IOWA CITY — Many think that had one of Hayden Fry’s Iowa football teams been coming off a third-straight loss, his next Tuesday press conference would be Superstorm Hayden.
No way. When times weren’t great on the field, Fry didn’t grab or invent a perceived slight to blow out of context. He saved the raging for inside his football compound.
Fry’s occasional Tuesday explosions — which averaged out to be less than one per season — were often after a victory and when his team had a bigger game coming up. They were designed to take pressure and focus off his players and shift it elsewhere, like onto some newspaper or TV mope.
It was a game within the game. Fry graduated with a degree in psychology from Baylor University. To this day he loves talking about the many mental aspects of running a football program.
I spoke with him on the phone just two weeks ago. As usual, it meant he did a lot of telling of jokes and stories, and I did a lot of laughing. He had far more press conferences where he laughed instead of ranted.
In that phone conversation, like the last several we’ve had, Fry apologized for going off at various press conferences over his 20 years as Iowa’s coach. He always notes he knew I had a job to do, but he was just defending and protecting his players.
Like I always do, I assured him the apology was unnecessary and I knew what he was doing. Which is easy to say all these years later. At the time, it wasn’t fun to be on that particular firing line. Fry could be intimidating, to say the least, and he knew how to work public opinion in this state better than any governor ever dreamed.
If you question someone in a public forum, the least you can do is sit there and take it if that someone returns the volleys. However, nothing on a newspaper page could equal the video and audio of Fry on a 6 p.m. newscast after he had worked up a good froth.
“I was thoroughly entertained during my nine years (as Fry’s offensive line coach),” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said, referring to Fry’s occasional press-conference tongue-lashings.
“Coach Fry, I promise you, he’d walk out the door (of the press conference) and just giggle at us. … I’d figure that out pretty quick. He had fun.”
That was who Fry was. And Ferentz is who he is, which is someone who seldom responds publicly to criticism from the media or anyone else.
He’s gotten some recently, in case you hadn’t noticed. In this paper alone, I had a column Monday I thought was tough. Sunday, Scott Dochterman had a column that questioned Iowa’s passing scheme. Marc Morehouse’s stories from Iowa’s last three games, all losses, couldn’t have made for fun reading at Ferentz’s breakfast table.
None were mean or personal. Our jobs are often like those of music or movie critics. We can respect and like an artist, but if we think he or she missed the mark in a piece of work, we say so. If you aren’t candid during the rough times, how can your praise be taken seriously during brighter moments?
This essay has nothing to do with Iowa’s current tailspin or the state of the program. It’s just to say Ferentz chooses not to play the “Us Against the World” card. Which I think should count for something, though I know saying so will bring mockery from some.
Criticism, Ferentz said Tuesday, “comes with the territory. That’s how I look at it. It’s part of my job.
“I don’t mind it when you guys are telling me ‘Boy, you did a great job.’ I don’t respond to that, either, or try not to. It’s the same way when it goes the other direction as far as I’m concerned.”
Whether the Iowa program has another run of glory days left in it under Ferentz remains to be seen. It’s far from a sure thing, but I certainly don’t rule out the possibility.
Some of you would might be more definitive and negative about your answer. But none of us know for sure, and few things make people look less clairvoyant than predicting what will happen in sports.
Asked if Iowa fans should be optimistic for the future, Ferentz replied “I’m optimistic. We’re going to continue to work hard. That’s what we’ve tried to do for 13-plus years.”
That’s an answer that won’t appease many people in the slightest. If they would prefer a hot-headed tirade, there’s never any shortage of places to quickly find one. Which is far more unfortunate than a three-game losing streak.