Howe: Ferentz, Iowa Sinking?

Transfers and average seasons have some Iowa fans unsettled with the future of the Iowa football program. Is the end nearing for long-time head coach Kirk Ferentz? Hawkeye Insider Publisher Rob Howe shares his thoughts.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - The Iowa football program was riding high two short years ago. The Hawkeyes walked off of field in South Florida as Orange Bowl champs and quarterback Ricky Stanzi made national headlines with his "love it or leave it" anthem.

While Iowa is far from dregs of the college football world, it's fair to say there is some unrest in Hawkeye Nation. The team is a combined 15-11 during the last two seasons and are a victim of previous success, to a degree.

A reactionary firestorm swirled late Tuesday afternoon when the school announced that leading rusher, Marcus Coker, asked for and was granted a release from his scholarship. He'd been suspended since late December and an Iowa City Press-Citizen report on Tuesday cited that he was the subject of an assault investigation.

Coker's transfer news came less than a week after fellow running back, Mika'il McCall, left the program. They represented the fourth and fifth running backs to leave the Iowa program since December of 2010, joining Adam Robinson, Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher.

All of these guys had at least two years of football eligibility remaining. True Freshman Marcus Grant and John Raymon along with JUCO transfer, Dan Heiar, also left the program during this season.

When this stuff happens during the winning times, it often is overlooked by the fans and media. The problem: When talented players exit the team, success normally is a lot less likely to occur.

In the "now" world, a faction of the fan base and media demands answers. There must be somebody to blame for running back attrition and underwhelming performances on the field. Many of the fingers are being pointed at Ferentz.

It's fair to say that other than when he was hired to replace Hayden Fry in 1998, when the majority wanted it to be Bob Stoops, Ferentz's approval rating might be at an all-time low. Nits are being picked from all sides - game management, player retention, his salary, perceived lack of accountably to the public and so on.

It comes with the territory. Ferentz knows that. He has a great deal of autonomy to change it.

Iowa AD Gary Barta doesn't micromanage his football coach. It's one of the main reasons Ferentz stays at the school.

During his 13 years in Iowa City, Ferentz's relationship with the media has deteriorated to a degree. The coach has become less forthcoming with the press and therefore the fans also receive fewer answers. Again, in this age of Twitter and Facebook, there's an insatiable appetite that needs to be fed.

Ferentz attempted to deflect questions about McCall at last month's Insight Bowl by asking reporters if they heard him pass gas on the practice field. In '09, that would have been hilarious to the fan base. Now, it backfired, so to speak.

Chances seem reasonable that the next Hawkeye head coach will be a little more open with social networks and less closed off in getting information to followers of the program. Ferentz comes from a different age. It's safe to say that Fry would have had some issues with the current landscape.

Ferentz doesn't need to answer questions regarding the state of his program. There's not much he can say to change where the Hawkeyes sit.

What's important for the coach is to keep his players out of the police blotter and wins games. History says he can do it. Past success does not determine future success, however.

The Hawkeyes experienced a tough stretch during the '06-07 seasons. They were losing on the field and arrests were happening off of it.

Ferentz turned things around. Iowa and Doak Walker winner, Shonn Green, won their last four games of '08, which included victories against Top 5 Penn State and South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Then came a 9-0 start and the Orange Bowl victory a year later.

Iowa was loaded with NFL talent in '11, but underachieved by most accounts. Some of the "fat cat" entitlement issues that Ferentz described with his '06 team, reared their ugly heads again. All-American End Adrian Clayborn said after a season-ending loss at lowly Minnesota that his team might have lost its will to win.

A few weeks later, leading receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was booted from the team following a drug arrest. A month after that, Robinson's Iowa career ended with a drug-related arrest.

There isn't a margin of error for that at Iowa. Success is built on player development and a deep desire to outwork the opponent. With that formula missing at times during the last two seasons, it makes one wonder if Ferentz is capable of rebuild project No. 3 in his tenure.

Player defections usually hurt. Even if you're removing bad seeds, it sends a message of anarchy to recruits that other colleges pursuing the same prospects can use to their advantage.

Ferentz loves to coach football. He loves to develop players. He'll have to do that more now than ever before.

Fans and media can moan and groan about Ferentz's shortcomings. They can call for changes until their blue in the face. It doesn't matter.

It's about wins and filling the stadium. And really, it's the latter that's most important.

If Ferentz keeps putting fannies in the seats and has the support of boosters, he's safe. Money makes the world go around.

Iowa has been part of record-setting attendance at the Insight Bowl the last two years and , showing the support is a plenty. The current construction of a state-of-the-art practice facility shows the donors are on board.

The time is now for Ferentz to push the Hawkeyes up the hill again. Iowa fans are loyal. So are the financial supporters. They're there. If that stops, that's when the coach should worry.


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