IOWA CITY, Iowa - Six years after coaching his last football game, Hayden Fry leads the relaxed life of a retiree in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas.
No more early morning staff meetings. No more game plans to draw up.
Yet Fry’s influence is still felt in the game to which he devoted his life — and should for years to come.
Seven of his former assistants or players at Iowa, where he coached for 20 years, are head coaches at Division I-A schools. Six others who worked or played under Fry for the Hawkeyes are offensive or defensive coordinators at I-A programs.
Miami of Ohio has long claimed to be the “cradle of coaches,” producing the likes of Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, Paul Brown and Jim Tressel.
But with Fry’s ever expanding coaching tree, Iowa at least deserves a spot in the nursery.
“Since we all first assembled in 1979 with Hayden, you look around the country and since that time, I don’t know that there’s one that’s put out more,” said Iowa State coach Dan McCarney, a former Iowa player and assistant.
“I’ve got to believe that Hayden is on top of that whole thing when you compare head coaches and where their guys are going and the success they’ve had.”
The other head coaches who worked for Fry at Iowa are Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez, South Florida’s Jim Leavitt and his successor with the Hawkeyes, Kirk Ferentz.
Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and his brother, Mike, who’s in his first season as Arizona’s head coach, were defensive backs for Fry, then worked as graduate and volunteer assistants. Don Patterson of Division I-AA Western Illinois spent 21 years at Fry’s side as an assistant.
Another Stoops brother, Mark, is the defensive coordinator at Arizona. He also played in the secondary at Iowa and was a graduate assistant.
Former Iowa assistants Del Miller (offense) and Bob Elliott (defense) are Snyder’s coordinators at Kansas State. Chuck Long, who as Iowa’s quarterback led the Hawkeyes to the 1985 Big Ten championship, is the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. Former Iowa safety Jay Norvell is the offensive coordinator at Nebraska and Bret Bielema, a defensive lineman at Iowa, is Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator.
“Coach Fry was a psychology major and a great motivator,” Patterson said. “He always had an idea what to say to players or coaches. The things I say to our coaches are the same things that Hayden said. We all learned a lot from coach and we’ve put what we learned to great use.”
They certainly have done that.
Snyder masterminded perhaps the greatest turnaround in college football history at Kansas State. Bob Stoops guided Oklahoma to the national championship in 2000. Alvarez has had three Rose Bowl teams at Wisconsin.
Under Ferentz, Iowa shared the 2002 Big Ten title and made back-to-back January bowl appearances for the first time. McCarney is the only coach in Iowa State history to make three straight bowl appearances and Patterson has been in the I-AA playoffs three times since 1999 at Western Illinois.
Leavitt, a graduate assistant at Iowa in 1989, has won 66 percent of his games in seven-plus seasons at South Florida.
“Hayden did a marvelous job evaluating guys and plugging them in to the right spot,” said ESPN analyst Bill Curry, who coached at Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia Tech. “Then once you got on the staff, you had Hayden pulling for you when other jobs came up.”
At one point in the 1980s, Fry had Snyder as his offensive coordinator, Ferentz as the offensive line coach, McCarney as the defensive line coach, Patterson coaching tight ends, Alvarez coaching the linebackers and Miller as recruiting coordinator.
It’s no coincidence that Iowa was one of the Big Ten’s best teams at the time, making three Rose Bowl trips and six other bowl appearances between 1981 and 1990. Before 1981, the Hawkeyes had gone 20 straight years without a winning season.
Could it have been the best staff in college football?
“I think in retrospect, you could say that,” said Ferentz, who was an Iowa assistant from 1981-89 and returned as head coach after Fry retired in 1998. “Still in history that’s one of the better turnaround jobs that’s ever been done.
“I think that was coach Fry’s real gift. He’s got many of them, but one of his biggest strengths is being able to pick the right people, not only coaches but also players. Then he knew what buttons to hit with those people that he picked.”
Along with a staff filled with future head coaches, Iowa in the mid-1980s had Long at quarterback — he was an All-American and the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1985 — and Norvell playing in the secondary. Bob Stoops was helping as a graduate assistant after finishing his playing career in 1982.
Long never thought about coaching then. But after eight seasons in the NFL, he returned to Iowa to coach the defensive backs and quarterbacks, then went to Oklahoma in 2000.
“As I got toward the end of my (playing) career, I felt a calling to get into coaching,” Long said. “A big reason why was how they treated me at Iowa, how they treated the players, how well they taught us. I thought, hey, that’s my calling. I want to do the same thing for young men.
“A lot of what I do, some of that comes from Hayden Fry and what he taught us.”
Miami has turned out a number of good coaches over the years, but looking at today’s coaching crop, Patterson thinks Iowa’s day has come.
“Miami of Ohio used to be the cradle of coaches. Not anymore,” he said. “It’s the University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa.”
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