Editor’s note: Former Iowa quarterback Chuck Long did a telephone interview with The Gazette after Hayden Fry’s death on Tuesday. Long was an All-American and Heisman Trophy runner-up under Fry who, after his NFL career, coached with him at Iowa. Here is Long’s story:
Everybody should write a book called “What if?”
What if Hayden Fry never came along? Where would I be? Who knows?
I got recruited by Northern Illinois and Northwestern but only because Iowa was recruiting me. If Iowa didn’t recruit me ... who knows where I’d be?
He changed my life forever.
Football’s opened up the world to me — I’ve been around the world because of football.
I was not recruited at all. We threw the ball four or five times a game. We went to the state championship my junior year and I passed for minus 3 yards.
Then I got the phone call that changed my life forever from the great Bill Snyder.
He was the offensive coordinator (and) quarterbacks coach at the time ... in December of 1980. I’ll never forget it. I came home from the basketball practice, you know, thinking, hey, life goes on ... let’s go on to the next step. And I get this call.
I think it’s my buddy Tom playing a practical joke on me. I realized it was no practical joke. It was Bill Snyder himself calling for Fry. And they wanted to fly me in for an official visit.
John Streif picked me up and took me to Iowa River Power Company. I had the biggest prime rib I’ve ever had in my life.
I met this John Wayne-like figure named Hayden Fry. He was bigger than life. When I shook his hand for the first time I said, my goodness, he just oozed with charisma. He knew all about my family, as you do in recruiting, but ... I shook his hand for the first time (and) I thought I was shaking hands with a dignitary or a movie star ...
He just had IT!
That was the first moment of impact he had on my life. He became a second father to me. I just loved the man.
Fry was my best mentor and coach ever, (but) he was much more than just a football coach to me.
He took time off the field to get to know you, and that’s what made the difference. He always took time to ask about my family. When I was coaching for him, he always took time to ask about my immediate family, of course, and what they’re doing. Every time I called him, before we even talked business or football or whatever, he always asked about my family and wanted me to tell him what each one them were up to. Every time.
He had so much charisma and a wonderful sense of humor and made football practices and games so much fun.
He was very disciplined. He’s was an ex-Marine. He had a Hall of Fame coaching staff — he knew how to hire people. He drove his coaches and us hard, but he made it fun.
You couldn’t wait to get to practice every day. He had a thing at the end of practice he called “cheer.” It was always on the practice script.
He wanted his players to leave the field, whether it’s a bad practice or a good practice, with something positive, something funny. You always had somebody tell a joke or he would tell a joke or motivational story, but he wanted it to be cheerful.
When I was coaching for him — he was very adamant about this, and I believe it was crucial to his success — he wanted every coach to tell his players something positive on the way off the practice field, or after a game, even if we lost the game. He would make sure they didn’t leave the locker room without something positive. That was very important to him, and I believe was a difference in our success.
I mean how many places do you know do the “Hokey Pokey?”
He had a profound effect on everybody. The impact he had on lives in Iowa is just amazing.
I think everybody, in every single living room in the state of Iowa, at some point in time mentioned Hayden Fry. And always in a good way.
Chuck Long is CEO and executive director of the Iowa Sports Foundation, which is comprised of the Iowa Games, Live Healthy Iowa, Corporate Games, Senior Games and Adaptive Sports Iowa. He also is an analyst for the Big Ten Network and recently signed on as running backs coach for the St. Louis BattleHawks of the XFL.