Iowa Football: How Good Is 'Good Enough' for Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes?

David Fidler Correspondent IDecember 31, 2012

IOWA CITY, IA- SEPTEMBER 22:  Head coach Kirk Ferentz of the Iowa Hawkeyes yells at an offiial during the third quarter against the Central Michigan Chippewas on September 22, 2012 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.  Central Michigan defeated Iowa 32-31.  (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
Matthew Holst/Getty Images

After the Iowa Hawkeyes finished the 2012 season with a 4-8 record, many fans found themselves standing on one side of the fence or the other.

Kirk Ferentz has been at Iowa 14 seasons. He has won two (co) Big Ten championships, been to two BCS bowls, become bowl eligible 10 of his 14 seasons and is the second-winningest coach in Iowa football history.

That's not too shabby, and some fans feel that he has more than earned his keep. On the other hand, other fans feel that it is not good enough, especially given his $3.835 million per year salary, which, according to Chris Smith of Forbes Magazine, makes him the fifth-most powerful coach in college football.

But is it good enough? For that matter, what is "good enough"?

Ultimately, there are four possible camps into which any given Iowa fan might fit.

In Kirk We Trust

The In-Kirk-We-Trust camp feels that Ferentz has earned his money, and they have no problem with his overall job performance.

Certainly, they're upset with this season's performance—who wouldn't be?—but when one looks at Ferentz's career from a larger perspective, one can't help but be impressed, especially when comparing his resume to past Iowa coaches.

Their primary support concerns the coaches between Forest Evashevski and Hayden Fry.

Specifically, Jerry Burns went 16-27-2 in five seasons. Ray Nagel went 16-32-2 in five seasons. Frank Lauterbur went 4-28-1 in three seasons. Lastly, Bob Commings went 18-37 in five seasons.

Ferentz has gone 100-75 in 14 years. He has maintained the level of consistency that Fry brought to Iowa City. A large portion of the current fanbase weren't alive during the '60s and '70s, but returning to that mess could be as easy as one bad coaching hire.

Lil Old Iowa

The group from this camp does not feel that 2012 was acceptable. However, in the larger picture, they have no problem with the job Ferentz has done.

The thinking of this group is that the Hawkeyes should make a bowl every season and contend for a Big Ten title once a recruiting cycle (every four-five years). On the other hand, asking for or expecting more than that is unrealistic, given the inherent recruiting disadvantages that Iowa faces, as Rivals' Dallas Jackson pointed out in 2011.

This is called the "Lil Old Iowa" group because the basic mentality is that "lil old Iowa" cannot consistently compete on the recruiting trails—and therefore, on the gridirons—with the likes of Ohio State, Notre Dame, Florida or Texas.

Some might automatically discount this camp but consider the schools that share Iowa's situation: programs that exist in non-flashy locales and are not only in talent-poor states but don't even border any of the most talent-rich states.

In short, the only modern program in such a situation that has lifted itself into the upper echelon of college football has been Nebraska. Moreover, as is evident from the last decade or so, the Huskers are having a tough time maintaining that level of prestige—certainly tougher than a program like Florida, which, despite having four different head coaches over the last 12 years, is still elite.

In short, can Iowa play with the big boys? Yes, but it is asking a lot.

Seven Wins Minimum

This group is the bunch that got vocal following 2012. They were disappointed about 2010 and would have liked that 2011 loss to Minnesota back, but they still recognized all that Ferentz had accomplished.

Nonetheless, this camp considers 2012 a fiasco, and that fiasco has finally sent them over the edge.

They are aware of the aforementioned disadvantages Iowa faces and do not regularly expect the Hawkeyes to challenge for national titles.

On the other hand, in this age of one-FCS-opponent-per-year to go along with at least one—if not two—should-be MAC-rifices, seven wins should be the minimum for a tenured coach. Furthermore, that seven-win season should be limited to once per recruiting cycle.

Iowa should be in the hunt for the Big Ten championship more often than not, and once per recruiting cycle, it should be in the national title talk.

The advantage of signing a coach to a 10-year contract—regardless of the price tag involved—is consistency. This is not consistency of the win-loss variety but a selling point that Iowa can use on the recruiting trails in order to offset the aforementioned disadvantages it faces.

Therefore, while Florida or Notre Dame is in the process of breaking in yet another coach, Ferentz can come in and say, "I'm not going anywhere," and his contract will back that up.

This consistency should not only allow the Hawkeyes to bring in better recruits than it otherwise might, but it also should allow the Hawks to face less attrition than other programs and do a better job in developing players within Ferentz's system.

Unfortunately, as detailed by Iowa blog Blackheartgoldpants, Hawkcentral's Pat Harty, Jon Miller of Hawkeyenation and even me, Ferentz's consistency has not kept players on campus.

As those writers detailed, attrition, as much as anything, has led to this year's 4-8 record. Consequently, the seven-win-minimum camp is left to ask exactly what Ferentz is doing?


Most Iowa fans recognize that figure as quickly as they recognize their starting quarterback's jersey number. It is Kirk Ferentz's yearly salary, and according to USA Today, as of mid-November, it made him the sixth-highest paid head coach in college football (that list is already slightly outdated, but Ferentz is still No. 6).

The camp that is hung up on this number believes that Iowa should regularly begin the year in the top 10, should always be in hunt for the Big Ten championship and should regularly be in national title talk. Eight wins is the bare minimum, and that should only follow three years in a row of triple-digit wins.

Needless to say, this group has been vocal for a while.

This might seem far-fetched—again, the inherent recruiting disadvantages still apply even if one believes Ferentz should overcome them.

However, consider the others in Ferentz's salary range (i.e. the top 10 as of mid-November): Nick Saban, Mack Brown, Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Ferentz, Gene Chizik, Chip Kelly and Gary Patterson.

A week after that list was published, Chizik was fired (per ESPN).

Kelly and Patterson, along with Ferentz, are the only ones who haven't won a national championship, but Kelly has been to one BCS National Championship Game, won PAC-10/12 championships in three of the four years he's been in Eugene and is one of the top five winningest coaches in college football since 2009.

Meanwhile, Patterson is in a unique situation, as his Horned Frogs have not been in a BCS conference during most of his time in Fort Worth. Nonetheless, TCU is also amongst the top five winningest programs since he became the Horned Frogs' top man in 2000.

And where is Ferentz since he came to Iowa City in 1999? He is No. 37, a number that will drop soon, as the site used to generate these numbers has not added 2012 yet.

Consequently, if the situation is looked at economically, it's not at all ridiculous that Iowa should stand with the likes of Alabama, Ohio State and Southern Cal at top of college football pantheon.

The Fallout

In the end, all of the camps can put up reasonable arguments. So what is it Hawkeye fans? Which camp do the majority fall into?

Has Ferentz done an adequate job, more-than-adequate, unacceptable, deplorable?

Whatever the answer, if next season is anything like this one, he can expect the "Lil, Old Iowa" fans to start chirping up as well, and then, he could be in real trouble.


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