One would think the legacy of the second-winningest coach in Iowa Hawkeyes football history would be secure, but the train ride that has been the Kirk Ferentz era will not make such guarantees.
Following a disastrous 2012 campaign that saw Iowa football sink to a 4-8 record, Ferentz and his program find themselves on genuinely thin ice for the first time since the beginning of his tenure.
The 4-8 season follows two previous disappointing campaigns. Perhaps even more disappointing than 2012 was 2010, in which arguably the most talented squad of the Ferentz era—the juniors and seniors on that squad accounted for 12 draft picks between 2011 and 2012—slumped to a 7-5 finish.
In most cases, this would be grounds for a firing, especially when the coach in question is making almost four million dollars per season. However, it is that paycheck that goes through 2020 and includes an astronomical buyout that keeps him safe in Iowa City.
With Ferentz's long-term future guaranteed as long as attendance remains steady, some have questioned if Ferentz has become complacent.
Perhaps he has, but it is unlikely when one considers that the next few seasons—unquestionably his last before he retires—will determine his legacy.
This was a legacy that wasn't in question at the end of 2004.
After a rough start to his tenure, Iowa went 31-7 between 2002-2004, which was eighth best in the country over the stretch.
The Ferentz-to-the-NFL rumors ran rampant, and Ferentz looked like he would cement his name in the Hawkeyes pantheon next to College-Football-Hall-of-Famers Hayden Fry and Forest Evashevski.
Then 2005-2007 happened. Iowa went a combined 19-19, tied for 58th in the country.
However, it was the off-the-field issues that stirred up the fans.
It began with the 2006 "fat cats" season, detailed by Andy Hamilton of Hawkcentral.com.
Then came City Boyz Inc., which Iowa blog Blackheartgoldpants.com recounts. The long and short of the story is that preceding the 2007 season, four Iowa wide receivers engaged in a substantial amount of petty thievery, as well as some drug usage. By the beginning of the 2008 season, all four of them were dismissed or left the team.
2007 ended with a home loss to 4-7 should-have-been MAC-rifice Western Michigan, as well as two players arrested on sexual abuse charges. That home loss led to 6-6 Iowa missing a bowl for the first time since 2000.
At that time, Ferentz had a substantial contract—just over $3 million according to coacheshotseat.com—but the buyout was nowhere near the current astronomical figure. Consequently, Ferentz was decidedly "on the hot seat."
He followed this up with a resurgent 9-4 2008 followed by the 10-2 magic carpet ride of 2009 that ended with a decisive Orange Bowl victory over Georgia Tech.
He was rewarded with the contract he has today, which all but guarantees Iowa cannot fire him unless the university begins losing money on the football team.
According to the aforementioned coacheshotseat.com, Ferentz is on the fourth hottest seat in the country, and one won't have to spend much time searching to find a good deal of fanbase vitriol directed at the head coach.
Therefore, despite the successes he has brought to Iowa City, Ferentz could leave his position as a distinctly unpopular man.
This is where Ferentz's current situation comes into play.
Despite the contract, despite the downturns and inexplicable in-game decisions, despite the disdain with which he often treats the press (and by extension, the fans), Ferentz can end his career next to Fry and Evashevski.
It all depends upon what happens during these next few years.
The good news is Ferentz has made—some might say has been forced to make—a slew of changes. Most notably, after 12 years of almost unheard of coaching staff stability, as Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette noted, Iowa has undergone an "extreme makeover."
It remains to be seen whether that makeover will result in wins or even an exciting football product—something that was lacking last year—but it does indicate that Ferentz is aware of how much is at stake.
He is not happily collecting his paychecks until he rides off into the sunset.
Legacy is an important word when one reaches the level Kirk Ferentz has reached. He is aware of that.
Forget the 2002-2004 run. Forget tearing down the Minnesota goalposts in 2002. Forget the 2005 Cap One Bowl. Forget beating No. 1 Penn State in 2008. Forget winning the 2010 Orange Bowl.
Also forget City Boyz Inc., the fat cats, the 2010 Minnesota loss and the 2012 Central Michigan onside kick fiasco.
Kirk Ferentz's career and legacy in Iowa City will be defined by what he does over the next few years, and that starts with 2013.
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