By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – What a great idea to honor Hayden Fry’s legendary 1983 coaching staff at this year’s annual Fryfest event because it truly was special, the kind of staff we’ll probably never come close to seeing again at Iowa, or anywhere for that matter.
We didn’t know it at the time, but Iowa’s 1983 staff included two of the greatest head football coaches in the history of the Iowa program in Fry and Kirk Ferentz, the greatest head football coach in the history of both Wisconsin and Kansas State in Barry Alvarez and Bill Snyder, respectively, and one of the greatest in Oklahoma history in Bob Stoops.
Fry had so many attributes that made him a great head coach and a respected leader, including the ability to identify and attract talented and assertive assistants.
Fry wanted assistants who aspired to be head coaches because he felt that would make them work harder to achieve their goals.
And he was right as the 1983 staff so clearly demonstrates with three clear-cut legends in Fry, Snyder and Alvarez, two near legends in Ferentz and Stoops and six highly respected coaches in Dan McCarney, Bill Brashier, Don Patterson, Carl Jackson, Bernie Wyatt and Del Miller.
They didn’t all become head coaches, but the ones who did left an indelible mark.
“Hayden’s the guy who put us all together, so let’s give him a lot of credit,” Patterson said Thursday after a press conference to promote the 2018 Fry Fest event. “He always did maintain I’m really good at picking coaches and hiring coaches.
“And you’ve heard him say, I wasn’t interested in hiring a coach unless I knew in my heart that they were motivated to become a head coach. And that was generally true. We were all motivated to do our jobs well.”
Fry was a master psychologist who used positive reinforcement and his training in the military to inspire and fuel his players.
He spent much of his career rebuilding struggling programs, and there was always a mental side to that daunting task.
“Hayden did a great job teaching us how to coach and I say that from a motivational standpoint,” Patterson said. “I always learned about positive reinforcement through West Point, but who are we kidding, some people don’t subscribe to it.
“Hayden always said, you’ve got to build players up. You can’t tear them down. Don’t verbally abuse your players because you’re going to lose them at some point. Over the long haul, they have to know that you care about them.”
Fry was 54 years old and in his fifth season as the Iowa head coach in 1983. He already had engineered one of the quickest turnarounds in the history of college football by leading Iowa to the Rose Bowl in his third season as head coach in 1981.
The seven-year stretch from 1981 to 1987 could be described as the glory years under Fry. Iowa won two Big Ten titles, played in seven consecutive bowl games and compiled a 62-23-1 overall record during that period.
Patterson would go on to be the head coach for Western Illinois for 11 seasons after Fry retired in 1998, and much of what Patterson used as motivational tactics came from Fry.
“We learned how to treat young people through Hayden,” Patterson said. “I know I personally learned a lot about motivating young people (through Hayden).”
Patterson spoke at Thursday’s press conference and shared a story about a phone conversation he had with Fry while coaching at Western Illinois
“I called Hayden up after my first Christmas in Macomb and I said, coach you need to know this; those stories you told at Iowa, I’m telling them at Western Illinois and they still work,” Patterson said.
Patterson learned about six week ago that Fryfest wanted to honor the 1983 coaching staff. He was asked to contact the other coaches on the staff, and all but Snyder said they would attend some part of the event, which will mark the 10th anniversary of Fryfest.
Snyder has a pretty good excuse, though, with Kansas State scheduled to face South Dakota in the season opener on Sept. 1.
Barry Alvarez also has a busy schedule as the Wisconsin Athletic Director, including a season opener in football on Friday, Aug. 31 at Camp Randall Stadium.
That is the same day as Fry Fest, so Alvarez plans to be in Iowa City on Thursday to help kick off the festivities, according to Patterson.
Speaking of Alvarez, he represents probably the only negative thing you could say about Iowa’s 1983 staff in that it also includes three key members of arguably the greatest coaching staff in Wisconsin history.
Alvarez is to Wisconsin football what Fry is to Iowa as the original rebuilder. The problem is that Alvarez raided Fry’s staff and convinced McCarney and Wyatt to join him in Madison.
Together, they helped to turn Wisconsin into a power and did so by using a style that is similar to Iowa’s ground-oriented attack.
Only Wisconsin now does it better than Iowa and that doesn’t sit well with some Iowa fans who still hold a grudge nearly 30 years later.
But if anybody can reunite Barry Alvarez with Hawkeye fans, at least for one day, it’s the great Hayden Fry.
Because Alvarez, like so many others, wouldn’t be where he is today without Fry’s influence.
Fry gave Alvarez his first big break by promoting him from the high school ranks in 1979 and the rest is history.
Fry also gave Ferentz his first big break by hiring him to coach the Iowa offensive line in 1981. Ferentz held the job for nine years and it was the start of a relationship that would change the course of Ferentz's life.
Ferentz has now spent nearly three decades in Iowa City as he prepares his 20th season as the Iowa head coach. He will match Fry for the longest coaching tenure at Iowa this fall and will surpass Fry as Iowa's all-time winningest coach with his next victory.
Fry and Ferentz both currently hold the record with 143 career victories.
Iowa should be heavily favored to defeat Northern Illinois in the season opener on Sept. 1 at Kinnick Stadium, so there could be a lot to celebrate over that weekend.
Fry is 89 years old and lives in his home state of Texas after spending nearly two decades of his retirement in Nevada. He has been gone from Iowa City for nearly 20 years, but his legacy will live on forever, thanks partly to Fry Fest.
Fry Fest was created to honor the coach who ended nearly two decades of misery at a time when many thought it was impossible to win again at Iowa.
Fry did the imporable by surrounding himself with some of the greatest coaches in the history of college football.
And that was never more apparent than in 1983