LEXINGTON, Ky. — In one of the darkest moments of Kentucky coach Mark Stoops’ life, he knew his coach was there for him.
As a 21-year-old college student at Iowa, Stoops learned his father, Ron Stoops, had died of a massive heart attack while coaching in a high school game. When Stoops traveled home to Youngstown, Ohio, for the funeral, he knew the rest of Iowa’s team still had a game against Michigan to prepare for.
That did not stop legendary Iowa coach Hayden Fry from making the trip as well for Stoops’ father’s funeral.
“Paid his respects to my mom and our family, and it just meant the world to us,” Stoops said Wednesday, one day after Fry died at age 90. “To take that kind of time and to go (to the funeral) that far in season just tells us what type of man he was. Had a great influence on me, certainly my brothers and our whole family.”
Fry coached Mark and brothers Bob and Mike at Iowa. All three began their coaching careers as graduate assistants for Fry before eventually becoming FBS head coaches.
“Hayden meant the world to us,” Stoops said. “He was a guy that had a great influence on my life, and really my entire family, because he really changed the outcome of a lot of us. … And we just built such a strong relationship with him.”
Stoops comments about Fry came on signing day, which led to the natural question what was being recruiting by the coaching legend like?
By the time Mark was ready old enough to play in college, Bob and Mike had already thrived at Iowa. As a result of his older brothers’ performance, Mark elicited more recruiting interest from other programs.
Still, he never seriously considered other options.
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“I probably had more opportunity,” Mark said. “But I remember making that decision, and I felt why would I go somewhere else and risk that when we had so much trust in Hayden Fry and in that program?”
Stoops remembered Fry as a “bigger-than-life-type personality” who left much of the heavy lifting in recruiting up to his assistant coaches. For Stoops, that meant direct attention from Barry Alvarez, the current Wisconsin athletic director.
There was a dinner with Fry during the recruiting process though and plenty of one-on-one time after he enrolled at Iowa.
“I was very fortunate and very blessed to spend that time with him because he was a remarkable man,” Stoops said. “He really was.”