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Harty: Ferentz is the right fit for Iowa

[ 25 ] August 14, 2011 |

When you cover the Iowa football team, answering questions about head coach Kirk Ferentz always is part of the deal.

One question seems to have dropped from the list, though.

It’s the one about when or under what circumstance would Ferentz uproot his family and leave Iowa for a different coaching job?

That used to be the question of the day, especially right after Ferentz rebuilt the Iowa program a decade ago, because he was a hot commodity with ties to the NFL.

Ferentz has acknowledged that he interviewed with the Jacksonville Jaguars after Iowa’s 11-2 season in 2002, but at some point, the talks broke down.

Ferentz also used to be rumored for about every NFL job that became open, but now that’s cooled off.

It’s hard to believe that NFL executives would cool on Ferentz because his reputation still is impeccable and because he celebrated his 56th birthday just two weeks ago. Ferentz still is in his coaching prime and yet there is hardly any talk these days about him leaving Iowa.

You probably can thank Ferentz for that because we’d know in this age of Twitter, Facebook, message boards and basement bloggers if he were looking at other jobs.

What Iowa fans have instead is a head coach who seems perfectly content heading into his 13th season in charge of the program.

That doesn’t mean Ferentz will retire as the Iowa head coach, but it’s starting to look that way.

“We’ve had a great week of weather, we’re up and running, we’re practicing so that’s all good,” Ferentz said Saturday after the Kids at Kinnick Day practice at Kinnick Stadium. “But as you saw today, we’ve got a lot of work to do. That’s kind of where we’re at right now and we’re moving forward.”

Ferentz has been moving forward since he replaced Hayden Fry as the Iowa coach shortly after the 1998 season. The work that comes with molding a team, and being able to do it in this community, obviously, appeals to Ferentz or he would’ve left by now.

Ferentz has been mentioned as a candidate to replace Joe Paterno at Penn State, partly because Ferentz grew up in Pittsburgh and partly because Ferentz has won eight of his last nine games against Joe Pa. But at this rate, the 84-year-old Paterno might outlast Ferentz, meaning that ship has sailed, if it ever left the shore.

Coaches and athletic directors talk all the time about the challenge of finding the perfect fit for a job because the only way you can tell is through hindsight.

We saw with the Todd Lickliter coaching debacle in men’s basketball at Iowa what happens when somebody doesn’t fit right.

Lickliter at first was embraced by Iowa fans eager to accept anybody following the controversial Steve Alford coaching reign.

Lickliter also was named the national coach of the year right about the time he took the Iowa job, an honor he earned for leading Butler University to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in 2007.

But after losing games and key players at an alarming rate, Lickliter was fired after just three seasons at Iowa.

Ferentz also stumbled out of the gate by losing 18 of his first 20 games as the Iowa coach.

Midway through his second season in 2000, however, you could tell that the situation was improving. Iowa only finished 3-9 that season, but it was a step in the right direction after finishing 1-10 the previous season.

Only once since the 2000 season has Iowa finished with a losing record. And that came in 2006 when a 26-24 loss to defending national champion Texas in the Alamo Bowl gave Iowa a 6-7 record.

Ferentz had to persevere at Iowa before he could succeed. Being the right fit for the job helped him get through that process.

And now as long as Iowa stays competitive, which should mean competing for a Big Ten title every two or three years, Ferentz can stay as long as he wants to.

But should Iowa hit a prolonged skid, knowing Ferentz, he’d probably step aside before the situation turned ugly because he wouldn’t want to deal with the fallout nor would he need to from a financial standpoint.

Lickliter, on the other hand, never seemed comfortable on the Iowa bench, or in Iowa City for that matter. It was like he left his heart and soul inside Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse before he came here.

Ferentz already knew the community when he took over at Iowa because he’d been apart of it for nearly a decade as Fry’s offensive line coach for nine seasons from 1981-89.

Ferentz is entering his 22nd season as a member of the Iowa football coaching staff when you combine his time as head coach and assistant coach. He’s been at Iowa longer than Fry, who served as head coach for 20 seasons from 1979-98, and longer than Forest Evashevski, who served as head coach for nine seasons from 1952-60 and as Iowa’s athletic director from 1960-70.

Since graduating from college in 1978, Ferentz has spent all but about a decade of his life in Iowa City.

His three sons all will have graduated from the same high school by this time next year, which is rare for a major college football coach these days. And two of his sons, including starting junior center James Ferentz, have played for Ferentz at Iowa.

Ferentz and his wife, Mary, have planted roots here and watched them spread throughout the community.

Of course, it helps that Ferentz earns more than $3 million annually coaching the Hawkeyes. But he could make more money coaching in the NFL and also not have to deal with the now 12-month recruiting grind.

Money helps to promote happiness, but it doesn’t make somebody the right fit.

Lickliter nearly quadrupled his salary by leaving Butler for Iowa, and yet he still seemed restless and aloof among Hawkeye Nation.

The media attention wears on Ferentz at times, but it’s nothing compared with what he would face in a larger NFL market.

Ferentz is fortunate that Fry hired him to coach the Iowa offensive line 30 years ago because Ferentz might have lived his whole life without finding the right fit as a coach.

Fry found it for him, and Ferentz did the rest.

Now with all that being said, never take anything for granted.

Just because Ferentz fits so well at Iowa doesn’t mean he couldn’t fit somewhere else.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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