place like Iowa. That’s near impossible. I mean, we made it possible. I mean just to grind it from, you know, it was futile in the ‘70s, the ‘70s were rough. It was a bottom-feeder program. Hayden gets over and we climb to No. 1 in the nation by ‘85. It’s a testament to all the hard work that staff put in, that coach Fry put in, the community getting behind it, the athletic department getting behind it. The recruiting, the development. It took a lot of great effort from a lot of different folks there to do that.

DI: And then kind of coming back to present-day, I assume you’ve seen Petras’ first two starts this year. Do you have any takeaways from them that you’d like to share?

Long: I just think that you’d like to see them run the ball more to take some pressure off of him. They have to keep in mind that, and the fans need to keep in mind the kid hasn’t had a spring football. I mean, he didn’t have a spring, he didn’t have much of a summer, the fall has been, because of COVID, you know, they practiced and then they had to get off the field for a few weeks. There’s been no consistency to the flow of practice for him. This is really a year where you need a senior with experience. It’s just one of those years that you need that, and they don’t have that. You know, he’s a brand-new quarterback. I think throwing it 50 times is too much. Just try to get some run game around him and get it down to about a 20-attempt game if they can do that.

DI: Whenever the Hawkeyes start have a new quarterback, does that bring you back to your first couple of starts when you were just coming in?

Long: Yeah, I mean, I didn’t have nearly the attempts my first year starting. I think we averaged about 19 to 20 attempts a game my first year. But, yeah, I mean, his first two starts have been — I mean, his first start was a lot better than my first start. My first start was at Nebraska, it was probably the worst day I’ve ever had. Fumbled the ball, threw interceptions, threw balls into the ground, shotgun snap over my head. We just, we got pummeled, [42-7] or something like that. And it was over by halftime, really. And I got so sick in the game that I threw up all over Hayden Fry’s pants. It was a bad first start, I’m sure the Hawkeye faithful were wondering who the heck I was. You know, ‘Who’s this guy? Get him outta there.’ But, yeah, my first start was a lot worse than Spencer’s, that’s for sure.

DI: Going to the NFL ranks, there’s a new kind of spread offense kind of trying to take over the league, a lot of the best offenses employ that. Do you like that, or are you still a fan of the old, traditional, running game, pocket-passer type of offense.

Long: I like it all. I mean, I like the mobile guy that can move it around and a little quarterback run game, the zone-read. That’s really made it fun. And it’s hard to stop. You know, to each his own. Every coach has a comfort level and a comfort zone, and they want to have and some drop-back game out there. But I like how the offenses have progressed in college football.

DI: Moving to your coaching career after you finished playing, you switched to a defensive backs coach first. First of all, why, why did you make that decision, and did your play at quarterback help you coach defensive backs at all?

Long: I enjoy defensive backs, you know, those guys, they laughed at all my jokes. It’s a great room with a lot of personality which I loved, and I had some really good players at Iowa. I had a [first-round] pick in Tommy Knight, I had another NFL player Damien Robinson. I had a really, really good backfield, and, to their credit, they took to my coaching and we all worked together and I think we were three or four in the nation in pass efficiency defense with that group. But, it did help me to go to the other side. Even though I knew offensive football, it did give me a new perspective on how to coach offensive football, just knowing what defensive backs can do.

DI: You were coaching the XFL and then COVID-19 shut them down, but they have plans to return. Do you have plans to return to coaching in the XFL or what’s your plan on that?

Long: We’ll see what happens. I would be interested in that, but we’ll see what happens down the road. Some dominoes need to fall in place for that to happen but yeah, I certainly would be interested again. Absolutely.

DI: I feel like a lot of football fans slight the players in the XFL. They don’t think they’re as talented. Do you have anything to say to those fans?

Long: The NFL has a very finite number of teams. There’s still a lot of talent out there outside of that. We actually put a good product on the field and we thought that, if COVID didn’t hit, we’d have a really good run. There’s a lot of players out there that don’t make the NFL that are really good players.