Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Dan McCarney was back where it all started for him, where the anger and frustration from losing helped to light a spark in the fall of 1970.
McCarney was drenched in sweat after having addressed the current City High football team following its summer workout on a hot and steamy Saturday morning at City High.
He talked about that historical fall, and about his memories of being a Little Hawk to a captive audience of current players, coaches and friends of the program.
McCarney talked about what it takes to be a winner, and the pride and respect that comes with winning, and from uniting as a team to achieve a goal.
It was vintage McCarney, passionate, insightful and energized.
He also spoke with the current players individually, providing words of encouragement and advice.
The 67-year old McCarney is in Iowa City to attend the 50-year reunion for City High’s 1970 conference championship team, and to help usher in a new era of Little Hawk football under recently hired head coach Mitch Moore.
“Love it, great memories,” McCarney said. “I grew up just down the street on Morningside Drive. We made history fifty years ago.”
It was actually almost 51 years ago, but the COVID-19 global pandemic prevented City High from staging the reunion last summer.
But for McCarney, the memories and thrills from that magical fall in 1970 don’t seem that long ago.
“Not until we get out of a chair or get out of bed in the morning,” McCarney joked. “But it doesn’t feel like fifty years. It just doesn’t. You come back here and you’re inspired and you’re revitalized.
“It just gets the old heart beating knowing that we’re back here, a place that means so much to all of us.”
Dan McCarney has dedicated his life to football, first as a player and then as college assistant coach and head coach.
He played at Iowa from 1972-74 and then helped Hayden Fry rebuild the Iowa program in the 1980s as an assistant coach.
McCarney then helped Barry Alvarez rebuild the Wisconsin program in the early 1990s as defensive coordinator before becoming the head coach at Iowa State where he spent 12 seasons from 1995 to 2006 and coached in five bowl games.
McCarney was also the head coach at North Texas for five season before retiring in 2015.
And while his journey has been filled with memories that McCarney will cherish forever, the early stages of that journey, the part where McCarney and his Little Hawk teammates made history are extra special.
City High had finished winless at 0-9 just two seasons before McCarney and his cohorts made their historical march to a conference championship.
“I didn’t know I was getting into coaching when we were up here,” McCarney said. “We didn’t know it. It was just so special to go from horrible and ridiculous, which the varsity was, to champions, and wear the label of a champion.
“And then to come back here now, and the success they’ve had, the state championships with Larry Brown and all of that. But somebody had to draw a line in the sand after 17 years and say, ‘okay, let’s stop getting our ass kicked and let’s start winning.’ And that’s what this team did.”
City High is going through a transition in football with Mitch Moore having replaced long-time head coach Dan Sabers, who retired shortly after the 2020 season. Moore was the head coach for Des Moines Roosevelt before accepting the City High job.
Moore grew up in Huxley at a time when City High, led by the great Tim Dwight, was dominant in football in the 1990s.
“As a little kid, it wasn’t Dowling and Valley,” Moore said. “When I was in my youth, I was reading about City High and Tim Dwight and those groups. So I always knew what those groups meant.”
Moore was honored to have McCarney and other members of City High’s 1970 team at Saturday’s practice.
Moore is trying to build a new foundation at City High, and he feels that connecting with the past will help with that process.
The reunion for the 1970 team started on Friday with a banquet filled with memories and emotion.
“The pageantry around City High and this football program is unbelievable,” Moore said. “I think everybody knows that. But to really see it and be able to feel it last night and see what City High meant to this group fifty years ago, and what it still means to them as people, not just football players, it was just an unbelievable night last night.
“And it’s so cool to have a weekend to have those guys come back and get a chance for our present to meet our past. We talk about how tradition never graduates here. And I know how it’s been since everyone has gotten back to together and really seen it and felt it. So this weekend just embodies that. And I’m just so fortunate that I got a chance to hook up with coach McCarney.”
McCarney, who currently lives in Sarasota, Fla., spent a big part of his coaching career helping to rebuild struggling programs, so he understands the importance of connecting with the past.
And that’s what this reunion is all about, honoring the past and using it to inspire confidence for the future.
“It’s incredibly important to honor the past, live in the present and build a great future. And he understands that,” McCarney said of Mitch Moore. “There’s a new sheriff in town now. And it’s not phony. It’s not some BS. There’s a whole different thing going on here right now, and I just really love what I saw out here at practice.”
McCarney was an all-state lineman for the 1970 City High team, and one if its emotional leaders. He still looks back at those days with tremendous pride and appreciates the team being recognized more than a half century later.
“It was just a testament to loyalty and hard work and guys that care and guys that love and respect,” McCarney said. “We had over eighty guys here last night. They came from 16 states and it just meant so much to all of just to come back here and celebrate.”
Friday’s event, which was held at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, featured video highlights from the 1970 season, while McCarney also dug out some old photos that his father had taken during the 1970 season.
“My dad took a whole bunch of pictures fifty years ago,” McCarney said. “I used to get mad when he did it, and then last night, fifty years later, we’re passing them out.
“Everybody is getting all these pictures and we’re glad he did it.”