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Hayden Fry (1929–2019), longtime University of Iowa football coach

AP Images / Charlie Neibergall

He turned the team around and led the Hawkeyes to three Big Ten titles

Hayden Fry was the beloved football coach at the University of Iowa for 20 seasons, from 1979 to 1998. He turned around a struggling team that hadn’t had a winning season for 17 years. Within two years, Iowa was back with a winning season, and Fry’s Hawkeyes went on to win three Big Ten titles and play in 14 bowl games over the years. Prior to his years at Iowa, Fry coached in his native Texas at Southern Methodist University and Texas State. He played football at Baylor University and was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, where he played with the Quantico Marines football team. The main character of TV sitcom “Coach,” Hayden Fox, was named in honor of Fry.

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Died: December 17, 2019 (Who else died on December 17?)

Details of death: Died in Texas of cancer at the age of 90.


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Bringing change to Iowa: Fry’s strategy for turning the Hawkeyes into a winning team relied on big changes, and not just to the team and its techniques. Fry ushered in a new era for the team as he unveiled an updated logo, the Tigerhawk that’s now an indelible symbol of the University of Iowa. He had the team’s uniforms redesigned, modeling them on the black-and-gold uniforms of the Pittsburgh Steelers, then a major force in the NFL. He had his players swarm onto the field in an energizing mass of solidarity. And he played a psychological game on Iowa’s opposing teams by painting the visitors’ locker room pink. The color is known to have a calming and relaxing effect — and its feminine symbolism was often upsetting to opponents and their coaches.

Notable quote: “You just witnessed an old-fashioned rump kicking. ” —Fry, quoted in The Gazette

What people said about him: “A great leader. A legendary coach. A better man. You left a lasting legacy, not only at Iowa but across college football and beyond. RIP Coach Hayden Fry.” —Hawkeye Football

“Fry resurrected Iowa football, and stands larger than life as one of the towering figures in Iowa sports history. Hayden Fry, an American original. RIP” —sports commentator Keith Murphy

“Today I lost my Coach. Passing at the age of 90, Hayden Fry changed my life. Much of what I have accomplished in life is because of what he saw in me, that young kid from Madison Wisconsin. I keep his picture in my locker. I am so grateful he was my coach. Rest in Peace Coach.” —University of Nevada head football coach Jay Norvell

Full obituary: The Gazette

Related lives:

  • Bo Schembechler (1929 - 2006), legendary University of Michigan football coach
  • Earle Bruce (1931 - 2018), Ohio State head football coach
  • Joe Tiller (1942 - 2017), Purdue’s winningest coach