Kirk Ferentz For National Coach of the Year

Victories over Northwestern and Minnesota should lock up the National Coach of the Year honor for Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, writes columnist Ron Maly.

Iowa City, Ia. --Two to go.

If Iowa closes its regular-season football schedule with victories over Northwestern and Minnesota, it will be the winningest team in school history and Coach Kirk Ferentz deserves to be named National Coach of the Year.

Another prime example of why this is such a dream season for the Hawkeyes unfolded Saturday in their 20-3 victory over Wisconsin. On a 37-degree day when people were fearful – well, at least I was fearful – that Iowa was ripe to be upset by former Hawkeye assistant coach Barry Alvarez, Ferentz had his troops poised for a spectacular defensive performance. His team had all-Big Ten performances sprinkled from yard line to yard line before a packed house of 70,397.

So now Iowa's records are 9-1 overall and 6-0 in the Big Ten heading into Saturday's 11:05 a.m. game against Northwestern at Kinnick Stadium. A victory over the 3-7 and 1-5 Wildcats will enable the Hawkeyes to match the school record of 10 victories – reached by Hayden Fry's 1985, 1987 and 1991 teams. Assuming Iowa gets the job done against Northwestern, the victory record will be there for the breaking Nov. 16 when it closes the regular season at Minnesota.

Who would have thought it possible?

What Iowa fan – even the most loyal, black-and-gold clad, Herky on his license plates, season ticket-holder – would have predicted the possibility of an 11-1 regular season and 8-0 Big Ten record in 2002? Who would have thought the laid-back Ferentz – a guy willing to step into the sizable shadow of Fry back there in 1999 -- would be piling up victory after victory in 2002 and having me say he should be voted the nation's best collegiate coach in this hard-to-believe season?

Saturday's developments enabled Ferentz to stake an even stronger claim to the National Coach of the Year honor than he had earlier. Tyrone Willingham, the first-year coach at Notre Dame, was the likely winner of the award – but Boston College upset his Fighting Irish, 14-7. Saturday's victory also elevated Iowa into some fast company in the polls. The Hawkeyes are up there with the big boys—No. 6 in both the Associated Press and coaches' polls. They had been No. 9 in the AP poll and No. 10 in the coaches' poll.

None of that surprises Alvarez, who was on Hayden Fry's staff at Iowa with Ferentz in the 1980s. I asked Alvarez, whose team had already lost to Ohio State. 19-14, how the 2002 Hawkeyes compare with the third-ranked Buckeyes.

"Both teams are very good,'' he said. "Both teams are Bowl Championship Series caliber. I don't think it's fair to compare them because of different matchups and the different strengths they have. But both are awfully good.''

Alvarez called Iowa a team "with no weaknesses. They're surely deserving of a top 10 ranking.''

Iowa limited Wisconsin to 78 yards rushing and 137 passing, and Alvarez said, "Defensively, they were very strong. We couldn't get anything established. We thought we could establish a running game, but never did. And, offensively, Iowa has a lot of weapons.''

Said Ferentz: "Our guys played a tremendous football game.''

10,000 Tickets Left for Northwestern Game

Saturday's Iowa-Northwestern game, which starts at 11:05 a.m. at Kinnick Stadium, will be televised by ESPN2. About 10,000 tickets remain for the home finale. It will surprise me if they don't sell quickly.

Clark Says He'd Give Heisman Vote to Banks

Iowa tight end Dallas Clark played another strong game, catching five passes for 97 yards that included a 23-yard pass from Brad Banks that gave the Hawkeyes their final touchdown.

Although "Banks-For-The-Heisman-Trophy" talk isn't exactly something being heard around the nation, Clark said, "I'd vote for him. He's our guy. Why wouldn't you have 100 percent confidence in him? Right now he's performing better than anyone, and I'm glad he's on our team.''

So is Ferentz.

Ferentz has been reluctant to say much about Banks deserving national honors, but he said, "I know this – he's all-Iowa. We're definitely not trading Brad Banks for anybody.

"I know he's done a great job of leading our team. He personifies our whole team. If we do a good job, if he plays well, he'll probably get the (honors) he deserves.''

Banks said he's "not thinking about the Heisman,'' adding that any such talk by others is not a distraction to him.

"I don't let it go to my head,'' he said.

Another thing Iowa's players aren't letting get to their heads are the roses that some people were carrying inside and outside the stadium.

That's r-o-s-e-s as in Rose Bowl.

"It's good to see the fans excited,'' Clark said. "We had a great atmosphere for the game. There were tons of people and they saw a good game.''

But Clark was quick to add that there were no roses in the Hawkeyes' locker room.

"You guys have interviewed how many people?'' he asked. "Do you think Coach Ferentz is going to let anything like that in our locker room? No. Never. We've got Northwestern to get ready for now.''

Huge Success Story: Dallas Clark

Dallas Clark is a classic "Small-Town-Player-Makes-Good-At-The-Big-University" story.

Clark is a 6-4, 244-pound junior from Livermore, Ia., who came to Iowa without a football scholarship.

He hoped to be a big-time linebacker, but Ferentz talked him into being a tight end – and now there's not a better one in the Big Ten.

"Livermore is 30 miles north of Fort Dodge and has a population of a little more than 400,'' Clark told me after the Wisconsin game. "It takes about seven towns to make up our high school."

The high school Clark attended was Twin River Valley of Bode, which is 5 miles from Livermore.

Clark earned four letters in football, basketball and track, and five in baseball.

"I played quarterback and linebacker in high school,'' he said. "I ran the high and low hurdles in track, but we didn't actually have a track at the high school. We practiced on the football field, and all of our meets were away from home.

"On rainy days when I'd practice the hurdles on the football field, it was kind of scary. I didn't want to kill myself.''

Clark said he came to Iowa without a scholarship because "I always wanted to play Division I, and Iowa was the only Division I school interested in me. It sounded like they'd give me an honest chance.''

Clark's brother, Derrik, lettered in 1996 and 1997 as an Iowa State football player.

"He had gone there out of junior college, and had a phenomenal year as a junior,'' Dallas said. "He was a great asset to their defense. He was honorable mention in the conference. But in his senior year he didn't start a single game.

"So that weighed a lot on my decision (to come to Iowa). Anyway, Derrik has moved on, and he has a great family. He's living in Des Moines and is working for UPS.''

Dallas said he had "big dreams" and "a lot of goals to make big plays" as Iowa linebacker.

"But Coach Ferentz came to me and asked if I wanted to play tight end,'' he said. "I've been timed electronically in the 40 at 4.66 seconds, and—after a year—I said I'd switch.''

Clark is Iowa's second-leading receiver behind Mo Brown with 33 catches for 567 yards and three touchdowns.

Clark was told that ESPN, which televised Saturday's game, ran a graphic that showed Iowa has a 13-0 record when he has more than three catches, but only a 5-6 record when he has fewer than three.

"That's just someone being bored and trying to figure out a statistic,'' he said. "It has nothing to do with us winning or losing.''

Asked if his future dreams include playing football professionally, Clark said, "Right now, I'm just enjoying this season. We have a great group of seniors. I'm trying to help make it more memorable for them.''

The Kicker's Pressures

"I'm the type of person – the type of football player – who puts a lot of pride into, and pressure on, every kick,'' said Iowa placekicker Nate Kaeding.

Kaeding's streak of consecutive field goal successes ended at 22 when he missed a 27-yarder in the third quarter against Wisconsin.

"I hit it pretty well, but left it too far to the right,'' Kaeding said.

The junior from Iowa City, whom many feel has the potential to be a kicker in the NFL, said he regards the pressure to succeed as being equal on every try—"whether it's a 27-yarder when we're up by 14 points or a 48-yarder with 40 seconds left to win a bowl game.''

Kaeding said it's sometimes difficult to imagine how things have changed in the Iowa football picture in the last few seasons.

"To be sitting here when I was a freshman two years ago (when Iowa's record was 3-9) and to be thinking we'd be playing for the Rose Bowl and to be undefeated in the Big Ten.....well, I'd have never had that thought,'' he said.

"This is truly a dream season for all of us. It's a special experience, and we're all trying to make the most of it with two games left. It's not about me, it's not about the record. This is special. It's a time in our lives we're going to cherish. We realize how fortunate we are.''

‘Something Historical'

Said Mo Brown when asked how he feels about the possibility of being on a team that wins more games than any previous one at Iowa: "That's beautiful. It's a great feeling that I'm part of a team that can do something historical.''

Ron Maly
Vol. 2, No. 95
Nov. 3, 2002
[Ron Maly's e-mail address is malyr@juno.com ]


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