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Former assistants recognize Fry

BY BRENDAN STILES | SEPTEMBER 04, 2009 7:20 AM

When Hayden Fry became Iowa’s head coach 30 years ago, few could have envisioned the accomplishments he would achieve.

His legacy is second to none in the Hawkeye State — he won 143 games in 20 years and took Iowa to three Rose Bowls.

But what makes Fry different from other legendary college football coaches is the effect he had on his coaching staffs during his Iowa tenure.

At this time, seven head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision were at one point assistants under Fry at Iowa. The current list of Fry disciples has a little of everything — coaches who once played for him at Iowa, coaches who were graduate assistants, and assistants who went go on to perform miracles of their own.

For three years, Bill Snyder was an assistant to Fry at North Texas. When Fry came to Iowa City, Snyder accompanied him and spent the next 10 years as Iowa’s offensive coordinator.

Snyder became the head coach at Kansas State, where he was an icon for 17 years.

After a three-year hiatus, Snyder is back at Kansas State coaching. But he hasn’t forgotten about the man who showed him the way.

“[Fry] had an amazing impact on my life as a coach, and as a father, and as a person,” Snyder said. “He helped me through a lot of difficult times and was always a dear friend. He just cared about all the great people he was around.”

With the exceptions of Kirk Ferentz and Nebraska’s Bo Pelini, who was a graduate assistant at Iowa in 1991, the remainder of the coaching tree has also worked under Snyder. One of those coaches is South Florida’s Jim Leavitt.

Long before Leavitt built South Florida’s program from scratch in the mid-1990s, he had coached at smaller levels of college football across the state of Iowa at both Dubuque and Morningside College.
Before joining Snyder, Leavitt came to Iowa City and was a graduate assistant on Fry’s staff during the 1989 season, which he described as “a powerful time.”

“He’s one of the best coaches that I have ever been around,” Leavitt said. “He had such a passion for the game. He had understood football in a way that I had not really experienced before.”

Then there are those who played for Fry at Iowa and began their coaching careers as assistants for him. Along with brothers Bob Stoops (Oklahoma) and Mike Stoops (Arizona), current Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema took this path.

After playing for the Hawkeyes as a defensive lineman, Bielema immediately joined the coaching staff, and he was an assistant during the final six years of Fry’s tenure.

He said Fry is a father figure and said he attempts to talk with his mentor at least once a month.

“I just like talking to him because he makes me better,” Bielema said. “He’s a tremendous human being with a very open heart, and I use a lot of the things I do in coaching today from things I learned from him as a player and coach.”

And then of course there’s Ferentz, who was given the task of following in Fry’s footsteps. Ferentz spent nine seasons as the Hawkeyes’ offensive-line coach before becoming Maine’s head coach prior to the 1990 season.

The current Hawkeye coach described Fry as thorough and detailed and said he was fortunate to have worked for him.

“I think it’s fair to say that basically, most of my viewpoints and perspectives on college football were formulated during the nine years that I was on the Iowa staff,” Ferentz said.

Today, Hawkeye fans will celebrate Fry Fest and pay tribute to Iowa’s football coach with the most wins. His former assistants will be occupied with coaching this weekend, but they may also just take a moment to smile as Fry is recognized for his accomplishments.

“They should make it one of the biggest festivals there is in Iowa City,” Leavitt said. “Let me tell you, that’s one of the great names of all-time.”


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