If Gene Chizik is looking for inspiration it will come to his stadium this weekend in the form of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. The new Iowa State head man must be a little down in the dumps after a 0-2 start to Season One.
Ferentz began 0-2 at Iowa back in 1999, including a 17-10 loss against the Cyclones. After a win against Northern Illinois in the third week, the Hawkeyes went on to lose their next 13.
Not inspired yet, Gene. Well, the story gets better. Iowa is riding a streak of six bowl trips in a row. Michigan and Ohio State are the only other Big Ten teams currently on a run at least equal to that.
Ferentz is the most recognizable face on the state's sports landscape. He is a long way from his status of eight years ago.
Iowa fans wanted Oklahoma's Bob Stoops to replace legendary Hayden Fry. When Ferentz was hired, many people's reaction was "Who?" When he lost 18 of his first 20 games at the Hawkeye helm, the reaction was "Why?'
Ferentz now would have a decent shot at governor if he chose to run. I'm not sure if he would admit it, but there must be satisfaction in rebuilding the Hawkeyes. Often times these days, his name gets brought up when schools hire a new coach trying to turn programs around.
"I mean, it's accurate," Ferentz said of being reminded of the struggles. "All you have to do is look at our record. That's kind of etched in my mind.
"But that's just the way it goes. I know at that time we weren't worried too much about the big picture. We were just trying to get better and trying do all we could to improve week to week, day to day. Things really haven't changed that much."
Some of the things said and written about Ferentz in his first few years definitely stung. While his teams were winning at least 10 games from '02-04, he made mention of the fact he wasn't one of the top choices for the job.
Through it all, he only considered leaving for a brief time. During the week of the Ohio State game in '00, offensive lineman Sam Aiello went down from a freakish injury. Let's just say the Hawkeyes were struggling to get five healthy bodies together on that unit, let alone talented ones.
"I went home that night thinking, ‘You know, maybe this wasn't supposed to work out,'" Ferentz recalled "That next morning I went back to work and everything was fine."
After a 1-10 first season at Iowa, Ferentz turned down a nice deal from the NFL.
"I was without a contract (from Iowa) at that time," Ferentz said. "That was going nowhere. We were at a stalemate there. (The NFL offer) was for a substantial raise. It was with people that I was real comfortable with and would have been happy to work with."
Ferentz already was tight with his assistants at Iowa. He stuck with his commitment to them instead of jumping back into the NFL, where he was a long-time offensive line coach.
"I believed that things would work out fine (at Iowa)," Ferentz said. "I liked coaching here. After being back for a year, I was confident that this was where I wanted to be and things would work out."
Ferentz's first order of business at Iowa was to assemble a strong staff. He believed that was the key to building a strong foundation. Next came recruiting.
"You're doing both simultaneously, but if I (was) prioritizing, I'd say the staff is the most important thing," Ferentz said. "That's the most permanent thing you're going to do."
Ferentz sees a similarity with how he and Chizik started. Both men basically selected staff members from various outside programs as opposed to having all or a chunk of a group in place.
"You're not only going through the transition with players, but the staff goes through a transition, too," Ferentz said. "We basically created our playbooks when we got here. It wasn't like we just threw a book down and said this is it. We shared ideas. It's a great experience, but it's a bit more time consuming as well."
Another challenge for a first-year coach is molding his and the staff's ideas and football philosophies around a roster of players they didn't recruit.
"There was give and take," Ferentz said. "To think we're going to run it for 200 yards a game, (it) became pretty apparent pretty quickly that wasn't going to be realistic. Those things you just try and evaluate what we can do the best and what gives us a chance to win. You have to get some things in there philosophically, some core beliefs that we have. If you don't, your players don't have anything to grab on to. The little edit you may gain on the short team, you're never going to get long-term."
Ferentz learned a lot from the adversity of his first two seasons at Iowa. He also said he has been educated in this process every day since then.
"It's invigorating," Ferentz said. "It's such a dynamic process. It's always changing. Injuries, whatever it is, it's going on all the time; personal problems, a guy maybe having. Usually something happens every day that you've got to deal with. That's the part of the challenge."
Chizik is facing his biggest challenge right now. He can look across the field Saturday and see light at the end of the tunnel.