Kirk Ferentz on Hayden Fry: 'Every day, he set a standard for leadership'

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — As a man who inserts historical references into any press conference he can, Kirk Ferentz often circles back to 1981. It was his first year in the Iowa program — a fledgling offensive line coach under the eccentric Hayden Fry.

Ferentz didn’t have a strong resume, just a few graduate assistant jobs and a stop leading Worcester Academy, when Fry hired the future Hawkeye head man. Ferentz hasn’t forgotten that gesture and what’s unfolded since. Those early days were on his mind again when speaking about Fry, who passed away Tuesday night after a lengthy cancer battle.

“Every day, he set a standard for leadership,” Ferentz said at Wednesday’s press conference. “He had such a vision. There was no lack of clarity on how he wanted to do things.” 

Among the biggest marks Fry left was creating the iconic Tigerhawk logo — synonymous with Iowa athletics across the world. After it began circulating, it didn’t take long for Ferentz to notice its impact.

“I go to my first high school game,” Ferentz recalled, “and saw Tigerhawks everywhere.”  

More on the life of Hayden Fry

Fry’s standard of excellence fueled Ferentz once he took over Iowa football in 1999. After nine years learning under his mentor, Ferentz knew what was expected to continue Hawkeye glory.

Like Fry, Ferentz started out slow with back-to-back losing seasons. Fry led Iowa to the Rose Bowl in his third year. Ferentz had the Hawkeyes in the Orange Bowl in year four.

Asked how often he felt responsible for upholding Fry’s legacy, Ferentz fought back tears with his answer.   

“Every day,” Ferentz said.

Ferentz added that Iowa will honor Fry in some way at next Friday’s Holiday Bowl. He also said the Hawkeyes are “kicking some ideas around” for a larger tribute next season. 

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.