Hayden Fry is a Texas legend. Born in Eastland, Texas, Fry would go on to play quarterback at Baylor. After graduating, Fry took over the head position at Odessa High School, but Fry was always meant to coach at the collegiate level. During his time at Baylor, coaches saw Fry’s coaching potential and just a few years after graduation had him return to Baylor as a position coach.
After a brief trip to Arkansas, Fry would return to Texas to become the head coach of SMU followed by the same position at North Texas State (now UNT). Of course, Fry’s most lasting legacy would be at his third and final collegiate head coaching stop – the University of Iowa.
If you caught those last two schools, then you already know where this is going. This weekend the University of North Texas will be travelling to Iowa to face the Hawkeyes. This is the first time the two teams will meet.
Fry was the head coach at UNT from 1973-1978 where he compiled a 40-23-3 record. That win total remains fifth best all-time for a UNT coach. Of course, Fry led UNT to their best two-year stretch in program history. In his final two years in Denton, Fry went 10-1 and 9-2.
While the winning ways were cause for great celebration on campus, they were, ironically, ultimately the reason for Fry’s departure. Even after building such a successful and competitive program, Fry’s team had no conference affiliation and were ignored by bowl games (the 1977 team was even ranked #16). Fry would have to leave for a coaching position in a major conference to be able to take his teams to the heights he envisioned.
Lucky for Iowa, they were looking for a head coach at that exact moment. Fry agreed to take over the Hawkeyes’ program and that began one of the greatest coaching trees in college football history. Starting in 1979, Fry patrolled the Iowa sidelines and quickly turned the program around, winning the 1981 conference title during his third year on the job. The ’81 conference title was Iowa’s first conference title in 21 years.
Fry would go on to win 143 games while the head coach at Iowa, a number that still ranks as first in program history. Fry’s Hawkeye teams won three conference titles and went to 14 bowls games, including a stretch of eight straight bowls from 1981-1988. Perhaps even more impressive than his on-field success was the lineage of coaches that Fry built during his tenure.
The University of Iowa currently has five graduates serving as the head coaches at FBS programs. That number is the highest of any school in the entire country. However, those five coaches have something else in common – they all served as assistants under Hayden Fry (four of them actually played under Fry as well). The first four coaches include some of college football’s biggest names, Bret Bielema (Arkansas), Bob Diaco (UCONN), Mark Stoops (Kentucky) and Bob Stoops (Oklahoma). The fifth and final coach plays an important role in this particular story – Dan McCarney who is the head coach at UNT.
In a reverse role of Fry, McCarney is an Iowa native who started his coaching career as an Iowa assistant from 1977-1989. His first head coaching job, like Fry, would be in his home state. McCarney led the Iowa State Cyclones from 1995 to 2006. In 2004, McCarney would lead Iowa State to the Big 12 North Divisional Title, the school’s only divisional title in Big 12 history and their only conference title of any type since 1912 when they were co-champions of the MVIAA.
McCarney took over at UNT in 2011. While his tenure has seen its ups and downs, he did lead the Mean Green to a 9-4 campaign in 2013 that included a victory in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The bowl invite was UNT’s first invite in a decade and the bowl victory was only the second bowl victory in program history.
While this will be the Mean Green’s first trip to Kinnick Stadium, McCarney has served as the visiting coach at his old stadium six times. In those games (all with Iowa State) McCarney has posted a 3-3 record.
With a game steeped in interlocking history, will the Fry Bowl see the Texas team post an upset? It seems unlikely. UNT hasn’t earned a victory this season and with a loss Saturday, the program will see its first winless September since 2008. Iowa on the other hand is undefeated and is looking to start their season 4-0 for the first time since 2009.
Furthermore, Iowa has yet to allow a rushing touchdown, one of only four teams in the country to have that distinction. Oh, and in case you missed it, they have a pretty impressive kicker. UNT would love for this one to come down to the wire. Regardless, we can all watch the game Saturday and know that Texas has played a major role in the success of both programs and we can all salute a Texas legend – Coach Hayden Fry.
This article was written and researched by Ryan Sprayberry, Collections and Exhibits Manager at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame