Legendary University of Iowa Football Coach Hayden Fry dies at 90
RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
Hayden Fry, the Texan who revived Iowa football and became a Hawkeye State institution over two decades as a Big Ten coach, has died. He was 90.
Fry’s family announced through the University of Iowa that the former coach died Tuesday with his family at his side after a long battle with cancer. He had been living in the Dallas area with his wife, Shirley.
“We are proud to know that our father’s life had a positive influence on so many people, the players, the coaches, and the fans who played for, worked with, and supported his long and successful coaching career,” the family said in a statement. “His legend will live forever with the people he touched and inspired, and the programs he led to greater heights.”
The native of Eastland, Texas, had never been to Iowa before taking over the Hawkeyes in 1979, hired by then-athletic director Bump Elliott, the former Michigan star who died earlier this month.
The Hawkeyes had slogged through 17 consecutive years without a winning season when Fry arrived. He changed everything. He had the uniforms redesigned to make them look more like the black and gold ones worn by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the NFL’s dominant team at the time. The familiar Tigerhawk logo was unveiled during Fry’s tenure. He had the visitor’s locker room painted pink, a tradition that still stands. Roaming the sidelines in his familiar dark sunglasses, Fry coached the Hawkeyes for 20 seasons, winning 238 games and three Big Ten championships.
“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,” the family said. “Hayden often shared, ‘I’ll Always Be a Hawkeye.’”
Fry started his coaching career at Odessa High School in the 1950s, not long after playing quarterback at Baylor. His first college head coaching job was at SMU, and then he did a six-year stint at North Texas, where he went 40-23-3.
At Iowa, Fry not only produced winning teams, but also a long line of assistants who went on to successful head coaching careers.
Bill Snyder, Barry Alavrez, Bob Stoops, Bret Bielema and current Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz were among the 13 Fry assistants who became college head coaches.
“Hayden Fry is a college football icon and an Iowa legend,” Ferentz said. “His Hall of Fame career is well known, but personally, he will always be the man who took a chance on me at the start of my coaching career. I was proud to coach with him and honored to succeed him when he retired. He’s been a great mentor and a true friend. I am forever grateful to him.”
Fry retired as Iowa’s winningest coach in 1998, a mark since surpassed by Ferentz. He was first diagnosed with prostate cancer before his final season at Iowa and he did his best to keep the news from his players and coaches while he received treatment.
“My doctor at the hospital said, ‘Coach, you may be the luckiest guy in the world. You’re almost 70 years old and you’re in real good physical condition other than the cancer.’ He said I could live another five years. That was 16 years ago, and I’m still here,” Fry told the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette in 2015, when he was living in Nevada.
Fry is survived by his wife, four sons, a daughter, a stepson and a stepdaughter.
The following is from the University of Iowa Athletic Department:
Fry Family on the passing of Hayden Fry:
With our family at his side, Hayden Fry, beloved husband, father, and grandfather, passed away following a lengthy battle with cancer. We are comforted in our faith and knowing that Hayden is no longer suffering and resides now in heaven with our Lord. Hayden passed on Dec. 17, at the age of 90.
We are proud to know that our father’s life had a positive influence on so many people, the players, the coaches, and the fans who played for, worked with, and supported his long and successful coaching career. His legend will live forever with the people he touched and inspired, and the programs he led to greater heights.
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”.
Our family would like to pass along our heartfelt thanks to the caregivers who made Hayden’s comfort their priority.
We cannot thank everyone enough for their love and support. Your thoughts and prayers are truly appreciated.
Memorial Services are pending and will be announced at a later date.
Gary Barta Statement on Hayden Fry:
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Shirley and the entire Fry family as we mourn the loss of Hayden Fry; a great leader, an outstanding coach, and a man as genuine and loyal as they come.
Iowa Athletics has lost an icon, a man that raised the bar for every Hawkeye program, and every member of our athletics department. Hayden was respected by everyone who knew him. His passing creates a void for all those who played for, coached with, and supported his successful tenure as our head football coach.
Iowa football reached new heights under Hayden Fry, and has continued that success under Kirk Ferentz, one of the many outstanding coaches who served as a member of his staff. Hayden’s legacy not only lives on through Iowa football, but also through the coaches and players who had the privilege to be associated with his teams.
Hayden represented all that is good in college athletics, and did it “his way”. Iowa athletics, and college football, has lost a pioneer. He was a dedicated family man and he will be missed.”
Statement of condolences on the passing of Hayden Fry
“Hayden Fry is a college football icon and an Iowa legend. His Hall of Fame career is well known, but personally, he will always be the man who took a chance on me at the start of my coaching career. I was proud to coach with him and honored to succeed him when he retired. He’s been a great mentor and a true friend. I am forever grateful to him.
Mary and I send our heartfelt condolences to his wife Shirley, their children and the entire Fry family. We hope that Hayden’s legacy of integrity and high character will provide his family comfort during this difficult time.”
Additional thoughts from Kirk Ferentz on Hayden Fry:
“There are two men who played large roles in my coaching career: One is my mentor, Joe Moore. The other is Hayden Fry.
Back in 1981, I sent three job applications out: one went to Appalachian State – I never heard back from them; I sent one to Hawaii, had a phone interview, but they needed someone who knew the west coast; the third went to Hayden Fry at Iowa. Coach Fry hired me based on Coach Moore’s recommendation (and in spite of my lack of experience and local knowledge) and showed me how to build and maintain a winning program.
His vision included hiring coaches who would be forward thinking and challenge each other. If you look across college football, you will see a part of his legacy in the coaches who he hired and mentored – coaches like Barry Alvarez, Bill Snyder, Dan McCarney, Bob, Mike and Mark Stoops and many more.
Even before the Hawkeyes started winning on the field, Coach Fry was beloved by the fans and trusted by his players. He had a charisma and leadership style that created a championship and winning program that continues today. In 20 seasons at Iowa, Coach Fry showed us all that you can succeed at the highest level by playing by the rules.”