When they erect that statue of Kirk Ferentz in Iowa City, you just hope they get the gum right. (Bubble Yum. Sugarless.)
After a November that yielded more plot twists — a 31-point, playoff-wrecking home demolition of Ohio State, a nine-point home loss to Purdue, driving the final nail into Mike Riley’s coffin at Nebraska — than a Game of Thrones episode, Ferentz is a victory away from tying Hayden Fry as the all-time winningest coach in Iowa history.
As the Hawkeyes (7-5) start prep for their Pinstripe Bowl showdown with Boston College (7-5), Ferentz has 142 wins in 19 seasons at the helm. Fry, under whom Ferentz worked as offensive line coach from 1981-89, won 143 games in 20 campaigns from 1979-98.
“I mean, Fry had some splash,” longtime ESPN/ABC analyst Kirk Herbstreit told Land of 10 recently when asked to compare the Hawkeyes’ last two football coaches. “He had teams that went to Pasadena and he had some moments where they were ranked No. 1 in the nation, and so I think he had some attention. He had the white pants and the fun accent … and I think he created a little bit more buzz for Iowa.
“And I think what you see with Kirk Ferentz, it’s a little bit more mild-mannered, a little bit more of an ‘aw, shucks’ guy, so he doesn’t create quite the same buzz as Hayden Fry.”
That said, Herbstreit remains a big fan of Ferentz’s consistency and — especially when compared to Big Ten West peers Nebraska and Wisconsin — stability. The Hawkeyes have clinched 15 bowl berths and won fewer than seven games in a season just five times in Ferentz’s tenure. And two of those — 1-10 in 1999 and 3-9 in 2000 — came in Ferentz’s first two seasons after taking the reins from Fry.
“Iowa is the program that you’re going to have 7-5, 8-4 every year,” Herbstreit continued. “And then you’re going to pop and hit a 10- or 11-win season for a year or two, and then go back to seven or eight wins.
“I’m a huge fan of Kirk Ferentz. I love the way he’s run his program, the type of kids that he’s recruited. If you pull out the recruiting magazines in February and see how Iowa stacks up, they’re very rarely going to be up in that top tier in the Big Ten, let alone the nation.
“And he takes guys and the strength coach [Chris Doyle] takes guys and they develop guys. I just find that somewhat refreshing in this era of football we live in.
“Guys that go to Iowa, they’re not wowed about [recruiting hype]. They’re getting in there, working out, developing, so by the time they’re redshirt freshmen, redshirt sophomores, they’re ready to contribute. I’m a fan of programs like that.”
“How many guys stick around past 10 years, let alone work for 20?”
— ESPN/ABC analyst Kirk Herbstreit on Kirk Ferentz’s legacy at Iowa
Back in August, FiveThirtyEight.com tried to quantify which college football teams did the most with the least talent in 2015 and ’16, relative to the expectation level set by 247Sports.com recruiting evaluations. The Hawkeyes came in at No. 20 nationally, just behind defending national champion Clemson and the second-best finish in the Big Ten behind the Badgers (No. 13).
Even if the results have veered all over the map, week to week — the Ohio State win and Purdue loss are a little hard to fathom in the same frame, logically — Ferentz’s Hawkeyes have become one of the most reliable tenets of the overall Big Ten football narrative going on two decades now: Outside zone plays. Downhill runners. Angry blockers. Relentless defenders. Tight ends who can do everything. Cornerbacks who jump out of the gym.
“How many guys stick around past 10 years, let alone work for 20 [at one place]?” Herbstreit asked. “I think if they do put up a statue of him, that it’s deserved.”