This was a huge season for the Iowa Hawkeyes in many ways. They set numerous school records with their performance on the field during games and with the results of this season. The best start in school history before this year was 9-0 and they were able to race past that to an undefeated regular season and a 12-0 record. They took home all four trophies in games against Iowa State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska. They added even more hardware when they won the Big Ten West Division outright.
They played in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis even though it was not the outcome they wanted. It was a game where they garnered the national respect they sought all season. The way they competed with Michigan State toe to toe showed the world that it was not a fraudulent team. They were for real and they belonged. Because of that, it was the Hawkeyes, not Ohio State, that earned a bid to the Rose Bowl. It is the first Rose Bowl appearance for Iowa since 1991 and the first under Kirk Ferentz as head coach.
"It really hasn't sunk in, quite honestly," Kirk Ferentz said about the Rose Bowl berth on Sunday afternoon. "But, just having a little time to think about it here, it's been 30 years on the button since the last time I was there. We lost to UCLA. I remember coming back to the hotel, I was kind of down in the dumps and my wife kind of put me back and in shape, she has a way of doing that. Reminding me what a great year it was, even though it was a tough loss."
"My first year as assistant, we were fortunate to go out there and play," he added. "And then the year after I left 25 years ago, they were there, too. So to your point, we thought we were going for sure in 2002. Everyone thought we were going, it didn't work out. So, to finally get that invitation, it's really special. We're really excited, but most of all I'm excited for our players."
Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta shared Ferentz's same sentiment about the enjoyment of the players being able to experience the Rose Bowl, but also for Kirk Ferentz himself to be able to coach in a game of this magnitude.
"The Rose Bowl is something Iowa has a history with," Barta noted. "Most important to me is our players. I watched the environment they were able to participate in in Indianapolis. That was a great thrill for our players even though it was not the outcome we wanted. This is another one of those moments. I'm thrilled our players get to experience something that's been historic and traditional for the Big Ten and Pac-12."
"One of the things I'm so excited about is in Kirk's tenure, he's been a Big Ten Coach of the Year four times, National Coach of the Year, and has won numerous bowl games, and this year he's added to that legacy with a 12-0 record and a west championship. This is one of the things that I'm so glad as part of his legacy he gets the chance to bring the Iowa Hawkeyes to the Rose Bowl."
It couldn't come at a better time for Ferentz. He received all kinds of criticism following last season's struggles. The past four years have not been pleasant for the Hawkeye program. He was placed on the proverbial 'hot seat' by many of the national media but the stability of the Iowa program persisted. Kirk Ferentz was kept in place as the head coach and they are now reaping the dividends. They're happy about that decision, but no 'told you so's' are coming from the Hawkeye brass.
"No," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta replied when asked if he wanted to kind of exercise his right and position to use a 'finger wag' to all the detractors from a year ago. "Am I thrilled? Yes. Whenever you make that decision, you want it to be right. If it was wrong, we would deal with it."
Barta certainly had a lot of advice given to him after last year and many suggestions on what to do with the program. The success of this season made all of that disappear.
"It's been pretty quiet," he shared. "The thousands of advisors from last year aren't sending me much. It's all human nature. We have great fans and they have great passion. We were all frustrated last year. There's a lot less frustration this year."
Winning solves everything as they say. This season certainly did that for head coach Kirk Ferentz and athletic director Gary Barta. They were always confident in what they had built and were confident it still worked.
"I felt great about staying with Kirk (Ferentz)," Barta admitted when responding to the media on Sunday. "I felt strongly about it. We were confident in it, and it worked out. We're thrilled because of that. I'm more thrilled, as I see (the players) interviewing here, and I'm around practice, I'm thrilled to see how excited they are to practice everyday and at the success they're having."
Kirk Ferentz has five years remaining on his contract and after a season as successful as this, the opposite questions begin to be asked. It's not about the 'hot seat' but instead what the future holds in a positive way. The Hawkeyes' athletic director explained that no discussions about Ferentz's contract have taken place.
"Right now we're focused on the journey," Barta stated. "It's fantastic. (There's no plans to broach the topic) in the near future. We have a game to play. We haven't talked about it at all. We haven't thought about it at all."
Having a coach's contract assured for years to come is a net positive for the recruiting trail. Prospects want to always be assured that the coaches that are recruiting them will be the ones that coach them. It's not a critical issue since five years remain, but aside from that, the history of stability at Iowa should alleviate any of those concerns as well. Ferentz has been in charge at Iowa for 17 seasons already.
"When Frank Beamer retires at the end of this year, (Kirk Ferentz) and Bob Stoops will be the longest tenured coaches in college football," athletic director Gary Barta pointed out. "I think if I'm sitting at home, or a student athlete or a parent of a student athlete, it can't get much better than that. He's proven he loves Iowa and we've proven we love him being here. Now we're focused on finishing the journey."