Ferentz Rights the Ship

On Thursday, Iowa announced a contract extension for Kirk Ferentz through the year 2015. While details are still being finalized, Ferentz's base salary and bonus structure will remain unchanged. HN.com's Jon Miller says that's a very good thing for Iowa football fans...

On Thursday, Iowa announced a contract extension for Kirk Ferentz through the year 2015.  While details are still being finalized, Ferentz's base salary and bonus structure will remain unchanged.

This extension and the terms were not wholly unexpected; we discussed the length of the extension and likely terms weeks ago on the HawkeyeNation.com forums.  However, it's still great to finally see that press release come along to confirm what we had been hearing shortly after the Outback Bowl.

Upon reading the release, I stopped and thought about life in Kirk Ferentz's world over the past 24 months.

As we know, there were several off field incidents that marred Iowa's reputation over the span of the last two years.  We don't need to rehash the laundry list of incidents, allegations and charges, other than to acknowledge that there were some very serious situations, while the majority of them were ‘kid mistakes'. 

In nearly every instance, I felt the justice that was meted out by Ferentz and the University was fair and swift.  Some of the situations were certainly more challenging than others, and not every incident could be treated the same way.

Last March, prior to the start of Spring practice, and then again at the Big Ten Kickoff luncheon, Ferentz asked the media to judge the 2008 Iowa football team on the merits of its own actions and behavior. 

While it took some time, that eventually took place.  And since last March, with the exception of a few ‘kid mistakes', members of the football program have behaved in a fashion that is acceptable in the minds of the majority of the fan base.  As was the case in 2001, when there were a rash of off field incidents, it appears the program has turned a corner off the field, just as fans are hoping it has regained some momentum on the field. 

In other words, it appears that Ferentz and Company have righted the off the field ship, one that was listing very hard to starboard for over a year.

That timeframe cannot be separated from the on the field performance of 2006 and 2007, years that saw Iowa finish 6-7 & 6-6, culminating in the disappointing loss at home against Western Michigan in November of 2007.  That loss snapped Iowa's bowl streak and set up one of the longest offseasons, both figurative and literally, in recent memory. 

More fans were questioning the direction of the program than we had seen since Bob Bowlsby hired Ferentz back in 1999, and Ferentz wasn't Iowa's first choice at that time, although he has certainly proven to be the right choice.

Iowa began last season 3-0, before losing three straight games by the narrowest of margins; at Pittsburgh, home to Northwestern and at Michigan State by a combined nine points.

It was about this time that a very vocal segment of the fan base, one that frequents websites and message boards, began to howl that it was time for a change, and that Ferentz wasn't the right person to be leading the Iowa football program.

Again, this segment of the fan base was small in number, but they were vociferous in their opinion.

Iowa proceeded to win six of its final seven games, losing only on a last minute 45-yard field goal at Illinois, beating #3 Penn State, and going on an 81-0 unanswered points streak over its final two games before South Carolina tacked on 10 meaningless points in the fourth quarter of the Outback Bowl.

For me, that was an exclamation point, it was a door slam, it was a finishing touch on one of the more challenging stretches in recent years related to the Iowa football program. 

A return to proper citizenship?  Check.

A return to January bowl games?  Check.

A return to a physically dominating brand of offensive football?  Check.

A return of the Bullies of the Big Ten on defense?  Check.

A return of fan pride surrounding the program?  Check.

Because during those rough times, during that era of entitlement and inappropriate off the field behavior, some fans didn't feel so good about the Iowa football program.

This year's team righted the ship and became an amazing source of pride for many citizens in the state of Iowa.  It came at just the right time, too; on the heels of the tornado and flood ravaged countryside from this past spring and summer.

The same man, and mostly the same men, were at the helm; Kirk Ferentz and his rock steady coaching staff.

Ken O'Keefe was the same man calling the plays that suddenly worked like it was 2002 all over again.  The offensive line was kicking you know what and taking names, just like in 2002 and 2003.  The defense was dominant, just like in….well….just like in about every season of the Norm Parker era.

And most everyone on the team was doing the right things off the field.  Those that didn't faced very stout penalties. 

So in the eyes of some, Kirk Ferentz has gone from someone who they were seriously questioning just five months ago to a man who is being praised from every corner of the Hawkeye State.  So goes the territory of being a head coach.

If Ferentz remains Iowa's head coach through the end of this contract, he will be 60 years old.  He will have been Iowa's head coach for 17 seasons, which in this day and age is nearly an eternity.  Here is a list of coaches that were in bowl games this year that have been at their schools longer than Ferentz has been at Iowa; Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno, Frank Beamer, Larry Blakeney, Mike Bellotti, Jim Leavitt, Pat Hill and Mack Brown.  Of the 18 coaches hired to their schools in 1999, only three of that class are still at the same school; Ferentz is one, along with Bob Stoops and Randy Edsall (Des Moines Register). 

If you remove Paterno and Bowden from the mix, can you name me another BCS conference program that has had more stability in its football coach than Iowa has had since 1978, when Hayden Fry was hired?  That's two coaches in 31 years, and that streak might go up to 38 years if Ferentz remains at Iowa through this contract extension. 

Email me if you can come up with a more stable program in that regard, from a BCS conference…or any conference, for that matter.

That in and of itself is a source of pride for many Iowa fans, and it will certainly tell Iowa's next head coach that this is a pretty good place to come to and to stay at.  Ferentz's $2.84 million dollar salary is also another solid indicator of a commitment to winning football games in Iowa City.

For me, it comes down to my long held belief, even through some of the choppy waters of the last 24 months, that there is no better man to be leading the Iowa football program than Kirk Ferentz.  His contract extension certainly brought a smile to my face, and reminded me of a ‘conversation' I had with Ferentz very early in his coaching career.

I was struck by how he remembered names, how he remembered my name from a brief and meaningless encounter.  Meaningless to him, not so much to me as I was just starting out covering Hawkeye sports back in 1999.  I told him that I hope in about 20 years that I will also be covering his retirement press conference from Iowa, or hopefully later on down the road than that.

Ferentz simply said that he hoped that would be the case, too…a good, long time down the road.

We are now a decade-plus down that road, and the end is nowhere in sight.

Which is a good thing, as far as I am concerned.

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