Hayden Fry: Iowa Coach Proves Master Motivator

JAMES KAY, United Press International

Hayden Fry's Dec. 20 arrival on the golden coast of California was indicative of the smooth-talking Texan's hee-haw march to the co-Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth this year.

Fry led his Iowa Hawkeye football team from its charted flight at the Ontario, Calif., airport and set about convulsing an attentive media with some typical one-liners.


Fry presents a radical change in comparison to some of his Big Ten Conference predecessors -- square-jawed, steely-eyed men who on occasion resorted to punching out players on the opposing team if things weren't going their way.

'We're from the country, so we'll need directions on how to find our hotel,' Fry quipped, playing the role of wide-eyed hick to the hilt.

Hayden Fry is anything but a wide-eyed hick. He is more a smooth-talking Texas huckster in a state of innocents -- commonly depicted by many as people constantly clad in bib overalls and straw hats.

At the time Fry was hired as coach at Iowa in December 1978, the Hawkeyes had suffered through 18 consecutive non-winning seasons. So his first priority was to re-educate the football fans of Iowa on how to win.

It was difficult for many Iowans to perceive just what Fry was doing. The energetic concept with which he began to sell Iowa football was greeted with skepticism and scorn by many people, who instinctively were wary of a stranger trying to hawk a product that for so long had been in disrepair.


'It's not actually winning itself that's important,' Fry says. 'It's the mental attitude of preparing to win, believing that you can win and then not losing faith when bad things occur. The same applies to life.'

Despite Fry's ill-fated venture into a souvenir merchandising company known as Hawkeye Merchandising -- many thought he was out to make a buck on the Hawkeye name -- it wasn't long before Iowans were drawn to Fry and he to them. Fry calls Iowa fans 'the most loyal and enthusiastic fans in the world.'

'I've really tried to utilize (the fan support) and the great academic image that Iowa has to turn the program around,' Fry said. 'The people are unique and enthusiastic.

'They gather from the countryside, they lay down their pitchforks or get off their tractor or whatever they might be doing and they come in here to back the Hawks.'

In 20 years as a head coach, Fry has a 106-105-4 record, picking up weak programs and turning them into winners at Southern Methodist (1962-72), North Texas State (1973-1978) and Iowa (1979-81).

He is 1-for-3 in bowl games, all with SMU, losing to Oregon in the 1963 Sun Bowl (21-14), losing to Georgia in the 1967 Cotton Bowl (24-9) and winning over Oklahoma (28-27) in the 1968 Astro Bluebonnett Bowl.


Who is Hayden Fry? He's a man moved to say things that often make people rvoll their eyes skyward. He said last year he hoped to have J.C. Love and Glenn Buggs as his running backs in 1981 so Iowa would have 'Love-Buggs' in their backfield.

He was born John Hayden Fry on Feb. 28, 1929, in Eastland, Texas, the son of a Methodist mother and a Baptist father with a seventh-grade education, who always went by Hayden instead of John, a practice his son later would adopt.

Young Hayden was in the third grade when his family moved to Odessa, Texas, an oil boom town of 25,000 'hard hats' who were seeking to escape the Great Depression.

When he was 14, his father died of a heart attack in a taxicab outside the family home. Friends of the family said the death changed young Hayden from a shy kid to the gregarious man of the house.

Fry makes no secret of the fact his family was poor. To survive, his mother sold tickets at a downtown movie theater and Hayden roughnecked in the local oil fields during the summers.

He was elected senior class president and 'best all-around boy' at Odessa High School.


'Crazy Legs' Fry also quarterbacked the best football team ever to don the uniforms of the Odessa High Broncos, leading the school to its only state championship in 1946.

Fry went on to Baylor University on a football scholarship -- 'the only way I could have gone to college' -- but rarely started after his freshman year. But during his years at Baylor he developed a deep love of psychology and made the subjetc his major.

In fact, during a 17-month stint in the U.S. Army, Fry found time to take four courses in the psychology of religion at the University of Tokyo in Japan.

'My hobby is studying people and their sensitivities and, frankly, how to motivate people to get a maximum effort,' he said. 'Ninety-five percent of coaching is working with people so that's the thing that really motivates Hayden Fry.'

The wide-ranging background in psychology was to come into play many times in Fry's long career as a football coach.

Here's a sampling of Fryism on football:

-On preparation: 'Each ballgame has a different personality and the preparation of the team is different -- not only from a seasonal standpoint but from a game-to-game standpoint.

'Some games the team needs to be fired up emotionally and really chomping at the bits to play and other games they have to be much more relaxed and the coach can tell funny stories.


'Sometimes players can get themselves up to the mental pitch necessary to win. Other times they might become so uptight they don't perform too well.'

-On knowing his players: 'That's the whole secret. Being a coach, the No. 1 objective is to gain maximum effort from the players and that calls for different approaches in coaching and strategy. It has to be done on an individual basis.'

-On the responsibilities of his players: 'I require the individual players to make a contribution in regards to leadership and discipline and training rules and firing the team up. In other words, it's interaction -- not only the coaches with the players but the players with one another.'

-And on the importance of winning: 'I put a great deal of emphasis on having a lot of fun and playing football and we have a lot of fun. The players know it's not a life or death situation with me as a head coach. I don't put all this pressure on them that they just have to win for old Iowa U.'

Two weeks ago, John Hayden Fry put his signature on a contract that granted him more financial security and job longevity than the Governor of Iowa. The contract runs through 1991 and pays Fry $65,000 per year, although he is believed to be making at least $86,000 a year from football-related activity.


Fry speaks often of how 'the Good Lord smiled on us,' of 'The Man Upstairs had to put everything together,' or how Iowa is still 'climbing that mountain' to the Promised Land.

But the Gospel according to Hayden was just as responsible.

'We've moved awful fast in the last three years;' he says, 'from coming from next to last in the Big Ten to co-champs and winning an opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl.

'Our cup runneth over.'

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