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"I'll always be a Hawk"

By Craig Sesker/The Hawk Eye

Photo by The Hawk Eye

IOWA CITY -- John Hayden Fry is a mean old son of a gun.

Fry reminded reporters of that during his farewell press conference as the head coach for the Iowa Hawkeyes Monday afternoon at the Jacobson Athletic Building

But Fry, an ex-Marine who spent 47 years as a football coach and transformed the Iowa Hawkeyes from a perennial doormat into a three-time Big Ten champion and 14-time bowl participant, showed he can be sentimental as well.

A crowded room of media, players, assistant coaches and family saw a side of Fry they rarely ever witnessed the last two decades. Fry, a proud and dedicated coach who rescued the Iowa program after 20 straight losing seasons, broke down in tears several times while announcing his retirement as the Hawkeye head coach in an emotional press conference.

The 69-year-old Fry compiled a 143-89-6 record in 20 years at Iowa. He took Iowa to 14 bowl games, including Rose Bowl trips after winning the Big Ten championship in 1981, 1985 and 1990.

"From a timing standpoint ... selfishly this is not the right time for me," a choked-up Fry said as tears streamed down his cheeks. "I would rather have gone out with a real good season and all that good stuff coaches like to talk about. I truly love the University of Iowa and I truly love the state of Iowa ... I'll always be a Hawk.

"That's why I decided to go ahead and retire now. I still got some years left in me and I am still a mean old son of a gun."

Fry made a lengthy opening statement where he had to stop several times while fighting back tears. He thanked everyone associated with the Iowa program.

"It's kind of hard to do," Fry said. "All the people that gave me an opportunity to spend 20 years as a member of the Hawkeye family, I could never repay them."

Fry met with his players for 30 minutes prior to making his announcement at Monday's press conference.

"I don't think the final decision was made until (Sunday) about 11 last night," Fry said. "I have been leaning toward it for some time. There's never a good time. You put in 47 years as a coach and this was the best time that I could figure. I am in good health and it is a good time to go."

Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby said the decision to step down was entirely Fry's.

"This was 100 percent Hayden Fry's decision," Bowlsby said. "If he wanted to be back next year as our head football coach, he would have been back next year as our head football coach.

"This has been an extraordinary couple of days. My confidence in Hayden Fry's leadership is every bit as strong as it has ever been. I am every bit as confident in his ability to continue to lead our football team as at any point during the eight years I've been here. We have had a lot of great times in the eight years I've been here."

Bowlsby said the 3-8 finish this year had no bearing on the head coach's departure.

"Make no mistake about why this occurred," Bowlsby said. "It occurred not because we were 3-8. It occurred because Hayden Fry thought it was the right time to work on his golf game and have a little fun in the wake of what has been one of the most remarkable careers in all of college sports. This is a place nobody ever thought a football coach would win again.

"Not only did he win, but he did things even the fondest supporters of this university couldn't have anticipated."

Ann Rhodes, a university vice president, praised the job Fry has done at Iowa.

"There is no way we can calculate what he gave to the University of Iowa," Rhodes said. "He came at a very difficult time and gave us something to be proud of. He has consistently recruited student-athletes who are good people with a high level of integrity and play their hearts out, win or lose."

Fry, who also spent 11 years at Southern Methodist University and six years at North Texas State, won 232 career games as a Division I head coach. Only nine coaches in the history of college football won more games.

Fry also took SMU to three bowl games.

Fry was hired in 1978 to revive a struggling program that had not had a winning season since 1961. After the Hawkeyes finished 5-6 and 4-7 his first two seasons, Fry's 1981 team stunned the college football world with an improbable run of success that culminated in the Rose Bowl against Washington.

Iowa returned to Pasadena, Calif., in 1985 when Fry took arguably his best team to the Rose Bowl after adding a second Big Ten championship. The Hawkeyes were ranked No. 1 for five weeks that season, collecting one of the most memorable victories in Hawkeye history when No. 1 Iowa knocked off No. 2 Michigan, 12-10, at Kinnick Stadium.

Iowa, behind Heisman Trophy runner-up Chuck Long, finished 10-2, appearing in another Rose Bowl.

The Hawkeyes' third Rose Bowl trip was almost as unexpected as the first trip. Coming off a disappointing 5-6 season in 1989, Iowa once again defied the odds by winning the 1990 Big Ten title and earning their third trip in nine years to the Rose Bowl.

But after going 10-1-1 in 1991 and earning a trip to the Holiday Bowl, the rest of the 1990s were largely a struggle for Iowa.

Iowa only had a nine-win season one time in Fry's final seven years, when the Hawkeyes went 9-3 and routed Texas Tech 27-0 in the 1996 Alamo Bowl.

Iowa also played in the inaugural Alamo Bowl in 1993 and sandwiched Sun Bowl trips in 1995 and 1997 around the '96 Alamo Bowl.

One of the biggest upsets in Fry's coaching career came in the 1995 Sun Bowl. Facing Pac-10 co-champion Washington, an Iowa team that finished sixth in the Big Ten pounded the Huskies 38-18 in a game that was not as close as the final score indicates.

Fry's Iowa teams won a school-record 10 games in 1985, 1987 and 1991. His teams finished in the Big Ten's first division 14 times and he was named league coach of the year three times.

He coached 16 All-Americans at Iowa and eight players went on to earn All-Pro honors in the National Football League. Seven of the last 14 All-Big Ten quarterbacks played for Fry at Iowa. He had 85 players who earned All-Big Ten honors before this season.

Fry, a native of Odessa, Texas, was an all-state quarterback in leading his high school team to the 1946 Texas state championship. He was nicknamed "Crazy Legs" in high school after leading his team over a San Antonio team led by Kyle Rote in the state finals.

He was born during the Great Depression on Feb. 28, 1929 in Eastland, Texas. He was named after his father, a butcher and grocery store manager.

Fry played quarterback at Baylor from 1947-50 and earned a degree in psychology from Baylor in 1951.

He was player-coach with the Quantico Marines and reached the rank of captain during his eight years in the Marines. He was head coach at Odessa High School from 1956-59 before serving as an assistant at Baylor (1960) and Arkansas (1961).

Fry then went to SMU where his 1966 team won the Southwest Conference championship. He was athletic director his final nine years with the Mustangs.

He broke the color barrier in 1962 when he recruited Jerry Levias at SMU. His 1968 SMU team threw 76 passes in a game against Ohio State, an NCAA record that stood for 12 years.

Fry then rebuilt a North Texas State team that had won only seven games in four years before Fry arrived. Fry compiled a 40-23-3 record in six years, including 33-11 his last four years.

Fry was hired by athletic director Bump Elliott at Iowa in December of 1978 when the Hawkeyes were coming off a 2-9 season under former coach Bob Commings.

"Had he walked in the door in 1978 at a press conference that I attended and said we will take you to a bowl game once every five years some would have scoffed, some would have been hopeful and some probably would have laughed out loud," Bowlsby said. "Now 20 years later, we've been to a bowl game four out of every five years. That is truly remarkable in every estimation of the word."

The success Fry brought to Iowa resulted in multiple expansions at Kinnick Stadium and the construction of an indoor football facility known as "The Bubble."

Kinnick was expanded three times during the Fry era, growing from a 60,000-seat stadium to the current facility that now houses 70,397 fans.

He also brought a new look to Iowa, changing the team's uniforms to match those worn by the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. The main difference was on the helmet, where he introduced the "Tiger Hawk" logo worn on the helmets.

His philosophy of "scratch where it itches" described his approach on offense. His abundance of corny sayings, his familiar Texas drawl and his down-home approach quickly won over Iowa fans.

He also drew attention by painting the opposing locker room pink to try and have a negative psychological effect on an opponent. Michigan coach Bo Schembechler used to cover the walls with paper while the Illinois coaching staff wore pink hats during its 1989 game at Kinnick.

Fry said he earlier considered retiring after the win over Washington in the Sun Bowl. Iowa defensive coordinator Bill Brashier, who came to Iowa City with Fry in 1978, retired after that game.

"Three years ago, I was really tempted to retire after the great victory over Washington," Fry said. "My good buddy, Bill Brashier, got away with it and that was good. But he wasn't the head coach and I am responsible for all my other coaches and families. It was in January and I didn't feel like I could do it.

"My (assistant) coaches didn't have enough time to relocate and get a good job. We didn't know who the next coach would be and it would have killed our recruiting.

"It would have been pretty hard to look Tim Dwight and Tavian Banks and kids like that in the eye and say that you're leaving. So I stayed."

Fry said he did not expect this year to turn out like it did. The sister of Iowa quarterback Randy Reiners passed away before the season and the father of Hawkeye linebacker Travis Senters died early in the season.

Then late in the season it was revealed that defensive coordinator Bob Elliott has a life-threatening blood disorder that could degenerate into leukemia.

A number of key Hawkeyes also went down with injuries this year.

"I really thought we could have a fine year, I've always been an optimist," Fry said. "I never dreamed we would experience all the problems we had."

Fry said he hopes his successor is someone who has ties to the Hawkeye program.

"I am very hopeful it will be someone off the present staff that's qualified or someone that has ties to the University of Iowa as either a player or a coach," Fry said.

"We've got something good established here and have had a lot of success. I will do everything in my power to continue to help the university and athletic department be as good as it should be."

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