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.