WATERLOO, Iowa -- Many Iowa Hawkeyes fans are quick to name Coach Hayden Fry's winning percentage, his creation of the Tiger hawk logo or his idea to proudly display that America needs farmers. His first recruit from the state of Texas says Fry didn't just stand tall on accolades, he stood tall for equality. "If you are celebrating the Rose Bowl then you are missing who he was. It was way bigger than that," said former Iowa receiver Robert Smith. He believes Fry's values were as solid as the Coralville statue that now has turned into a makeshift memorial. "I wanted to play for coach Fry not the University of Iowa. I wanted to play for coach Hayden Fry," Smith said.
In 1983 Smith turned down Texas and Oklahoma to become Fry's first Hawkeye recruit from the state of Texas. Smith chose Iowa not because of Fry's winning ways but because of Fry's stance on racial equality. "He had done something for somebody that looked like me and I felt it was important for me to do something for him," said Smith.
In the 1960's, while coaching at Southern Methodist University, Fry recruited the school's first African-American football player Jerry LeVias and that carried a deep meaning for Smith. He said, "It says something about a man who would put his life on the line to give a black kid a scholarship."
Smith made an immediate impact on the field and after his first game as a true freshman against Iowa State. Fry made an impact on Smith's family again with an autograph picture of the two and a message. "It says Dear Gertrude, I love Robert too. That was the first interaction I ever had with anybody white to say that to me and it changed my whole perspective of my life," said Smith.
It fueled Smith to become one of the most prolific receivers in Hawkeye history with 16 career touchdowns. Today just five have more. Smith said, "I wanted Hayden Fry to be proud that he had made the right decision like he did with Jerry LeVias."
Fry's guidance helped shape Smith's journey to become executive director of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Northern Iowa and make lasting impressions while serving on the Waterloo School District's board of education. "Wherever I ended up living I said I wanted to be community minded. I wanted to give back and a lot of that stems from conversations with coach Fry," Smith said.
A coach and player relationship that had little to do with football and a lot to do with life. Smith said, "I want the public to know he was a great, great human being. That's what I want him to be remembered for."