Hometown legend John Hadl retires from Williams Education Fund
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Hometown sports legend John Hadl has retired from his position in Kansas Athletics’ Williams Education Fund, where he has served his alma mater for the past three decades.
KU will honor Hadl at a private event Friday, October 26, and again publicly at a ceremony the following day at the football game vs. TCU at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Hadl made a name for himself at Lawrence High School as an all-state halfback for the football team and as a centerfielder for the baseball team. To the delight of Lawrence residents, Hadl chose to play for KU.
His ability as an all-around athlete served him well as he transitioned into the college game. As a sophomore in 1959, in his first season of collegiate eligibility, Hadl led the NCAA in punting (45.6 yards per punt), and set KU records for the longest punt (94 yards, which still stands) and the longest interception return (98 yards, which stood until 2007).
But it was his junior and senior campaigns that etched his name into the history books. Hadl’s versatility propelled him to excel both as a halfback and quarterback. With Hadl running the offense, the Jayhawks were ranked in the top 20 his junior and senior years, and finished the two-season span 14-5-2. He wrapped up his Kansas career leading his team to the program’s first-ever bowl victory, a 33-7 decision over Rice in the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl.
An inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame (1994), Hadl was the first Kansas player to be picked twice for All-America honors (1960 and 1961). He was also named the Most Valuable Player of both the East-West Shrine game and the College All-Star game after the 1961 season.
Hadl then enjoyed a successful 16-year career as a professional quarterback, most notably with the San Diego Chargers. A six-time Pro Bowler, he played in three American Football League Championship games and was named National Football Conference Player of the Year in 1973. He was named the 1971 National Football League Man of the Year, and is a member of the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame.
After retiring from professional football in 1977, Hadl returned to his hometown and to his true love, the University of Kansas, as an assistant football coach. As assistant head coach and offensive coordinator in 1981 he helped lead the Jayhawks to the Hall of Fame Bowl. His players loved him, having come to understand his passion for and knowledge of the game. In the mid-1980’s he coached in the NFL and the USFL.
“Coach Hadl gave me opportunities for which I owe him a great debt of gratitude,” said former KU quarterback Frank Seurer, Sr. “He coached and mentored me, and so many others, both at KU and professionally, and developed us as players and people. Kansas Athletics has never had, and never will have, a greater ambassador. He is loved and respected by everyone he’s touched, and will be immensely missed in Jayhawk Nation.”
In 1988 Hadl returned to KU to join the Williams Education Fund staff. For 30 years he has been at the forefront of fundraising for the construction and renovation of KU’s athletics facilities.
“As a fan I admired John’s ability as an athlete,” said longtime KU donor Dana Anderson. “When he came back to the university we became friends, and he inspired me to become involved in the (Anderson Family) Strength Center and the (Anderson Family) Football Complex. He had a magic way about him; he could open any door with anybody. People welcomed him even though they knew he was looking for money. He was what I call ‘pleasantly persistent.’ I wouldn’t have been as committed if it hadn’t been for John.”
“As a student-athlete, as an alumnus and as a Williams Education Fund team member, John’s contributions to Kansas Athletics and to the university are immeasurable,” said Matt Baty, KU senior associate athletics director and director of the Williams Education Fund. “Our donors know of his athletics achievements, but the respect they have for him as a person has helped Kansas Athletics achieve a transformation through millions of dollars of construction and renovation.”
A Jayhawk at heart, John Hadl will forever be honored as a member of the Kansas football Ring of Honor and the Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame. His No. 21 is one of three Kansas football numbers to be retired (Gale Sayers No. 48 and Ray Evans No. 42).
“John has experienced unparalleled accomplishments in his career, yet remains one of the most humble men I have had the pleasure of knowing,” KU football coach David Beaty said. “He definitely belongs in the NFL Hall of Fame, and I look forward to the day he takes his rightful place there. Nobody loves KU more than John. He represents what it means to be a great Jayhawk with his humble, hardworking, blue-collar approach to life. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank him for being an amazing mentor and friend to me, and I certainly wish him all the best in his retirement.”
“I remember watching San Diego Charger games with John at quarterback,” said Jeff Long, who took over as Kansas Athletics Director Aug. 1. “What a great talent, and so much fun to watch! I didn’t have the pleasure of working with him at KU, but it didn’t take me more than a few days to appreciate the impact John has had on this university and this athletics department. It seems like every alumnus and every donor I’ve met has mentioned his name. We owe John an enormous debt of gratitude for what he did for KU on the field and off.”