Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Brush With Hayden - Dennis

With Fry Fest coming up Labor Day Weekend, I'm remembering how I learned first-hand what a caring person the Coach is, in addition to being an outstanding leader.

It was 1980, Coach Fry's second year as Iowa's coach. These were the days before there was one Hawkeye radio network. Instead, there were several stations that originated the game and fed their own small network. WHO had Jim Zabel, WMT Ron Gonder and KXIC (AM 800 in Iowa City) had Gene Clausen.

I was a sophomore at Iowa, working my first radio job, a part-timer at KXIC. One of my jobs was to help with the football broadcasts. This entailed running the board back at the station during the game and also producing a weeknight call-in show that featured Coach Fry answering questions posed by Gene and the sports directors of the other stations in our network, mainly stations in Southeast Iowa towns like Burlington and Muscatine.

Gene and Hayden were in the conference room, wearing headphones so they could hear the questions posed by the other sports directors. Everyone was connected by an open network loop. They could hear each other as well.

We taped the call-in show on Tuesday nights, which was the hardest practice of the week, the last time the team went full speed before tapering into the game. So, Hayden was usually tired after a long day and his conversations with Gene after the show ended were pretty free-wheeling. Listening in from the production studio was, shall we say, educational. But, that's another story.

One Tuesday, there was an equipment glitch in the conference room, none of the microphones worked. So Hayden and Gene had to come into the tiny production studio with me.

To fully understand the story, you need to know just a little about radio studios are designed (Radio folks: Please feel free to skip to the next paragraph). In a radio studio, speakers are always automatically muted when the microphone is turned on, to eliminate feedback. This is why you always see DJs wearing headphones when they're talking.

So, here's the scene. Hayden and Gene are squeezed into two chairs in front of the control board, sharing the studio's only microphone. I was perched on the edge of the counter. There was only one headphone jack, so my job was to keep the mic off so Hayden could hear the question, then turn it on so he could answer. And, that was how it went for nearly the full hour of the show:

Mic off: Hayden listens.
Mic on: Hayden answers.
Mic off: Hayden listens.
Mic on: Hayden answers.
Mic off: Hayden listens.

Then for some reason, I lost the rhythm, and turned the mic ON while the away SD was speaking, and clicked it off just in time for the three of us to hear:

"..at do you think about that Hayden?"

Oh, crap. I have just screwed up Hayden's call-in show. My career is over.

Hayden signaled for me to turn the mic back on, and said "Y'all mind repeating the question? I guess I wasn't paying attention."

The guy repeated his question, obviously a little annoyed, but we managed to survive the show. Neither Gene nor Hayden mentioned my gaffe, and I wasn't even fired. It obviously never occured to Hayden to blame technical problems, or the idiot kid who didn't know how to do his job. He took it on himself. It was a little thing, but it was taking care of the little things that made him a great coach and a good person.

Hayden Fry went on to take the Hawkeyes to three Rose Bowls, become the dean of Big 10 coaches and this weekend will be celebrated by the entire state of Iowa at a festival in his honor.

But I will always remember the coach who took the blame for an error made by a green producer whose name he didn't even know.


Sharie said...

Not a sports fan - but that is pretty stinkin' cool. A true leader is always prepared to take one for the team - and he saw you as part of it:)

Anonymous said...

Great story DG. Just one of the many reasons The Coach is legendary...

I remember when my late friend and colleague Steve Atherton was arranging the dinner and speaker for the Kirkwood Student Wetlands Fundraiser, and as an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, mangaged to land a kindred spirit, Hayden Fry, to give the dinner talk.

Hayden was so knowledgeable and fired up about preserving Iowa's natural heritage, and wanting to talk about it, you never would have known (if you lived outside of Iowa of course) he was Iowa's football coach and arguably, at the time, the most famous living person in the state.

After the dinner, he graciously and gladly suffered the rush of people wanting his autograph on footballs and such, staying around until everybody had their turn. In return, we had a first hand chance to experience "Haydenisms" such as "that guy's only problem on the field is a hitch in his giddy-yup".

Doug Gustafson