IRVING, Texas — The National Football Foundation Gridiron Club of Dallas Chapter announced today that College Football Hall of Fame Coach Hayden Fry will receive the chapter’s 2018 Legends Award.
Fry will accept the honor during the chapter’s 10th Annual Awards Banquet on March 18, at 6 p.m. at the Dallas/Addison Marriott Quorum by the Galleria.
“Though many nationally know him for his time as Iowa’s head coach, Hayden Fry’s impact on the game of football in North Texas cannot be understated,” Gerald Brence, president of the NFF Gridiron Club of Dallas Chapter and athletics director for the Plano Independent School District, said in a release. “He led huge turnarounds as the head coach at North Texas and SMU, where he also made history recruiting Jerry LeVias and helping to integrate the old Southwest Conference. Few embody the word legend like Hayden Fry, and we are thrilled to honor him with this award.”
The Legends Award is presented to a former athletics director or coach who has made significant contributions to the game of football, either in the manner in which it is played and watched or the manner in which it is enjoyed by spectators.
For 37 years, Fry was one of the most recognizable faces in college football, and when he retired, his 232 wins placed him 10th all-time in college history. He received college football’s ultimate honor when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
A native of Eastland, Texas, and a descendant of one of Sam Houston’s allies at the Battle of San Jacinto, Fry’s career in leadership began at Odessa High School, where he served as class president and quarterbacked the football team to the state title in 1946. He later attended Baylor University, where he played quarterback for the Bears while earning a degree in psychology. Fry served in the Marine Corps from 1952-55, where he both played and coached football while attaining the rank of captain.
At just 26 years old, Fry became the head coach at Odessa High in 1956. He spent three seasons leading the team in West Texas before stints as an assistant coach at Baylor and Arkansas.
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Fry became the eighth head coach in SMU football history when he was hired in 1962, and earned Southwest Conference Coach of the Year honors his first season. In 1966, he led the Mustangs to their first SWC title in 18 years and a trip to the Cotton Bowl. During his 11 seasons on the Hilltop, Fry led SMU to two other bowl appearances, including a win in the 1968 Bluebonnet Bowl. He also served as the university’s athletics director for the majority of his tenure with the Mustangs.
It was at SMU where Fry made one of the biggest impacts on college football in the South. In 1965, he recruited future College Football Hall of Famer Jerry LeVias, making him the first African-American scholarship athlete and the second African-American football player in the Southwest Conference.
In 1973, Fry became the head coach and athletics director at North Texas, where he orchestrated a massive turnaround. Before his arrival, the school had won just seven games in the previous three seasons and was considering dropping from Division I football or even ending the sport altogether.
In his first season, Fry led the Mean Green to a share of the Missouri Valley Conference title, and he was named the conference coach of the year. Fry went on to win 40 games in six seasons, including 19 in his final two years in Denton. One of his biggest wins at UNT came in 1975 when the team upset SEC powerhouse Tennessee on the road. Fry also played a key role in emphasizing the nickname Mean Green over the traditional Eagle mascot. In addition, three of his sons played for him at North Texas.
Following his tenure at North Texas, Fry gained national acclaim for sparking a resurgence at Iowa, where his teams were 143-89-6 over 20 seasons (1979-98). In 1981, he coached the Hawkeyes to their first winning season in 19 years with a Big Ten co-championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl, the school’s first bowl appearance in 23 years. That season, he was named the Sporting News College Football Coach of the Year and claimed his first of three Big Ten Coach of the Year awards.
Fry won two other Big Ten titles in 1985 and 1990 to send the Hawkeyes to Pasadena.