Legendary Iowa football coach Hayden Fry dead at 90

Hayden Fry, who helped the University of Iowa Hawkeyes football program return to national prominence in his 20 seasons as head coach, died Tuesday after battling cancer, according to Fry’s family. He was 90 years old.

“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 written statement. “His legend will live forever with the people he touched and inspired, and the programs he led to greater heights.”

Fry, who was born Feb. 28, 1929, in Eastland, Texas, was a quarterback at Baylor from 1947 to 1950, earning a degree in psychology in 1951. He went on to become the head coach at SMU and North Texas before making the move to Iowa City, when he was hired to replace Bob Commings following the 1978 season. Before he arrived, the Hawkeyes had endured 17 consecutive losing seasons.

Not long after his hire, success followed. Before Fry arrived at Iowa, the Hawkeyes had just 13 winning seasons since 1933. In his final 18 seasons, his teams had 13 winning records.

In 1981, Iowa won a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1960 and earned its first Rose Bowl berth since the 1958 season. His teams went on to 14 bowl games (including three Rose Bowls), won a share of three Big Ten titles and finished 10 of those seasons ranked.

In 1985, the Hawkeyes, led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Chuck Long and All-America linebacker Larry Station, won the school’s first outright Big Ten championship since 1960 and spent five weeks at No. 1.

“He had a special way of making you feel good all the time even in the tough games and in the tough moments,” Long said. “For me it was after an interception. He had a way of getting you back up and confident. That feeling … not every coach has that ability and I’ve been around a bunch of them. Not every coach has that ability to make you feel confident and be positive even in the negative situations.”

Fry was a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year (1981, 1990, 1991). He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003. He retired after the 1998 season, going 143-89-6 at Iowa. Overall, he was 233-177-10 as a head coach.

“Hayden was always on the cutting edge and looking for the best people, regardless of race, creed, or color,” said Merton Hanks, who played defensive back at Iowa from 1987 to 1990.

“What he did at Iowa, really rebuilding that program to what it was, to quite frankly, national power. To get it to the point where you were able to attract young men from states away, like myself, who may not have known about the University of Iowa and everything Iowa has to offer, speaks very well of not only him, but the university itself and being a partner with him to make the University of Iowa brand that much bigger and better.”

Fry is one of seven to hold a head coaching job in the Big Ten for at least 20 seasons. The others are Amos Alonzo Stagg (Chicago, 37 years), Bob Zuppke (Illinois, 29 years), Woody Hayes (Ohio State, 28 years), Henry Williams (Minnesota, 22 years), Bo Schembechler (Michigan, 21 years) and Fry’s successor, Kirk Ferentz (1999-present).

Fry also created an impressive coaching tree, with hires including the likes of Ferentz, Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin), Bill Snyder (Kansas State), Dan McCarney (Iowa State, North Texas), Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Mark Stoops (Kentucky) and others.

“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.”

Memorial services are pending and will be announced at a later date.

“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.'”