Lawerence, KS- John Hadl, a homegrown football legend at the University of Kansas who went on to become a professional football star, passed away Wednesday morning. He was 82-years-old. 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.
Statement from Director of Athletics Travis Goff:
“John Hadl had a generational impact on Kansas Football, the University of Kansas and the Lawrence community. He was a once-in-a-lifetime Jayhawk student-athlete, a coach and mentor, a prolific fundraiser who developed profound relationships with countless, and the ultimate ambassador for KU. In short, our University and athletic program has been transformed by John and his legacy will forever be cemented. Our deepest thoughts and prayers are with Diana and the Hadl family. We will deeply miss John and his contagious smile but will proudly honor him and his unrivaled legacy as we move forward.”
Statement from Head Football Coach Lance Leipold:
“Upon my arrival, I heard instantly from people across the state about John’s impact to this department, not just as a student-athlete and coach, but as someone who dedicated nearly 40 years of his life to the University of Kansas. His desire to enhance KU and make it as special as possible truly resonated with me. To be the head coach of this program and see his statue every day outside Anderson Family Football Complex, is a firm reminder of the passion and love that John had for this program. Kelly and I send our condolences to the Hadl family and his loved ones.”
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. Hadl was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 1962 NFL Draft.
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.
In 1988 Hadl returned to KU to join the Williams Education Fund. For 30 years he was at the forefront of fundraising for the construction and renovation of KU’s athletics facilities. Hadl retired from his position in the Kansas Athletics’ Williams Education Fund in October of 2018.
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).
Hadl’s legacy was celebrated during the 2020 season with a statue unveiling outside of Anderson Family Football Complex(link is external). He is one of two Jayhawks to be commemorated.