Ferentz, Michigan Speculation Heats Up

Online reports on Sunday have suggested that Michigan has offered Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz its vacant head coaching position. This is in addition to speculation from national talking heads that Ferentz is atop Michigan's wish list. HN.com Publisher Jon Miller weighs in on the topic...

Being a fan of the Iowa football team over the past six years has been a mostly enjoyable endeavor. Two Big Ten titles, three-straight #8 national rankings, a lot of fun on Saturdays and the nearly annual rumors that Kirk Ferentz is being pursued by an NFL team looking for a new coach. And each spring, Ferentz has been back at his post in Iowa City, leading spring practice.

There have likely been more overtures made to Ferentz from NFL teams than we will ever know about. Those dealings are typically kept under wraps, or at least at the early stages, feelers will be sent out from a team to an agent, who then talks to his client (the coach), who relays to his agent that he is or is not interested in hearing more about the job.

I suspect Ferentz has had several situations as I just outlined, but we will never know.

We also may never know just how much interest Michigan has in Kirk Ferentz, unless Ferentz is offered and accepts the job.

If that phrase hits you out of left field, I can understand, as many of you have been spending time with family and friends this weekend due to the Thanksgiving holiday. You may have missed several national talking heads pontificating that Kirk Ferentz is high on Michigan's list to replace Lloyd Carr. Some people believe that Ferentz is at the top of Carr's list, as Carr is involved with the hiring process. Some people believe that current Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman may have a hand in this, as she was Iowa's President when Ferentz came to Iowa City back in 1998.

Some national pundits felt that LSU's Les Miles was the top candidate, but that the Bayou Bengals' involvement in the hunt for this year's BCS title game might be an impediment for his potential candidacy, as Michigan would not want to wait until January 9th to hire a new coach.

Miles became more ‘available' this past weekend after LSU's loss at home to Arkansas knocked them out of the national title picture.

The reason I am taking the time to talk about this topic is that so many Iowa fans are talking about this topic. There is rampant speculation, rumor on top of rumor and the what not. But make no mistake; it's the topic everyone is talking about.

On Sunday (November 25th update), Brian Cook from the MGoBlog ‘reported' that Michigan has offered Kirk Ferentz the job. I put ‘reported' in italics, not because I don't believe Brian to be a credible source; I think that has shown that he is on matters related to Michigan athletics. He wrote that Lloyd Carr was going to announce his resignation two weeks before it happened, where other websites blasted him for doing so. He has a bit of a national reputation, as he is a part of AOL Fanhouse's popular college sports blog section. I guess you could say he is a syndicated blogger, if there is such a thing.

I guess I would say that I am ready to at least take this topic a little more seriously than I was on Thanksgiving when something caught my ear.

I am to the point where I have also written a story that would highlight potential replacements at Iowa for Kirk Ferentz. I hope I don't have to publish that story, but I don't want to get caught watching paint dry if there is a shred of truth to any of this.

Will it go down, why or why not? Here are a few of my thoughts, with a strong reminder that this is hypothetical speculation...

FERENTZ WILL GO TO MICHIGAN BECAUSE… it's looking more and more like it's now or never for Ferentz to make a move…More on that in a second…

I don't think there were many people that believed he could leave Iowa for another college job, or if there was worry about that, the Penn State job was at the top of the list. But arguable the best job in college football is now open, and it's the pinnacle of the profession. If Ferentz is hearing overtures from Michigan, he would be foolish to not listen to them. Put yourself in his shoes for a minute, and apply this to your own life and situation. If the ‘best' job in your profession came open to you, and word got back to you that you were a strong candidate for the job, wouldn't you at least take the time to think it over with your family? And if you didn't, would you be serving the best interests of your family? So IF this is the case, I have zero problem with Ferentz thinking about it.

And IF this is the case, if word got to Ferentz just before the holiday weekend began that he is extremely high on Michigan's wish list, this weekend was a pretty opportune time for that. He would be able to think about it and talk it over with his family that was likely gathered at his home for the entire weekend, and then potentially could get back in touch with Michigan on Monday, via his agent Neil Cornrich, with either a yeah or nay on the interest front.

My comment from above about this being a ‘now or never' time for Ferentz to move is based on the following; his son James is a verbal commitment to play for Iowa, starting next fall. He has yet to sign his letter of intent, so he could hypothetically go to Michigan with his father if he wanted to. His youngest child, Steven, will begin his high school years beginning next fall and could attend the same high school all four years.

Ferentz is also 52, which is not old, but you are at the point, at least ‘collegiately', of being in or taking your last job. There are not too many 56 or 57 year old coaches that start over with a new program.

Also, being the head coach at Michigan has less demands than being the head coach at Iowa. Sure, a 9-3 season at Michigan can be a disappointment, where a 9-3 season at Iowa has never been a reason to be disappointing. But going 7-5 at Iowa is about on par with going 9-3 at Michigan. And the margin for error is greater at Michigan, because they have traditionally recruited better talent, and a lot more of it. At Iowa, if you miss out on a few kids here and there in the evaluation process, it can have an impact. If you do that at Michigan, it's ‘Next Man In', and that guy is another five star all American prospect.

Being the head coach at Michigan also means less nights spent away from home. The recruiting demands as it relates to travel would be much less. Yes, Michigan recruits nationally where Iowa is much more regionalized, but Detroit is a half an hour from Michigan and their airport connections to every major city in the country via a direct flight. And Michigan's head coach doesn't have to close as many deals as Iowa's head coach does.

Ferentz makes $2.84 million per year guaranteed at Iowa, so money isn't a big deal. Michigan has traditionally paid its head coaches less than the title would suggest; Lloyd Carr made roughly $1.7 million guaranteed this past year. But that is going to change, too. Their basketball coach made more than Carr, and that isn't going to be the case with their next coach. Their next coach will make more than $2 million per year.

Again, it wouldn't be about the money for Ferentz; he has a great contract at Iowa. It would be about the opportunity of a lifetime, to coach the most tradition rich college football program in history. At least, that would be the opportunity of a lifetime in the eyes of most outsiders, but Ferentz and his family have a long and rich history in Iowa City. He and his wife Mary have spent nearly 20 years of their lives living there, and that counts for something….which brings me to the other side of this topic…

FERENTZ WILL BE IOWA'S COACH NEXT YEAR BECAUSE… it's home to both he and his family. James was about 10 years old when Kirk came back to Iowa in 1998. Steven was roughly six. It's the only home Steven can likely remember, and the portion of James' childhood that he will most always remember will be the years he lived in Iowa City.

I am not bringing up the children for any other reason than trying to look at this from all sides. As I said, I don't think that this hypothetical decision would be a financial decision for Kirk. He is one of the best paid coaches at Iowa, and if you can win eight games a year there, you are golden. I don't even like talking about his children, because that's a part of his life that I believe deserves to remain private, the same way I would feel about your family. But I see it as a part of thinking this process through.

And once you have financial security for the rest of your life, as well as having established financial security for your children's children as well with the money you have made and what you have contractually committed to you for the next four or five years, these are the factors that become most important.

And while the ‘secular' college football world would certainly tell Ferentz that he should really take a long hard look at the Michigan job for all that it is, I believe that Kirk Ferentz is a strong family man. It's one of the reasons I have such a great deal of respect and admiration for him, among others. I think loyalty also falls into this category, even though I would not feel any sense of betrayal if Ferentz left Iowa for Michigan. Honestly, I would not. He has given Iowa nine years, two Big Ten titles, enough great memories to fill a lifetime and he has helped to renew a sense of pride in Iowa football.

I know that some of you are thinking, ‘Jon, what about the pink elephant sitting in the room', being Iowa's 19-18 mark over the last three years.

I have been on record all year as saying that I don't consider the 2005 season to have been a ‘down' year. That team was two plays away from going 9-3 and winning two more Big Ten games; the onside kick at Northwestern and a missed field goal at home against Michigan.

The last two years have certainly been rocky, and I will grant you that. Ferentz said as much himself last November, and when we hear from him in the coming days for his season ending press conference, he will likely have some similar things to say about this past year, but some different things, too.

I don't think the cupboard is bare at Iowa for next year; not hardly. But a lot of players have to make some improvements, but most players do that in the off season.

One aspect of all of this that people are speculating on is if Athletic Director Gary Barta would tell Ferentz that he has to make some changes in his coaching staff, that a hypothetical Michigan opportunity would look more attractive.

Back in early October, before Iowa won four of its last six games and people began speculating on if some assistants should be let go, I doubted that would be the case. I said that if a mandate came down to Ferentz on that level, I could see him resigning before being forced to do something he didn't want to do.

But I don't think that Barta would insist on anything like that. That's just my opinion.

Here is one thing that I feel certain about; the only way we will ever truly know if Ferentz was the top candidate for the Michigan job is if he winds up being the next coach at Michigan. If he is not, there won't be any ‘on the record' accounts that he as offered the job and turned it down. Michigan does not work like that. They will not go through the public embarrassment that Nebraska and Notre Dame went through during their last coaching searches, where Bill Callahan was the fourth choice for the Cornhuskers, and Urban Meyer was Notre Dame's top choice before spurning them for Florida.

Michigan will not publicly offer anyone the job without having a great deal of assurance the offer will be accepted.

When should this hypothetical speculation come to a head?

Again, this is all hypothetical, but if Michigan got word to Ferentz that he was their top candidate, doing so heading into this past weekend seems like a very good time to do that. It would give both he and his family ample time to consider the possibility, and come Monday, November 26th, I would suspect that Michigan would be waiting for some indication from the Ferentz camp.

If this is going to go down, it will happen this week. If Ferentz is still Iowa's head coach by week's end, or even the middle of the week, then this has passed.

Personally, I very much want Kirk Ferentz to be Iowa's head coach. Ferentz is more than just a bird in the hand for me. He has honor and integrity, he has been and continues to be a perfect fit for the job and the people Iowa football represents. I have faith that he will be able to turn things around and get Iowa back to competing for Big Ten championships and January Bowl games in the very near term.

Iowa will have to replace Ferentz some day, but I hope that day doesn't come for a long time, and I hope that it's because Ferentz retires from Iowa, his last college coaching job.


Hawkeye Insider Top Stories