As I’m sure is the case with all Hawkeye fans these days, I am thoroughly soaking in the recent renaissance period being enjoyed by the football program under the guidance of Kirk Ferentz.
One of the things I find interesting about Coach Ferentz is his coaching philosophy. He gets it. Ferentz understands that, in football, it takes a team all pulling in the same direction all of the time, not a collection of talented individuals doing their own thing.
Another quality in Coach Ferentz I find particularly endearing is his knack for graciously acknowledging those that helped him get to where he is today. He is incredibly loyal to those that have played vital roles in his professional development over the years. Tops on that list is Coach Hayden Fry.
Coach Ferentz acknowledges in the foreword he wrote for my book, The 50 Greatest Plays in Iowa Hawkeyes Football History , that he didn’t believe that there was another head football coach in the country that would have hired him as offensive line coach for a Division I football program way back in 1981. Ferentz admitted that as a green graduate assistant coming out of Pitt, he just did not have the resume suitable to the job at that point in his career.
Well, of course Hayden took a chance on Ferentz anyway, and the rest is history. Ferentz isn’t the only one that owes a huge debt of gratitude to Coach Fry.
The current generation of Hawkeye fans, who perhaps only know of the Kirk Ferentz era, would do well to get themselves acquainted with who Fry was and why he is such a critically important figure in Hawkeye football history.
Numerous books and articles have been published about Hayden over the years. Heck, he even was the inspiration for a television sitcom back in the 1980s—remember Coach , starring Craig T. Nelson as Coach Hayden Fox?
Just how important was Coach Hayden Fry to Iowa football? Take a look at these numbers from the years leading up to Fry’s arrival in Iowa City:
- Iowa had no bowl appearances since winning the Rose Bowl following the 1958 season.
- Iowa had no winning seasons from 1962 to 1980.
- The overall record over the above time span was a dismal 58-133-5;
- The highest conference finish during this time was fourth in 1970 and 1980.
- Iowa went winless in Big Ten Conference play in three different seasons, and had one overall winless campaign in 1973.
- After coach Forest Evashevski’s last season in 1960, the program had burned through four different head coaches from 1961 until Fry’s arrival in 1979.
This was taking futility to epic proportions. Iowa had become a laughingstock, the perennial doormats of the Big Ten. Losing seemed to be entrenched in Iowa football.
But a new sheriff came to town in 1979. The attitude changed almost immediately. The jerseys were changed to match the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tigerhawk emblem was born. According to Hayden, even if their recent record was not reflective of a winner, the Hawkeyes would at least be dressed looking like winners.
The changes weren’t just in the looks of the team. It took Fry only three seasons to earn Iowa’s first Rose Bowl berth in over 30 years when he lead the Hawks to Pasadena following the 1981 season.
Fry would go on to post a 143-89-6 record at Iowa, which included bowl berths in 13 of the next 16 seasons, including two additional Rose Bowls.
Where it not for Coach Fry, I don’t see how any of recent success under Coach Ferentz comes to fruition. Iowa would be stuck fighting it out with perennial also-rans like Indiana, Northwestern, Illinois, and Minnesota to stay out of the Big Ten cellar year after year. It took a special person to turn the tide so drastically.
He already has a street named after him in Coralville. And, I know that the entire Football Complex, comprised of Kinnick Stadium, Jacobson Athletic Building, and the Kenyon Practice Facility bear his name already.
However, collectively naming these other physical football facilities already named after others in Hayden’s honor doesn’t really do him justice, I don’t think. That is why it is time to consider naming a higher profile target after Coach Fry. Namely, the football playing surface at Kinnick Stadium. My suggestion would be: Hayden Fry Field.
Naming basketball courts after well known figures has become common place in college basketball and the time has come to extend this concept to college football. Iowa could be trend setters in this area. Maybe there are a few out there already, but I’m not aware of any college football stadiums that have named the field in honor of someone other than the stadium as a whole.
Okay, you could argue that naming the field after someone else in some ways diminishes the importance of the great Nile Kinnick. However, I think this plays right into the team concept—it takes more than one individual to succeed in football. If Nile Kinnick were alive today, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind spreading the wealth around a little.
In fact, I suspect he actually would be gracious enough to admit that naming the entire stadium after him is already too much!
So, what do you think? Doesn’t Hayden Fry Field at Nile Kinnick Stadium have a real nice ring to it?