From the archives: The day Hayden Fry nearly fired McCarney and Ferentz
Editor's note: This story by former Register sports reporter Rick Brown originally published in 2015.
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Legend has it that Hayden Fry threatened to fire Dan McCarney and Kirk Ferentz one day at practice.
"True story," McCarney said. "I remember it like it was last week. Kirk and I still laugh about it. But we weren't laughing at the time."
"Coach Fry was pretty fired up," Ferentz recalled.
It was 1981, Fry's third season at Iowa. McCarney was his defensive line coach. Ferentz was in his first season as the offensive line coach.
Fry believed that the best way to develop a team was to have the starters practice against reserves.
"I wanted the No. 1s to get used to winning," Fry said. "I did it from a psychological standpoint, to create a winner. I wanted them to feel good about themselves."
But McCarney and Ferentz got together and changed things up one day.
"Kirk and I, quite honestly, got bored after awhile with the ones against the twos or threes," McCarney said.
McCarney was coaching Mark Bortz, who would go on to win a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears. Ferentz was coaching Brett Miller, another future NFL draft pick.
"We just said, why don't we get Bortzy and Beach (Miller's nickname) and get them a couple of reps against each other," McCarney said. "We thought it was a hell of an idea. We get in there, they start rolling, and the next thing you know Hayden, who never sprinted anywhere, is sprinting from about 50 yards away and screaming."
Sprinting, apparently, wasn't an exaggeration.
"That's the fastest I saw coach Fry move in the nine years I was with him," Ferentz said. "He came down and explained his philosophy on that."
This was Fry's court. He was the judge and the jury.
"He's screaming at the top of his lungs, 'Mac, Kirk, Mac, Kirk, I don't ever want to see that again,'" McCarney said. "If I ever see that again, I'll fire you.' And that's the last time the ones went against the ones."
McCarney and Ferentz didn't protest. They just took Fry's tongue-lashing.
"And the players, they got a big kick out of it, because we were getting screamed and yelled at and threatened to be fired," McCarney said.
I asked Fry about his version of the story.
"I really don't remember it," Fry said.
But McCarney and Ferentz sure do. And both practice ones against ones.
"It's steel sharpening steel, that's the principle," Ferentz said. "It's a way to increase tempo. And you really get the measure of players a little bit better that way."
Ferentz knows there are other coaches who subscribe to Fry's philosophy.
"I've been around places where you set up bowling pins in practice and knock them over each day," Ferentz said. "I'm not sure how much better you get doing that. To me, it's more about competing against each other. It doesn't always look pretty. That's the downside."
McCarney feels ones against ones is the best way to replicate real-time action.
"Good or bad, kids have got to understand somebody's got to win and somebody's got to lose," McCarney said. "In the end, you hope you're developing your players and getting a better grasp of where your team is at."
Fry had a different approach, and you can't argue with the results.
"He's in the College Football Hall of Fame," McCarney said. "And a lot of coaches aren't."