Hayden Fry got in touch with me this week. He had something he wanted people to know.
“People need to give the University of Iowa some credit,” said the former Iowa head football coach, “and I can’t think of a better game to do that than when Oklahoma and Notre Dame hook up.”
The Fighting Irish play the Sooners Saturay, and there’s quite a Hawkeye element to the game. Seven former Iowa players are on the coaching staffs of the two teams. Six played for Fry, and five were either an assistant coach or graduate assistant with him at Iowa.
Former Hawkeye player Bob Stoops has been Oklahoma’s head coach for 14 seasons. His defensive coordinator is Mike Stoops, back in Norman after eight years as Arizona’s head coach. The Sooners’ offensive line coach is Bruce Kittle.
Jay Norvell is Oklahoma’s co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach. This week, a publisher sent me a copy of Norvell’s book, “Complete Wide Receiver.” But he played defensive back for Fry.
“That shows you had to be kind of out in left field to get along with me,” Fry said, laughing.
Notre Dame’s staff is almost as Iowa-centric. Brian Kelly’s assistant head coach/defensive coordinator is former Hawkeye linebacker Bob Diaco.
“Bobby led us in tackles, and could really tackle,” Fry said. “He was a great leader and highly regarded.
“In all my years of college coaching (from 1959 to 1998), he was the only player who ever came on his official visit wearing a suit and tie.”
Diaco mentors Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, a tremendous player who would surprise no one if he were among the Heisman Trophy finalists this year.
Diaco’s defensive backs coaches Kerry Cooks and Bob Elliott. Cooks was an Iowa defensive back who played for a few years in the NFL. He was an assistant at Minnesota and Wisconsin before joining Diaco at Notre Dame.
Elliott coached for 11 years at Iowa, and was Fry’s defensive coordinator at Iowa from 1996 to 1998. He came to Notre Dame after a two-year stint on Paul Rhoads’ Iowa State staff.
If that weren’t enough, Notre Dame’s strength and conditioning coach is Paul Longo, who held the same job with Fry at Iowa.
That’s a lot of Herky in one big game Saturday.
“The thing I hate about it is one team’s going to lose,” Fry said.
The old Texan’s coaching tree is still bearing fruit in lots of places. If the national Coach of the Year award were given right now, the winner would surely be Kansas State’s Bill Snyder. He was Fry’s offensive coordinator at Iowa for 10 seasons.
Snyder was an assistant coach at Austin College when Fry hired him as an assistant at North Texas State. No one can ever say Fry didn’t have an keen eye for spotting coaching talent.
“Bill is one of the most intelligent head coaches in college football,” Fry said. “Number one, he doesn’t beat himself.
“When I was a high-school coach in Odessa, Texas, I hitchhiked to Cleveland, Ohio to hear Paul Brown, who was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. He said ‘All you coaches and would-be coaches, remember one thing. The more times you throw the ball over the middle on an obvious passing down, the more times you’ll be looking for jobs.’
“You see that all the time in the NFL and college football. But Snyder’s teams don’t make mistakes. He has a sound offense, a sound defense, and a wonderful kicking game.
“And his offensive coordinator is Del Miller, who worked with me for years and years.”
Another former Fry assistant is Kirk Ferentz, the 14-year head coach at Iowa. The Hawkeyes are coming off a 38-14 beating from Penn State, and Fry sympathizes.
The Iowa job, he said, “is a football job. And not everything in the world related to football is consistent.
“You can have a good coaching staff and good leadership, but you’re not going to win every year because something’s going to happen. Players get in trouble, key people get injured, so forth.
“When I was at Iowa, a famous coach told me he voted for me as Coach of the Year every year. When I asked why, he said he looked in the almanac and saw the state of Iowa had 2,600,000 people, and that was my primary recruiting base.”
National programs like Oklahoma and Notre Dame do have recruiting advantages that Iowa lacks. But every program has had down times. The Sooners were a mortal 8-5 just three seasons ago. This year will mark the first time the Irish have been better than 8-5 since 2006.
But both teams are in the Top Ten today, and a lot of men who learned football at Iowa have had a lot to do with it.