For all the moaning about the ceiling, no one ever talks about the floor. You’ve got stains, sure, the usual wear and tear. But no sinkholes. No epic collapses. Even after all those years, all that stomping, it’s as sound and firm and fixed as ever.
Fourteen of the last 17 seasons of Iowa football have produced 7 wins or more. Consider: Over that same stretch, Nebraska fans have weathered three campaigns of 5 victories or fewer, when half the fan base reached for the panic button while the other stretched for the hemlock.
“Kirk Ferentz has weathered so many storms and he’s just kept the program so consistent,” Brandon Huffman, national recruiting editor at 247 Sports, said of the man who’ll soon become the Hawkeyes’ all-time winningest football coach.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a 20-year tenure again. I don’t see that being the norm. I just don’t think that athletic departments are built to have guys for 20 years.”
Too many distractions. Too many voices. Too many agendas, too little time.
The Cornhuskers tried the legacy guy (Frank Solich), the passing guy (Bill Callahan), the angry guy (Bo Pelini) and the nice guy (Mike Riley). And they haven’t sniffed a conference title since 1999, Ferentz’s first season. Abort, retry, fail.
Meanwhile, over the last 19 years, Iowa has snatched two Big Ten crowns and won the Big Ten West once. Not consistently excellent, mind you. But consistent.
There’s a lesson in there. Somewhere.
A statue, too.
“I would love to see a Coach Ferentz statue,” offered Jordan Bernstine, the former Hawkeyes defensive back and return man who racked up 108 tackles, 3 for losses, from 2007-11. “He’s definitely been there a while, and the consistency you get with the Iowa program, it’s just great.
“He’s not going to change for anybody, frankly. When I’m watching games, I can tell you what plays we’re running.”
After 20 years, so can just about everyone else. It’s part of the charm now, part of the legacy and the furniture. Along with the self-deprecation, the coffee gags, the snort-laughs and the punts.
Especially the punts.
— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) July 25, 2017
“Brian [Ferentz], or whoever the offensive coordinator is, it’s still Kirk Ferentz with the last say,” Bernstine continued. “The play calling, it’s still going to involve Kirk Ferentz. I mean, I just love it.”
Assuming we’re in the winter of The Ferentz Era — and given that he wears the age of 62 better than most of us, and that it’s hard to picture him doing anything else, assume at your peril — we can surmise he’ll leave the gig in better shape than he found it. Although to what degree of better remains a point of contention, especially among Iowa faithful who see a College Football Playoff salary that’s yet to be justified with a CFP berth.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Iowa’s not sitting on a recruiting hotbed,” Huffman said. “It’s not like it’s Florida State or Miami or Georgia. If Mark Richt has a 7-5 season, the forks are out.
“At Iowa, they’ve had 10-win seasons, but they’ve been few and far between. It’s one of those [jobs] where he has to have a four-year cycle to achieve that type of success.”
And therein lies the rub, the elephant in the room for roughly a decade now: Is that cycle a Ferentz thing? Or an institutional thing?
Why aren’t we punching at the same weight as Wisconsin?
If we could lure a young buck, a rising star in the Tom Herman/Scott Frost mold, would he stick around?
Would an old dog such as a Nick Saban or an Urban Meyer — or even, dare to dream, a Bob Stoops — give us a shot?
And probably not.
“Coaches these days like an Urban Meyer, they’re going to go where there’s fertile recruiting and where they’ve got a lot of guys to choose from and recruit to,” Huffman noted. “Unless [Iowa has] got some former player — like Bob Stoops, if he wants to come back — who’s a successful college coach. We’ll see what Jay Norvell does [at Nevada].
“And that’s why I think they kind of know where they stand in the mix.”
Solid. Steady. Sound. The light heavyweight nobody wants to draw. Shallow recruiting pool. Deep affections. A 7-5 or 8-4 side that almost always gets there, but doesn’t always get there in the ways you’d expect. Or hope. A team that smashes Ohio State at home yet somehow loses on that same field to Purdue a few weeks later. The enigma’s enigma.
Which explains, in part, why Athlon Sports’ staff ranked Ferentz at No. 8 out of 14 Big Ten coaches earlier this month, with Meyer holding the top spot. And why the magazine ended its analysis of the Iowa boss with a pretty significant caveat:
It’s a sign of the Big Ten’s coaching depth when Ferentz ranks No. 8 in the league.
It’s also worth noting that, the last time they met, No. 8 gave No. 1 a wedgie that stretched from Coralville to Ashtabula.
“I would put [Ferentz] in that same group with Wisconsin and Utah, in that they do a phenomenal job developing kids,” Huffman said. “What’s the one thing Utah has in common with Iowa? Kyle Whittingham has been there like 14 to 15 years. The top players in Utah don’t always stay home, but they do a fantastic job developing those players.”
Every athletic director shoots for the moon. Half of them wind up in the ditch.