Famed Jayhawk earns highest honor for decades of service to KU
John Hadl, one of the Jayhawk football legends enshrined in David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium’s Ring of Honor, is the 2020 recipient of the Fred Ellsworth Medallion for his lifelong service to the University.
Hadl, d’68, retired in 2018 after 30 years as an associate athletics director for the Williams Education Fund. Throughout his career, he forged friendships with countless alumni and raised vital funds to support student-athletes and athletic facilities.
“John’s ability to make every Jayhawk he met feel welcome was such a gift,” says men’s basketball coach Bill Self. “You would always leave John feeling better about KU and inspired to give back.”
The Fred Ellsworth Medallion is the Alumni Association’s highest honor for extraordinary service to KU. The Association created the award in 1975 in tribute to longtime executive director and secretary Fred Ellsworth, c’22, who led the organization for 39 years before his retirement in 1963.
Self credits Hadl for his important role in building and improving athletic facilities on the Lawrence campus, including the Anschutz Pavilion, Wagnon Student Athlete Center, Ward Family Scholarship Suites, Booth Family Hall of Athletics, Anderson Strength Center and the Anderson Family Football Complex.
Hadl first gained fame for his key role in building the early 1960s success of Kansas football as the Jayhawks’ star halfback and quarterback. The Lawrence native, known for his performances on the Lawrence High School football and baseball teams, chose to attend his hometown university, and as a sophomore in 1959, he led the NCAA in punting (45.6 yards per punt). He kicked a 94-yard punt that still stands as KU’s longest in history, and he set the school record for longest interception return (98 yards, which endured until Aqib Talib, ‘09, surpassed it in 2007).
As a junior and senior playing both halfback and quarterback, Hadl led the KU offense and propelled the Jayhawks to a top 20 national ranking and a two-season record of 14-5-2. Kansas also won its first bowl victory in the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl, defeating Rice University, 33-7. He was the first Kansas player to earn All-America distinction twice, in 1960 and ’61, and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
Hadl continued his success in the National Football League throughout his 16-year career as a quarterback, especially during his years with the San Diego Chargers. He played in six Pro Bowls and was named the NFL Man of the Year in 1971. He is a member of the Chargers Hall of Fame.
After retiring from the NFL in 1977, he returned to KU as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator. With Coach Don Fambrough, he led the Jayhawks to the Hall of Fame Bowl. After coaching in the NFL and the United States Football League in the mid-1980s, he returned to the Hill in 1988 to begin his career with the Williams Fund. He is a member of the Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame and the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. Along with Gale Sayers, d’75, and Ray Evans, b’47, Hadl is one of only three Jayhawks whose football number (21) is retired.
For the Alumni Association, Hadl and his wife, Diana, chaired the 2009 Rock Chalk Ball in Kansas City. They have attended several balls, the Jayhawk Roundup in Wichita and numerous other alumni gatherings through the years. He is a Life Member of the Association.
The KU family traditionally celebrates the Ellsworth Medallion recipients each year at a dinner and program in conjunction with the fall meeting of the Association’s national Board of Directors. This year, because the pandemic prohibits large gatherings in the Adams Alumni Center, the Association and Kansas Athletics are honoring Hadl through an online campaign, including a tribute video.