IOWA CITY, Iowa — Tributes adorn the streets and sports venues in eastern Iowa with statues dedicated to former coaches and a stadium named for the Hawkeyes’ only Heisman Trophy winner.
Wedged in a corner as part of the Hayden Fry Sports Complex, along (Forest) Evashevski Drive and across from Kinnick Stadium sits Iowa’s new $55 million football palace. This is the house that Kirk Ferentz built, spending nearly a decade raising money, touring sites and organizing one of college football’s most functional facilities. It opened in early 2015 after the stench of a 7-6 2014 campaign and now stands firm with the tenacious success of 12-win regular season.
Perhaps it’s his western Pennsylvania background, but the usually stoic Ferentz, 61, doesn’t have Fry’s west Texas back-slapping charm. Ferentz doesn’t endear himself to the public with exotic plays or legendary (and often-repeated) stories about bell cows or scratching itches. Ferentz’s grit, perseverance and linear approach to success is what has connected him to Iowa’s base over the last 18 years.
Fry was a dust bowl thunder clapper who captivated as much with his personality as his victories. Ferentz’s style is plow the field, feed the livestock and do it daily. Every few years Ferentz will enjoy a bumper crop and sometimes it’s a ho-hum harvest. But there’s no bombastic rhetoric from either result. While not an Iowa native, the workmanlike Ferentz represents the state perhaps more than any other coach.
“Iowa has really been home to me and my family,” Ferentz said. “My wife Mary, our five children, have all been raised here. So after 26 years, I can tell you I really appreciate what it is to be an Iowan and what it to be an Iowa Hawkeye. I’m really excited about that.”
The athletic department’s longest-awaited secret was revealed Tuesday when Ferentz was rewarded with a six-year extension through early 2026. He’ll earn $4.5 million annually, not much more than his current $4 million salary from the last contract he signed in 2010. The school has yet to release all details, but each of his assistants received a pay boost and security. They previously operated on two-year contracts, and athletic director Gary Barta said Tuesday it’s a similar deal.
Few schools have dealt with as much contract scrutiny as Iowa, and this is no different. Since Ferentz’s 10-year extension, his buyout became the subject of blogs and stories ranging from ESPN to Forbes magazine. Ferentz was ranked as the nation’s most overpaid coach and, by one prominent website, as one of the worst. From 2010 through 2014, Iowa’s results didn’t reflect a $4 million coach. The Hawkeyes were 19-21 in Big Ten play over that five-year period and didn’t achieve at least a nine-win season. In 2010 and 2014, Iowa was considered either a league or divisional favorite and failed to live up to expectations.
Obviously Ferentz wouldn’t get a 10-year extension if he hadn’t led Iowa to 12 wins last year. But more than wins and losses, this deal is about stability and consistency. Iowa was bowl eligible 14 of the last 15 years. Ferentz is tied for seventh in Big Ten wins. The program has had 59 NFL draft picks in his tenure. While Iowa may never achieve the same success as Big Ten titans Michigan or Ohio State, it sure beats the semiannual volatility that engulfs Minnesota, Illinois or Purdue. Ferentz is the dean of Big Ten coaches. He’s competed against 13 different coaches representing the Gophers, Illini and Boilermakers. Fans from any one of those programs would trade places with Iowa.
Ferentz’s teams have won double-digit victories five times with just as many top-10 appearances. He has three major bowl berths, the highest final ranking since 1960 (seventh in 2009) and the only 12-win season in school history. He’s 13 victories shy of tying Fry for the most wins in school history.
There’s no street in Coralville or Iowa City named for Ferentz, unlike Fry or Forest Evashevski. There are no Ferentz statues in the south end of the Corridor like for Fry, Dan Gable and Nile Kinnick. Even a suggestion of a statue likely would result in a Ferentz snort. But his consistency, longevity and relative success are reason enough to lock up him for the long haul. That in of itself is more valuable than bronze.