With the recent addition of Bob Elliott to the Notre Dame coaching staff, Brian Kelly continued the trend of hiring assistants with ties to the University of Iowa and legendary coach Hayden Fry. Elliott will coach safeties and joins Bob Diaco, Kerry Cooks, and Paul Longo as the fourth member of Brian Kelly’s staff who either coached or played under Fry.
I know what you’re thinking. . . . Just who the hell is Hayden Fry, and why should I care? Well, as the token Iowa graduate at Subway Domer, I’m here to answer these questions that you never asked.
Who the hell is Hayden Fry?
As evidenced by this photo, Fry clearly is a man with impeccable style. In addition to looking like Burt Reynolds, Fry was also a damn good football coach who spent 37 years as the head coach at SMU, North Texas and Iowa. His 232 career wins were the 10th most in Division I history when he retired in 1998.
Although Fry spent nearly half of his career at SMU and North Texas, he’s best known for resurrecting Iowa football and transforming the Hawkeyes into a perennial Big Ten power. Before he arrived in 1979, Iowa had gone 17 years without a winning record. Within three years, Fry led the Hawkeyes to their first Rose Bowl birth since 1959.
Over the next decade, Fry’s Hawkeye teams helped loosen Ohio State and Michigan’s stranglehold on the Big Ten. Perhaps his greatest moment came against the Skunkbears in 1985. Iowa and Michigan both entered the game undefeated and ranked #1 and #2 respectively. With Iowa trailing 10-9 in the closing seconds, Rob Houghtlin nailed a 29 yard game-winner as time expired.
Fry, a psychology major in college, had a knack for motivating his players and distracting his opponents. He famously had the visitor’s locker room in Kinnick Stadium painted pink. In his autobiography he noted: “When I talk to an opposing coach before a game and he mentions the pink walls, I know I’ve got him. I can’t recall a coach who has stirred up a fuss about the color and then beat us.” The pink locker room apparently bothered Bo Shembechler so much that he would have Michigan staffers cover the walls with rolls of paper.
When it was all said and done, Fry coached 20 seasons at Iowa, racked up a school record 143 wins, and his teams made 14 bowl appearances, including three Rose Bowls. He was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
Why should you care about Hayden Fry?
If Notre Dame is going to return to national prominence in the near future, Hayden Fry’s former pupils will play a major role. With the exception of Mike Elston, Brian Kelly has entrusted his entire defense to the former Hawkeyes Diaco, Cooks and Elliott. Throw in strength training coach Paul Longo and two of the three “coordinators” at Notre Dame are former Fry guys. Brian Kelly recently acknowledged Fry’s influence on his program, stating: “We have a number of coaches that have either played or coached for Coach Fry . . . . [and] I couldn’t be more pleased and proud to have the coaches and players that have been with Coach Fry on the staff here at Notre Dame.”
The good news for Notre Dame fans is that Fry’s former players and assistants have an impressive track record at subsequent coaching stops. The list of former Hawkeye players and assistants who have gone on to become successful FBS coaches includes Bob Stoops, Bill Snyder, Barry Alvarez, Kirk Ferentz, Bret Bielema, Bo Pelini, Jim Leavitt and Dan McCarney to name a few. With more alumni currently coaching in the FBS than any other school, the Wall Street Journal even dubbed Iowa “The Harvard of Coaching.” Bob Elliott recently discussed this phenomenon, stating: “People ask me why [so many former Hawkeyes are coaches] and I always say because Hayden Fry always made it so much fun and the atmosphere was positive. I think our players saw that coaching is something they would want to do. I think there are a lot of Iowa guys out there in the coaching profession because of Hayden Fry and the atmosphere that he provided for us.”
Only time will tell if the Haydenization of Notre Dame football will ultimately return the Irish to national prominence, but the early returns have been encouraging. I would argue that two of the biggest areas of improvement during the Brian Kelly era have been the defense and the team’s strength and conditioning. If these areas continue to improve, the biggest challenge may be keeping the former Hawkeyes in South Bend long enough to make a championship run.