Readers share their memories of former Iowa football coach Hayden Fry

Hawk Central

I know many of you were upset to hear of Hayden Fry's passing, and I just have to tell you what an impact he had on my life. 

My dad and I didn't have a lot in common but I will always remember watching Iowa football with him.  I cannot remember any Iowa football coaches besides Hayden and Kirk Ferentz. 

I like to think that when Hayden came to Iowa is when dad and I formed our bond. I'll never forget watching Rob Houghtlin kicking the game-winning field goal against No. 2 Michigan in the living room at our house on 11th Street.  Later in life one of us would call the other within minutes of the end of every football game.

I never got to meet Hayden but I believe that what he did as a coach made my dad and I soooo much closer. Thanks coach!

Barry Corder, Muscatine


My best memories of Hayden would be at the Hawkeye banquets in Boone. He and Jim Zabel had such great chemistry and they made the whole evening fun and enjoyable.  His love for the Hawks was so evident. He and Jim are back together again.

— Sandy Madden, Boone


The football stuff is obvious, so let’s set all that aside for a moment, which, with coach Fry, was significant in my life.

He, unfortunately, left Iowa after my sophomore year. Prior to training camp my junior year, my sister had unexpectedly been diagnosed with a health issue that nearly took her life. Still to date the toughest experience of my life.

He was gone from campus and obviously dealing with plenty of his own health issues at the time, but he took the time to write a very encouraging handwritten note through me to her mentioning some details of her life that he recalled from their brief meeting. He had met her only once during the recruiting process some 2-3 years earlier. Who does that?

How many hundreds or thousands of players’ families had he met or engaged in his decades of coaching? Who steps off the front lines of their own health battle to support someone else’s that he hardly even knew?

He knew how important she was to me, and that made her important to him (according to his letter). Knowing him, I suspect this isn’t as uncommon or special as he made us feel by writing that note. I suspect this or something similar has been experienced by many others who were made to feel important by his efforts.

That letter and the gratitude it produced still exist in my family’s home. His passing makes this a sad day, but the impact of his life demands celebration.

Jason Baker, former Iowa punter


In late summer 1985, I sat in the office of Hayden Fry the day before the football season opened. His Hawkeyes were ranked No. 1 in the country, and I was on assignment for Sport magazine to write about them.

After a two-hour interview, I politely excused myself, figuring he had other things to do. I knew then he was a special coach. And a smart one.

Max McElwain, Ames

More words on Hayden Fry


My grandmother lived and breathed Iowa football, had season tickets for decades preceding Fry’s hire, and I was fortunate enough to attend many games with her (including Michigan ’85) in Section R, Row 27 after tailgating all day at the ramp where the Children’s Hospital now stands.

She worshiped Hayden and my memories of the coach are intertwined with Grandma, who died in 1996 (my senior year at Iowa). She attended every I-Club breakfast on Fridays (driving me to school late when I got to go with her. I’m still bitter I never won a door prize).

I don’t know if she ever met him, but one of my favorite photos of her is standing next to a cardboard cutout of coach in white pants/sunglasses. It was as if the man himself had come down and put her arm around her.

So when I think of Fry’s passing, I think of my childhood growing up in Iowa City, happy that Grandma gets to hang out with him, giving him the kind of hug and thanks for making Iowa football into what it became.

Randy Fordice, Minneapolis


Growing up as a pretty sickly young boy in Iowa with asthma, my life revolved around following Iowa football. And like so many, I suffered through one hapless losing season after another. I outgrew asthma but it seemed like the Hawks would not outgrow losing.

Then Hayden Fry entered the scene. He inspired us and catapulted us and Iowa to new heights. But he was more than a great coach, but a great man of faith, compassion, kindness and charisma. 

Meeting and visiting with him was like opening a bottle of fine champagne. Corresponding with him was a delight. I can only say that with our legendary Iowa athletic director Bump Elliott’s passing last week, that the Lord needed a great and good man and coach to head Heaven’s football program. Bump knew just the man, a man he hired before. Hayden Fry.

It’s time for a real High Porch Picnic in Heaven now. Thanks, coach, for being you. Thanks for touching all of us in so many ways.

Richard Grimes, Albia


As a reporter, you always felt privileged when you got a rare one-on-one interview alone with coach Fry. I interviewed him at a Des Moines elementary school after he gave a talk to 4th- and 5th-graders about being positive in life. The kids loved him. That’s what kind of person he really was.

Tony A. Powers, West Des Moines


In 1993 I won an I-Club drawing to travel with the Hawks to Michigan State. After a tough loss, coach Fry, watching for us, graciously greeted my wife and I as we boarded the team plane. "Dan and Linda, sorry we couldn't win that game, but hope you had a great time with us."

— Dan Mack, Carroll


I had the privilege of playing for coach Fry as a member of the Hawkeyes from 1986-88. I was a walk-on punter.

In 1987, we traveled to Ann Arbor to play the Michigan Wolverines. I made the travel squad that week, and there was a chance that I'd be starting in the Big House that October day. When we came out for warm-ups, I was pretty fired up. So fired up that my first warm-up punt went well onto the Michigan side of the field and hit legendary coach Bo Schembechler in the back of the head and dropped him to his knees. ... Coach Fry came up to me and said in that Texas drawl, "Ross, you just hit the dean of the Big Ten coaches in the back of the head! On the fly! Now get to the back of the line so he doesn't know it was you!" 

When it came time for our first punt, I didn't get the call. One of the assistant coaches yelled out to coach Fry, "Why the #$%! isn't Blount in?!?!" Coach Fry's reply: "Because I think they'd kill him!"

Coach Fry, you gave a lot of us some great material over the years, and you gave the state of Iowa another thing to be proud of. Thank you for all that you did for the game of football, and for what you did for Hawkeye Nation. You will be missed. 

— Ross Blount


Forty-one years ago right about now, Iowa was knee-deep in snow and brutal cold temperatures. One particular night I was cutting through the Field House on campus when, as I reached a blind corner, I collided with what I actually thought was a large black bear.

The bear actually was a tall man in the biggest full-length fur coat I had ever seen, and as I bounced off him, he reached out to steady me and began to apologize. He talked slowly with an easy Texas drawl as he asked if there was a men’s room anywhere near. Indeed there was, and I pointed him in the right direction. He thanked me and as he walked away I had this feeling I had seen him somewhere before but just couldn’t place him.

Then, just as he walked out of sight, it hit me. That big bear I had just run into on that bitter cold night was the same man I had recently seen on television. It was none other than John Hayden Fry all by himself during his first visit to Iowa City. He had only been in town a couple days and had just been named the new football coach. And the rest is history.

As a kid growing up in Iowa City during the two decades following Iowa’s past glory days, his arrival in town changed everything my generation had ever seen regarding Iowa football. The square-jawed Texan resurrected a program he ultimately left covered in his fingerprints, even today. He changed everything about football, marketing, culture and image. He transcended the game and focused attention on character and development. The Fry era was a mighty special time, possibly more so than we may ever fully realize. So thank you for everything, Hayden, and rest well now. You’ve certainly earned it! You’ll always be a Hawk in Hawkeye Heaven.

— Scott McQuillen, Iowa City

More videos, photos of Hayden Fry


As a small-town auto dealer, I furnished Hayden and Shirley a car for their personal use. He always invited me to his football awards programs and banquets.  I was late arriving on one occasion, and he spotted me coming through the door. He then invited me to sit with him and Shirley, (former Iowa Gov. Robert) Ray and his wife. Thrill of a lifetime for me. Always treated me with great respect. A true gentlemen.

Lloyd Querrey


I remember a disagreement between the great coach and the UI president. Hayden wanted to have an indoor practice facility built for the players so they could be more easily ready for the bowl games without the weather causing problems. The UI president said that it is not a priority of the university to spend on such luxury. I feared the worst.

Hayden was threatening to move on if there was no cooperation. I sent a nice letter to the president and basically said, "If you wanted a winning program in the first place, you should follow the doctor's order!" The president wrote back and said he would cooperate with coach Fry. I was relieved.

Jeff Abbott, Carroll