IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa’s football facilities are a far cry from those that coach Hayden Fry inherited in December 1978.
“Oh, gosh,” Fry said, shaking his head.
The football offices were located in Iowa Field House when Fry started to shake the echoes of dormancy. Later this month, the program will move into the Richard O. Jacobson Football Operations Building, a mammoth 76,000-square-foot brick testament to the Hawkeyes’ success on the field, the generosity of their fan base and the need to run with the big boys in college football’s facilities arms race.
Located just northwest of Kinnick Stadium, a tour of the facility Tuesday showed it has plenty of bells and whistles. From a player auditorium with oversized seats and a Tiger Hawk stitched into the back of the chairs to a state-of-the-art weight room, training room and a public space that will house Nile Kinnick’s 1939 Heisman Trophy, this facility thinks big.
Just like Fry did when he left North Texas State to take on the biggest college of his hall of fame career.
“A lot of people built a legacy here,” said Kirk Ferentz, who was hired by Fry as an assistant in 1981 and returned in 1998 as his successor. “I don’t know if anybody has had a larger role than coach Fry.”
The new facility will also include new team locker rooms — 130 lockers in all — team meeting rooms, a player’s lounge, coaches’ offices and meeting rooms and the 22,500 square feet of strength and conditioning space where Chris Doyle will transform boys into men.
Jane Meyer, Iowa’s senior associate director of athletics, said the Hawkeyes are expected to move to their new digs on Sept. 29 and 30.
“We should get them in and make sure they’re functioning without missing a beat,” Meyer said.
The public access area, which will display Iowa’s football history, will open at a later date.
The first phase of the project, an indoor practice facility, has been open for two seasons. Both phases, called the Stew and Lenore Hansen Football Performance Center, cost $55 million. Add the Ronald and Margaret Kenyon practice facility and Kinnick Stadium, and the entire package is called the Hayden Fry Football Complex.
That’s fitting, since Fry pulled off what some called mission impossible — turning Iowa football from a laughingstock to a top-20 program. I told Fry last week that people in these parts owe him a big thank you.
“Would you give them my address so they know where to send me money?” Fry joked.
In truth, $35 million of the new facility’s funds came from private donations. The rest came from athletic department funds generated through public support. No tax dollars were used.
The original plans were to upgrade the existing weight room in the current football facility. But when steel couldn’t be shipped because of Hurricane Katrina in 2006, athletic director Gary Barta and Ferentz kicked around the idea of something bigger.
“We had to raise a lot of money to put this new building up,” Ferentz said. “I’m so appreciative of not only the people who have their names on the (building), but for everybody who chipped in. That’s how it’s always been done here.”
This will be the fifth different office Ferentz has occupied as an Iowa coach.
“That gives you an idea of the way things have changed here,” Ferentz said.
His new office will include a view of his other office, Kinnick Stadium. The new facility should also give the program a boost in recruiting. Howard Griffith of the Big Ten Network called the new home of Iowa football “a game changer.”
Ferentz also made changes in his staff to reflect a new approach to recruiting. Seth Wallace was hired as the new recruiting coordinator and assistant coach on June 5. Two months later, Ferentz announced the establishment of a personnel/recruiting division within the program.
“I think something that every program does is try to improve in any way they can,” Ferentz said.
The new facility is not about the next five years, Ferentz said, but the next decade and beyond. Long after his legacy has been written.
One thing is for certain. Ferentz will leave behind an office much nicer than the cubby hole he first occupied in Iowa Field House in 1981.
And maybe a legacy that Fry would appreciate.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.