But when asked whether Fry was the homespun country philosopher at SMU, Condron said: "If he was, nobody noticed because a lot of people down there talk like that. I think he might have picked up a couple of those sayings from Darrell Royal."
Not even flinching when he hears himself described as a manipulator, Fry doesn't deny he is an actor on a stage. He calls it "selling the sizzle instead of the steak."
He said he learned that from his father, a butcher. Hayden Fry Sr. died in a taxi cab while coming home for lunch one day when his son, an only child, was 14. Living in Odessa, a oil boomtown of about 90,000 at the south end of the Texas Panhandle, Fry's mother went to work taking tickets at a movie theater. Young Hayden added to the family's modest income as an oil-field roughneck when he wasn't going to school, where he was a star quarterback. In the 1947 Odessa High School annual, Fry's senior year, he revealed his ambition was to "hunt treasures."
Fry was a reserve quarterback at Baylor, where he majored in psychology. His fascination with the subject continued during 17 months as a Marine Corps captain in Japan, where took a course in the psychology of religion at the University of Tokyo to "gain an insight into the depth of the Oriental mind."
That was not just a time for reflection. When he was an oilfield roughneck, his job was to turn over rocks and kill the rattlesnakes underneath. That taught him how to function under stress, a lesson that served him well as a hand-to-hand combat instructor in the Marines. But the Marines also taught him neatness and order. A complex man was developing.
Upon his discharge, Fry rejected his one-time ambition of becoming a psychiatrist and returned to Odessa to coach high school football. He is best remembered there for toting a record player to the dressing room before games and playing stirring marches, such as "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "The Marine Corps Hymn," and "Dixie."
In 1962, at age 33, he became the youngest head coach ever at SMU. During 11 years there, he was responsible for bringing in the Southwest Conference's first black assistant coach and first black scholarship athlete, Jerry LeVias. Signing LeVias was particularly controversial, inspiring hate mail and death threats for both the player and coach. SMU fans became more enlightened after LeVias became an All-America. "Every time he scored a touchdown, all my good friends thought he became whiter and whiter," Fry said.
But Fry had only three winning seasons. Even though Condron said he believes the Mustangs had turned the corner in 1972, when they finished 7-4, Fry was fired with one game remaining that season. No official reason was announced, but he said he believes it was because he wouldn't cater to the university's prominent boosters. "I wouldn't drop everything and go to the Bahamas with them," he said.
For a man with such a high profile, Fry goes to great lengths to protect his privacy. He and his wife, both in their second marriages, live near a reservoir several miles outside of Iowa City and are seldom seen around town. On the few occasions when they socialize, it is only with good friends. The conversation, Fry said, is seldom about football.
After his unceremonious dismissal at SMU, Fry was hired at North Texas State, located about 30 miles north of Dallas in Denton. In an attempt to maintain the football program's major-college status, the administration hired Fry as an attention-getter.
In Fry's six seasons there, the Eagles had victories over Tennessee and SMU and tied Texas. They won 10 games one season and 9 the next. But they didn't attract the attention of either the bowl scouts or the networks.
"We couldn't even get on the radio," Fry said.
So when Iowa called, Fry listened.
"I'd always wanted to coach at someplace that was the University of," he said. "I would've gone to the University of Iowa-Jima."
Upon arriving in Iowa, Fry discovered better players than he expected, but he said they needed an attitude adjustment. He began applying the psychology he had learned.
The first thing he did was order uniforms that matched those of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were coming off another Super Bowl championship. Then he hired a commercial artist to redesign another logo, replacing lovable Herky the Hawk, who had seen too many losing seasons, with a more ferocious Tiger Hawk. "I don't even know if there's such a thing as a Tiger Hawk," Fry said.
He told his players to watch their manners, ordering them to say "yes sir" and "no sir" and "thank you" and to dress for success. He even changed the manner in which they enter the field before a game, telling them that running out of the tunnel, jumping up and down and high-fiving each other was "an insecure type of energy." He told them to trot onto the field, calm and confident.