Former Iowa sports information director George Wine dies

Hayden Fry: He helped me turn the program around

George Wine speaking at a 1999 Iowa City banquet honoring Hayden Fry (Gazette file)
George Wine speaking at a 1999 Iowa City banquet honoring Hayden Fry (Gazette file)

I just got off the phone with Hayden Fry. The subject I addressed with the former Iowa football coach was his first sports information director at the UI and the writer of his 1999 book "Hayden Fry: A High Porch Picnic."

That was George Wine, who died Thursday morning at 81. Wine was the SID during a transformation of Hawkeye sports in visibility and popularity. The obituary sent by the UI sports information department is at the bottom of this post.

"It's so sad," Fry said. "He was a wonderful person. He was a big help in me turning the program around. George stayed so positive in the days of us turning the program around. Every time George and I got together he would relate things that would help from a psychological standpoint in dealing with the fans and the news media.

"I loved the guy. Even after retirement, we stayed real close. He got the book going. He did all the research, called all the schools where I had coached. He was great at gathering all the stories and the facts."

The following is a column I wrote on June 20, 1993:

George Wine was a one-man staff when he became the University of Iowa's sports information director in 1968.

"A couple of years later I got an assistant," he said. "Now we have three people in men's sports information, two people in women's sports information, and two in promotions and marketing, which I used to do."

Wine was present for most of the memorable moments in Hawkeye sports of the last quarter-century.

"The aura that surrounded Kinnick Stadium after we beat Michigan State and clinched the Rose Bowl berth in 1981 was an unforgettable experience," he said.

"We weren't even considering the Rose Bowl because Michigan was favored to beat Ohio State at home that day. But when Ohio State won, and then we won, you saw roses all over the stadium. I don't know where they came from."

Wine 's last day as head SID is July 1. Under the school's phased-retirement program, he'll work half-time in the sports information office until his 65th birthday, three years from this month. But he'll no longer be the mouthpiece for the Iowa men's athletic department when news develops, which is far more often than when he started work at his alma mater a quarter-century ago.

"The news coverage of our sports is a lot more aggressive now," Wine said. "There used to be very little effort on the part of the media to try to find out what was going on.

"I like the media to be more aggressive. Our coaches don't, but I do. I don't mind being called at home at night to answer a reporter's question."

Television used to have a minor role in Iowa athletics. Now Hayden Fry and Tom Davis see more television cameras than Gov. Branstad.

"Videotape revolutionized television coverage," Wine noted. "Before, they used film and could only shoot so much. Now they can tape every word of a Hayden Fry press conference just to use 20 seconds of it. They tape every play of our football games.

"Ray Nagel was the coach when we started holding weekly football press conferences. We had maybe a dozen people. None were from television. We sat around a table. It was very informal and much more fun. You got to know people. Now I feel I don't know most of the people covering Iowa sports anymore, just because they're are so many of them."

It's no secret the economics of major-college sports are vastly different than they once were.

"There's a great deal more emphasis on money now," Wine said. "Now we have very sophisticated fund-raising machinery in place. Everything's really driven by money. It didn't used to be so much of a problem. There wasn't near the pressure there is today. It used to be we didn't concern ourselves too much if Kinnick Stadium had empty seats. We sure do now.

"The pinch started in the mid-'70s. The economy changed and inflation took a toll, but the biggest factor was women's sports. Under affirmative action, schools suddenly had to start funding pretty decent women's programs.

"I think our men's program gives $3.6 million to the women's program. If we had that $3.6 million, we'd be in clover.

"I really think women have every right to compete as men do, and I applaud their every effort. But I just think they're going to have to find some way to generate some income for themselves. You can talk about gender equity until you're blue in the face, but sooner or later you have to have financial responsibility equity."

That is a sentiment many major-college football and men's basketball coaches would cheer. They might feel differently about another of Wine 's opinions.

"I think it's time Division I athletes in income sports should receive a monthly stipend of maybe $1,000," Wine said. "I don't see any reason they can't. We'd have to take the money from other places, but I think the athletes are really deserving of it, and I think it would stop a lot of the cheating problems the NCAA has now.

"Any high-profile Division I football or basketball coach makes a lot of money. A half-million bucks a year is routine. Why shouldn't the players get cut in, especially from the shoe money? The coaches wouldn't get that money if the players weren't wearing the shoes. Give them some of that."

Having spent his career in sports information - the North English native was SID at Northern Iowa and Memphis State before taking the Iowa job - Wine naturally has strong positive feelings about college athletics.

"I think it's true that athletes learn a lot from competition and good coaches," Wine said. "They not only learn a lot about sports, but about life.

"There's no doubt in my mind a person who has had the opportunity and privilege to participate in a successful college sports program is better equipped after finishing college. Being in a regimented program, working within a system, and learning the value of discipline are the reasons."

George Wine of Coralville, Iowa, who was the University of Iowa sports information director for more than 20 years, died Thursday of a heart attack at age 81.

Wine died at University Hospitals two days after undergoing hip replacement surgery.

Only the second SID in Hawkeye history, Wine replaced Eric Wilson in 1968 and held the job until 1993. He then began a phased retirement as SID emeritus and continued in that role until 1996.

Wine was with the Hawkeyes during a period of tremendous growth and success for the athletic department. He was inducted into the College Sports Information Directors of America's Hall of Fame in 1985, and was CoSIDA's president in 1991-92.

In retirement, Wine co-wrote football coach Hayden Fry's autobiography, ``High Porch Picnic," and wrote a book about Hawkeye sports history, ``Black & Gold Memories: The Hawkeyes of the 20th Century." He also wrote a weekly column for

George Joel Wine Jr. was born in Omaha, Neb., on June 9, 1931. He went to high school in North English, Iowa, served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1954 and graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1956.

From 1956 to 1963 he was sports information director at Iowa State Teachers College, which became the State College of Iowa (and is now the University of Northern Iowa). He was SID at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) from 1963 to 1968.

Wine received the All-America Football Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. He was inducted into the Hawkeyes' National Varsity Club Hall of Fame in 2000, and was part of the first class to join the Kinnick Stadium Media Wall of Fame in 2006. He received more than 40 award citations from CoSIDA for media guides and programs.

Wine mentored many students, including interns who went on to become college publicists at Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Colorado, Utah, DePaul, Texas-El Paso and the Big Sky Conference; professional publicists with the Chicago Bears, Chicago White Sox and Dallas Mavericks; and sports writers for The Associated Press, the Des Moines Register and the Chicago Tribune.

Wine was a longtime member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Iowa City. His hobbies included writing, bridge, photography, gardening and tennis. He was preceded in death by his parents, George Wine Sr. and Edyth Harsch Wine, and by his first wife, Anne McGehee Wine. He's survived by his second wife, Dr. Barrie Anderson, Professor Emeritus of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Iowa his son, Steve, a sports writer in Miami for the AP; his sister, Virginia Wine Alderson of Omaha; and numerous beloved nieces, nephews, and grand nieces and nephews. A memorial service is planned in the near future at Trinity Episcopal Church in Iowa City. 

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