Jayhawk football legend John Hadl passes away at 82

A football legend and commonly known name around Lawrence, John Hadl, has passed away at the age of 82.
Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 1:27 PM CST
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) - A football legend and commonly known name around Lawrence, John Hadl, has passed away at the age of 82.

The University of Kansas says John Hadl, a native football legend at the school who went on to become an NFL star, passed away on Wednesday morning, Nov. 30.

KU said Hadl made a name for himself at Lawrence High School as an all-state halfback and as a centerfielder for the baseball team. To the delight of many residents, he chose to play for the Jayhawks.

The University noted that Hadl’s ability as an all-around athlete served him well as he transitioned to college. As a sophomore in 1959, in his first season of eligibility, he led the NCAA in punting and set records for the longest punt and the longest interception return, which stood until 2007.

“John Hadl had a generational impact on Kansas Football, the University of Kansas, and the Lawrence community,” said Director of Athletics Travis Goff. “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 the athletic program have 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.”

However, KU indicated that it was in Hadl’s junior and senior years that he really carved his name into history. His versatility allowed him to excel as both a halfback and quarterback. As he ran the offense, the ‘Hawks were ranked in the top 20 in his last two years and finished the two-season span 14-5-2. He ended his college career when he led the team to its first-ever bowl victory - 33-7 over Rice in the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl.

“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,” said Head Football Coach Lance Leipold. “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.”

The University said Hadly was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994 and was the first Kansas player to be chosen twice for All-America honors - in 1960 and 61. He was also named the Most Valuable Player in the East-West Shrine game and the College All-Star game in 1961.

Hadl also enjoyed a successful 16-year career as a quarterback - most notably with the San Diego Chargers. He was a 6-time Pro Bowler, played in three American Football League Championship games and was named National Football Conference Player of the Year in 1973. In 1971 he was named the NFL Man of the Year and is a member of the Chargers Hall of Fame. He was selected as the 10th overall pick in the ‘62 NFL Draft.

After he retired from professional ball in ‘77, KU indicated that Hadl returned to Lawrence as an assistant football coach with the Jayhawks where he went on to help lead the team to the Hall of Fame Bowl in ‘81. In the mid-80s he coached in both the NFL and USFL.

In ‘88, KU noted that Hadl returned to the university to join the Williams Education Fund. For three decades he was at the forefront of fundraising for the construction and renovation for a new KU athletics facility. He retired from his position in 2018.

A Jayhawk at heart, the University said Hadl will forever be honored as a member of the Kansas football Ring of Honor and the Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame. His number - No. 21 - is one of the three retired numbers - the others belonged to Gale Sayers, 48, and Ray Evans, 42.

In 2020, KU noted that Hadl’s legacy was celebrated with the unveiling of his statue outside the Anderson Family Football Complex. He is one of only two Jayhawks to be commemorated.