FRISCO, Texas — Hayden Fry’s daughter, Robin Fry, welcomed several hundred people to an event here Saturday called “a high porch picnic, whatever the heck that really means.”
That was one of the many phrases her father made his own in his 90 years of life, including 20 as the University of Iowa’s head football coach from 1979 to 1998. Saturday’s memorial at the Ford Center at the Star, fittingly an indoor football facility used by the Dallas Cowboys and local high school teams, was called a high porch picnic celebrating the life of John Hayden Fry.
One could easily assume that meant it was a lot of friends, a lot of family, quite a few laughs, and heaping helpings of heartfelt respect and affection.
There was a lot of football-related talk from the speakers, including representatives of the teams Fry coached at SMU, North Texas State and Iowa. Current Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz, Fry’s offensive line coach at Iowa from 1981 to 1989, brought up the famed pink-painted visitors’ locker room at Kinnick Stadium, one of the many parts of Fry lore.
“(Fry took) great delight in (Michigan coach) Bo Schembechler just mumbling about it in 1984,” Ferentz said. “He had his managers come in and put paper up on the lockers so his players wouldn’t see it.
“I remember Coach Fry coming in the locker room in pregame and saying ‘We got ‘em.’ Bo’s worried about the pink locker room, we got ‘em.
“We beat them 26-0. It was the worst loss that Coach Schembechler had ever experienced.”
Ah, but there was a fairly recent addition to that oft-told story that you may not have heard.
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“The funny part about that,” Ferentz said, “32 years later — 2016 — we played them again. One of Coach Schembechler’s disciples — in fact the quarterback from the ‘85 game (Jim Harbaugh, when No. 1 Iowa beat No. 2 Michigan 12-10 at Kinnick), was the coach, is the coach. They papered those things again and we beat their ass one more time.”
That got a roar from the attendees. Ferentz paused, then said “I think Coach (Fry) took a little delight in that one.”
The pink locker room isn’t the only thing that still resonates decades later from Fry’s coaching career. That could be seen in the makeup of the crowd here. Several dozen former Iowa players and coaches were present.
From the Hawkeyes’ side were Chuck Long and Bob Stoops, Merton Hanks and Marv Cook, Tim Dwight and Drew Tate. No, Tate never took a snap for Fry. But he said he found his way to Iowa because of a friendship his father struck up with Fry assistant coach Carl Jackson.
SMU and North Texas were well-represented, too, including the most-famous player from Fry’s career, SMU wide receiver Jerry LeVias. In 1965, Fry made LeVias the first African-American scholarship player in the Southwest Conference. That didn’t go over well at all with a lot of conference members and Texans at the time.
LeVias joked about not understanding some of Fry’s west Texas sayings like “If you don’t want ’em to get your goat, don’t let ’em know where it’s hid.” He was serious, though, when he said Fry told him “Control your emotions. Even when they spit on you and call your names, control your emotions.’ ”
Kelly Fry, one of Hayden’s four sons, said when he was young his dad came home late after work once and told him “Don’t become a coach. It’s a hard life, just a lot of pressure.’ I remember that.
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“But you and I know being a coach was what he truly wanted to do. It was in his blood. It was in his nature.”
Ferentz said he left behind a University of Pittsburgh program in 1981 — he had been a graduate assistant at Pitt when it went 11-1 in 1980 — and found more positivity in Iowa’s program though the Hawkeyes were coming off their 19th-straight season without a winning record.
“It was puzzling,” Ferentz said, “because all the players and coaches carried themselves like winners in every regard,” Ferentz said. “Soon after, I got a real feel for that.
“There was a high level of pride, there was a high level of determination and toughness.”
Many people at the event were dressed in Hawkeye colors. Over 200 attended a Dallas-Fort Worth Iowa Club gathering at the City Works restaurant across the street from the Ford Center after the event.
“I was at a Hawkeye basketball game at the Field House,” said 1981 Iowa graduate Kevin Kokjohn of Denton, Texas. “Hayden had just taken the Iowa job and he got on the microphone at halftime. He said ‘We’re gonna win.’
“I said ‘Yeah, right.’
“I was wrong.”
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