What passes for high drama in Iowa? Consider the Cedar Rapids Community Theatre's sold-out staging of A Roast of Coach Hayden Fry last May. Normally you don't get roasted unless you're a revered figure, and that's what Fry has become in only four seasons: roastee and toastee of the Hawkeye State. This fall Iowa will have back 15 starters from an 8-4 team that lost only two of its last 10 games and put the Hawkeyes in a bowl for the second consecutive year.
When Fry made his way to Iowa City in 1979 after 17 successful seasons at SMU and North Texas State, he found a state so victory-starved—the Hawkeyes had last had a winning record in 1961—that Iowans would have been grateful for practically any improvement. In Fry's first year the Hawkeyes, who would end up with a 5-6 record, threw a scare into both Nebraska and Oklahoma. "Our kids were satisfied with that," recalls Fry. "They'd walk across campus and get patted on the back. Losing had become acceptable. We had to change the attitudes of everybody—the players, the news media and the campus." The Hawkeyes' surprise trip to the Rose Bowl two seasons ago did much to raise expectations, as did last year's 28-22 defeat of Tennessee in the Peach Bowl.
Almost the entire offensive unit returns from that Peachy-keen team, including Fullback Norm Granger, a starter for two seasons; Tailback Eddie Phillips, who led the Big Ten in rushing last year before going down with an ankle injury against Purdue in the ninth game; and Quarterback Chuck Long, who completed 65% of his passes, tops in the conference. In fact, the offensive skill positions are so stacked with talent that Ronnie Harmon, a first-stringer as a freshman at wingback last year, may be forced to don a redshirt. A New York all-state schoolboy running back whose speed was needed at receiver last season, Harmon wants desperately to play tailback. He'll have to wait in line behind not only Phillips, but also Owen Gill, a former rugby player who grew up in London before attending high school in Brooklyn. Gill could even beat out Phillips. He performed superbly as Phillips' replacement during the final three games of 1982. Although Gill isn't much of a receiver—"Owen couldn't catch a cold in Alaska," says Phillips—he averaged five yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns.
Fortunately, Long has several other targets. His favorite is Split End Dave Moritz, who caught 41 passes last season, including eight in the first half of the Peach Bowl. If Harmon isn't at the other wideout, junior J.C. Love Jordan, Robert Smith, a recruit from Dallas who runs a 10.16 100, and Quinn Early, a freshman from Great Neck, N.Y. who covers 40 yards in 4.4 seconds, will vie for the position. Whatever Harmon's fate—wingback, running back or redshirt on his back—he'll decide it. Fry doesn't want disaffected players on his team.
Graduation in 1982 ripped asunder the Hawkeye defense, which nonetheless led the Big Ten for the second straight season. This year's losses aren't nearly as numerous, though they include Strong Safety Bobby Stoops, who had 70 tackles and four interceptions last fall and whom Fry called his "coach on the field." Stoops's kid brother, Mike, who's taller and faster, will replace him. The defensive line lost three starters, including All-Conference Tackle Mark Bortz. Two of last year's backups, Paul Hufford, perhaps Iowa's strongest player, and George Little, and junior college transfer Greg Fitzgerald emerged from spring practice as heirs to the middle three down-line positions.
Fry held eight first-stringers out of spring drills, he says, "to ensure we'll be healthy in the fall. It will be the first time we anticipate that everyone will be with us." Two of those eight, Kevin Spitzig and Larry Station, are linebackers. Spitzig started last year until knee surgery sidelined him after the second game. Station was a freshman All-America and All-Big Ten in 1982, when he led the Hawkeyes in tackles with 88 Station stops. His dad, Larry Sr., owns a grocery store in Omaha called Larry's Food Station; Larry Jr., an outstanding discus thrower and powerlifter in high school, is a computer science major who wants someday to be president of IBM. "Computer programming develops logical thinking," he says. "It helps you analyze what's going to happen on the field. Only people like Hayden Fry do illogical things, and that's why we win."
When the theater marquees start billing things like A Fry of Coach Hayden Roast, you will know the Hawkeyes have stopped winning.