Here’s a good way to gauge how a former football coach endures in the hearts of his players:
Twenty years after the coach retired, hold an event for him that requires considerable travel for most people to attend.
That’s what the Iowa Football Club did last weekend in Dallas when it had a get-together to celebrate Hayden Fry’s 90th birthday, which was last February. IFC president Jim Molini said over 50 people attended, including Fry’s former Iowa players, coaches and support staff members, and some of their family members. Fry coached the Hawkeyes’ football team from 1979 to 1998.
The IFC’s membership is former University of Iowa football players, coaches and staff members. It is a nonprofit organization that supports charities and UI organizations, and assists IFC members in medical crisis.
Among the former Hawkeyes who joined Fry in Dallas were Dan McCarney, Bob Stoops, Tim Dwight and Eric Steinbach. Molini, who came to Iowa from Norfolk, Neb., and then made Iowa City his home after football, was a senior who played on Fry’s first Iowa team. Steinbach was a freshman who played on Fry’s last Hawkeyes squad. Both played in the NFL.
“Guys came from all over the country,” said Bill Happel of Cedar Rapids, a wide receiver on one of Fry’s three Iowa Rose Bowl teams.
Fry lives in the Dallas area now. He moved back to his home state not long ago after having spent all his retirement up to that time in Mesquite, Nev. He went to Texas and be close to three of his children.
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Fry has had multiple cancer-related surgeries since he retired, and 90 years old is 90 years old.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” said John Streif, who was a trainer and much more for Hawkeyes athletics from 1972 to 2012. “But he was quite sharp mentally and looked really good.”
“He visited with everyone individually for a few minutes,” Happel said. “It was like a procession line.
“Coach Mac and Coach Bobby talked a little bit, then Coach Fry said a few words. It was very informal.”
A similar event, with a golf outing included, was held in Mesquite a few years ago. Lousy weather in Dallas kept the attendees pretty much confined to the hotel where last weekend’s event was held, but that just meant more time for ex-players to get together and tell stories about glory days.
“It was a great event, first-class,” Streif said. “It was a who’s-who. The people there covered a long era.”
“I spent a lot of time with Coach Fry his first year,” Molini said. “I called the signals for the defense. Because people knew me for having been there three years, I got to go with him to a few I-Club things.
“He came in with a plan and changed attitudes. He definitely knew football.”
Former Hawkeye kicker/punter Brion Hurley, an Iowa City native, flew from his Portland, Ore., home to be there, and met up with his father, Pat Hurley of Cincinnati, Ohio. Brion is a consultant who specializes in helping businesses reduce their environmental footprints. Pat worked security for Fry in the 1980s.
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“It was good for us to go since we live far away from each other,” Brion Hurley said. “We both kind of reflected on our experiences. My dad knew a lot of the players.”
You can take a lot of highlights from Fry’s Hall of Fame career, but what you hear as much as anything about him is he was a player’s coach. The easiest way to get on his bad side was to criticize or bother his players.
So, for dozens of former players to trek to Texas to be with Fry had a predictably positive effect for him.
“It kind of sustained him for the last few months,” Happel said. “He was looking forward to it.”
“I think it was good medication for Hayden,” said Streif. “He took time for everybody there. It was pretty emotional. He was his typical self, telling stories.
“He made us all feel good.”
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