IOWA CITY — They were just kids, or so it seems now.
Dan McCarney was 30, Barry Alvarez a ripe old 36. Bob Stoops was 23, Kirk Ferentz 28.
They and a half-dozen other coaches of renown were together on Hayden Fry’s 1983 Iowa football staff. Ferentz coached the offensive line, McCarney the defensive line. Alvarez was the linebackers coach. Stoops, just done with his playing career at Iowa, was a defensive graduate assistant.
That was the fifth season Hayden Fry was the Hawkeyes’ head coach. Fry, 54 in 1983, had seven future Division I head coaches on that staff, men who have spent a total of 114 years as bosses of their programs. Iowa’s Ferentz and Kansas State’s Bill Snyder are still on the job.
An iconic black-and-white photo shows the 12 men who led that program. Or rather, Fry and the 11 who were delegated responsibility from the former Marine captain. Fry was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003. He was joined there by Alvarez in 2010 and Snyder in 2015. Stoops and Ferentz will eventually get there, too.
On Sept. 1, the day Ferentz will untie Fry as Iowa’s all-time winningest coach if the Hawkeyes open their season with a home win over Northern Illinois, everyone on that 1983 staff but quarterbacks guru Snyder (his team has a game that weekend) is expected to be in Kinnick Stadium.
The day before at the Coralville Marriott, nearly all will appear at the 10th annual FRYfest to talk about some good times they shared. Great times.
Adding to the spice of that weekend, Ferentz enters this season tied with Fry for career wins at Iowa with 143. Fry coached the Hawkeyes for 20 seasons. Ferentz begins his 20th season at that Northern Illinois game.
Besides the coaches’ reunion, “the other thing that’s pretty special is what could happen on that first home game with Kirk and (No.) 144,” said Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and one of FRYfest’s architects a decade ago.
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“The whole crew will be there to kind of celebrate with Coach Ferentz and the Ferentz family. We’ve got to take care of business that day, and I know he’d say that’s a big, tough opponent, but I’m confident in Kirk Ferentz as are all of you.”
Long before Ferentz got win No. 1 as a head coach, he was part of a staff that turned Hawkeye football from an afterthought into a Big Ten force.
“From 1981 to 1987,” said Don Patterson, the only assistant to be on Fry’s staff for his entire tenure at Iowa, “we had the best record (62-23-1 overall, 42-15-1 in the conference, two Rose Bowl appearances) of any Big Ten school. That’s how good those seven years were.”
In hindsight, you couldn’t go wrong with that cluster of coaches. It also included a great defensive coordinator in Bill Brashier, a recruiter of so much crucial East Coast talent in Bernie Wyatt, and a mentor of many superb running backs in Carl Jackson.
“The energy, the passion, the loyalty on that staff was incredible,” McCarney said last week. “We didn’t want to let each other down, and we didn’t want to let Hayden Fry down.”
Fry has long maintained he wanted assistant coaches who aspired to be head coaches.
“Coach Fry always said that,” Patterson said, “but beyond that, we learned to be head coaches in so many ways from Coach Fry.
“I flash back to my 11 years as a head coach (at Western Illinois) and the number of times I quoted Coach Fry. Even today.”
A great coach, Patterson said, “can inspire players to play better than they ever imagined they could play.”
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“I think way back in time, to 1989,” he said. “We had a rare losing season, but lo and behold, in 1990 we were a Rose Bowl team. Nobody expected that. But what I remember was in 1991 when we went 10-1 in the regular season. After that season Coach Fry said the smartest thing he did was never telling them they weren’t that good.
“Some coaches think you have to yell and scream. He always said to build ‘em up, don’t tear ‘em down.”
McCarney is a rare bird in this state, someone regarded fondly at both Iowa and Iowa State. He grew up in Iowa City and played and coached at Iowa, and later was the Cyclones’ head coach for 12 seasons. That means he battled four of Fry’s teams and eight of Ferentz’s on the field.
But the rivalry days are over, and McCarney is an unabashed Ferentz fan.
“We hit it off when we worked together,” McCarney said. “We were both very young. We probably felt we got opportunities we hadn’t deserved or earned yet, coaching an offensive line and a defensive line in the Big Ten.”
McCarney never lacked for enthusiasm as a college coach from 1977 to 2015. But he was really excited talking about this scheduled reunion.
“We worked hard and Hayden Fry was demanding,” McCarney said. “Expectations were clear and set high. But he not only impacted our lives, he changed lives. He set the course for many of us.”
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