There comes a point where you pity Gary Barta. A little. Iowa’s athletic director held a vow renewal ceremony Tuesday, brought in the finest caterers in Johnson County, produced a chocolate fountain that could dunk on Yao Ming, and all every other guest wanted to do was see the fine print in the prenup:
I will reserve judgement on Ferentz extension until I see what buyout language says.
— NORTHofDSM (@NORTHofDSM) Sept. 6, 2016
The big question, as it so often is w/coaching contracts: What are the buyout terms? Because that’s what made Ferentz’s last deal so wacky.
— Patrick Stevens (@D1scourse) Sept. 6, 2016
Is Ferentz’s buyout now up to $40 mill?
— Kyle (@AtownCY) Sept. 6, 2016
But guys! Guys! GUYS! Look! Fondue!
Oh, all right:
#qctimes Gary Barta: The buyout in the Ferentz contract is similar to the previous deal.
— Steve Batterson (@sbatt79) Sept. 6, 2016
Barta says buyout in Ferentz contract is similar to what it has been
— MarkEmmert (@MarkEmmert) Sept. 6, 2016
Kirk Ferentz buyout yesterday: $8.4 million.
Kirk Ferentz buyout today (if contract is unchanged): $31.5 million.
It’s like we never learn
— Honorary Boat Rower (@PV_GIA) Sept. 6, 2016
Football coach Kirk Ferentz’s long-whispered extension became a pen-and-ink announcement of officiality Tuesday — a deal running through the end of the 2025 season at a reported base salary of $4.5 million per year. Ferentz, a former Hayden Fry assistant who replaced the iconic Hawkeyes football coach in 1999, had been working on a deal signed in 2010 at an annual take-home of roughly $4 million.
And it’s not the principle that drives Iowans nuts. It’s the math. Well, OK, it’s both.
In layman’s terms, the 2010 contract more or less guaranteed that Ferentz, if fired, would put the school on the hook for 75 percent of his annual guaranteed salary for the remaining years on the deal. At the time, the feedback ranged from applause — Iowa was coming off an 11-2 campaign and a win in the Orange Bowl, Ferentz’s high-water mark before 2015 — to a communal shaking of heads. When the Hawkeyes slipped closer to the Minnesota-Northwestern-Illinois strata of the Big Ten standings from 2011-2014 instead of keeping its condo on the Michigan State-Wisconsin floor, many who had been leading the cheers started sharpening knives and passing the hat.
Because it’s not so much the principle or the math as it is the déjà vu. Ferentz breaks a cycle of “meh” years with a great season (12-2) from kind-of-out-of-nowhere and the pro-Kirk camp (in terms of both money and volume) collectively crosses their arms and reminds everybody that they told them so. Ferentz’s agent, Neil Cornrich, sashays into town with a pen, and Barta rolls over and shows him his belly.
It’s the part after that Iowa fans don’t want to see again — namely, the 2011-2014 part: 7-6, 4-8, 8-5, 7-6, charges of nepotism, lawsuits and losses to bad Iowa State teams that probably shouldn’t happen in this, or any other, parallel plane of human existence.
And, hey, look who’s next up on the docket:
As head coach at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz has lost to Iowa State more than any other team (9 times). Ohio State and Wisconsin-8 times.
— Brent Blum (@brentblum) Sept. 6, 2016
So let’s circle back to the math for a moment. If the $4.5 million is guaranteed, and the 75 percent-ish language is still carried over, then it would set the university back — and this isn’t counting assistants and the usual closing costs — at least $30.4 million to cut ties with Ferentz after the 2016 season and at least $27 million if it happened after 2017.
Which is why some corners of Twitter, upon hearing the news, did this:
Gary Barta: KF buyout is similar to previous contract.
— Jason (@jchesmore) Sept. 6, 2016
Of course, it may not come to that, and Barta and the donors backing this arrangement seem content to ride this wave out for as long as Ferentz feels like surfing it. And if you’re the latter, you’d be a fool not to follow that puppy to the end of the line, as long as the checks don’t bounce.
Think about it. A year ago this month, the locals were carving Ferentz’s headstone. Now they’re going to have to plan a statue. Somewhere. Somehow.
Because let’s go to the math again. Ferentz has 128 wins at Iowa over 17 seasons and one game. At his current pace of 7.5 overall victories per year, he’d have 202 wins with the Hawkeyes by the final season of the contract. The school record is 143 victories (Fry). The Big Ten record is 205 (Woody Hayes), and No. 2 is Amos Alonzo Stagg (199).
If he sees out the life of the lifetime deal, with a .559 winning percentage in Big Ten play and assuming at least nine league games per season from here on out, his conference win total could jump from 76 to 126 by the end of 2025. Which would crush Fry’s university record of 96 Big Ten wins and sit only behind Woody (153) and Bo (143) overall.
And you want to talk about prenups?
@RedPomPoms Excited to announce the first 5,000 fans Saturday will receive a miniature barrel, an exact replica of the one KF has me over!
— Not Gary Barta (@NotGaryBarta) Sept. 6, 2016
A decade ago, there was genuine and real concern over the NFL poaching the most venerated coach of the most popular team in a college-bonkers state, given Ferentz’s pals in the Bill Belichick tree and the crazy dollars that get tossed around at the pro level.
But thanks to the Big Ten Network, among other broadcast Brink’s trucks, Barta has Monopoly money to play with, too. And Ferentz, by tenure and deed, has the sort of power within his particular domain unmatched by perhaps any other Big Ten football coach save for Urban Meyer at Ohio State, Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern and possibly Mark Dantonio at Michigan State.
He’s lived enough decades as an assistant-coaching vagabond to know that once that much control — that much comfort — is attained, you’d be a damned fool to walk away from it.
To put it another way, Iowa faithful are stuck with him. And he with them. As it says right there in the vows, ’til death do us part. If not sooner.
You can reach Sean Keeler via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seankeeler