Legendary Iowa coach Hayden Fry, 90, has died following a battle with cancer, the school announced on Tuesday. Fry was the head coach at Iowa from 1979-98 and won three Big Ten titles with the program (1981, 1985, 1990).
“Our family would like to pass along our heartfelt thanks to the caregivers who made Hayden’s comfort their priority,” Fry’s family said in a statement. “We cannot thank everyone enough for their love and support. Your thoughts and prayers are truly appreciated.”
Fry was born in Eastland, Texas, and played quarterback at Baylor from 1947-50. After coaching in high school and as a position coach in college, he took over at SMU prior to the 1962 season. He won Southwest Conference title with the Mustangs in 1966 before joining North Texas (then North Texas State) in 1973, posting a 40-23-3 record in six seasons.
Still, Fry is best remembered for his tenure at Iowa. He joined the Hawkeyes in 1979 and went 143-89-6 during his tenure, leading the team to 14 bowl games, three Rose Bowl berths and three double-digit win seasons. He retired following the 1998 season, one in which he spent coaching while undergoing treatment for prostate cancer in secret.
“Though Hayden was born in Texas and moved there more recently to be closer to our family, his love for the University of Iowa, his players and coaches, the people of Iowa, and the state of Iowa, is well known,” his family said. “Hayden often shared, ‘I’ll Always Be a Hawkeye’.”
Athletic director Gary Barta issued a statement as well.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Shirley and the entire Fry family as we mourn the loss of Hayden Fry; a great leader, an outstanding coach, and a man as genuine and loyal as they come,” he said. “Iowa Athletics has lost an icon, a man that raised the bar for every Hawkeye program, and every member of our athletics department. Hayden was respected by everyone who knew him. His passing creates a void for all those who played for, coached with, and supported his successful tenure as our head football coach.”
Fry hired current Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz as his offensive line coach in 1981. Ferentz spent nine seasons on Fry’s staff before moving on to coach Maine. Once Fry retired, Ferentz took over the program that his mentor built and has exceeded his predecessor’s wins record and tenure with the Hawkeyes.
“Hayden Fry is a college football icon and an Iowa legend,” Ferentz said. “His Hall of Fame career is well known, but personally, he will always be the man who took a chance on me at the start of my coaching career. I was proud to coach with him and honored to succeed him when he retired. He’s been a great mentor and a true friend. I am forever grateful to him.”
Ferentz also shared a story on how much Fry meant to him.
“Back in 1981, I sent three job applications out: one went to Appalachian State — I never heard back from them; I sent one to Hawaii, had a phone interview, but they needed someone who knew the west coast; the third went to Hayden Fry at Iowa,” Ferentz said. “Coach Fry hired me based on Coach [Joe] Moore’s recommendation (and in spite of my lack of experience and local knowledge) and showed me how to build and maintain a winning program.”
Memorial services for Fry will be announced at a later date.