This past Saturday was without a doubt the worst Iowa football game that I can recall. Gaining just 66 yards of offense for an entire game is beyond terrible. Worse is that this sort of play has become expected, excused. It’s past time for Iowa fans to reconcile where the problem lies; at the head.
I want to start by acknowledging that Kirk Ferentz is, indeed, a nice guy. A great guy even, as people love to point out, and for good cause. He’s a good role model for what a man should be. But this isn’t about his character, it’s about his coaching. The game plan on Saturday was abysmal. Wisconsin was down two of its starting linebackers and the area to exploit then should be pretty obvious. We have two fantastic tight ends that are natural mismatches to linebackers as it is. They were targeted only 4 times the entire game and not once in the first half. This is a coaching error. I know, the boys have got to get it done on the field as well, but leaning on Fant and Hockenson should’ve happened early and often, and the game plan should have called for that.
Ferentz’s base salary for the 2017 season is $4.5 million dollars. That’s good enough to land him in the top 10 of highest paid coaches in the country. He’s number 4 in the Big Ten and he’s the highest by far in the B1G West. For those kind of numbers one would expect regular outcomes above average, but what do we actually see? Ferentz averages right at 7 wins per season, just over .500. This is worse when you consider the forever weak out-of-conference schedule that Gary Barta ensures to schedule. Meaning the Hawks would likely be at 6 wins per season or lower if we’d schedule more considerable opponents. For that kind of money one should expect conference championships semi-regularly. Ferentz has two, 2002 and 2004. It’s been thirteen years since he’s won the B1G. For that kind of money a coach should have a team in contention for their conference championship every year. I, personally, would venture to say as well that that kind of money should mean that we’re at least in the picture for a national title chase more than twice in nearly two decades. I can’t say for certain but I’m pretty confident that no other Power 5 program in the nation would pay a coach that astronomical amount and be content with averaging 7 wins. Further, with 19 seasons under his belt it’s fair to say that we’ve seen what he can do at this point.
“But good recruits don’t want to come to Iowa to play,” you’ll tell me, “They want to go to prestigious football schools.” For that we need not look further than the team that just drubbed us on Saturday. Wisconsin has won 6 conference championships in the last 50 years. Iowa has won 5. This is the first season ever that Wisconsin has reached the mark of 10-0. The Badgers are not a dynastic football program, they’re intent on building one though, and that’s the difference. The schools are comparable in size (Wisconsin is bigger) and both have state of the art athletic facilities. Since the Big Ten split into divisions in 2011 Wisconsin has gone to the championship game 5 times. Iowa has once, and they’ve not been in the hunt more than that one time since 2011 either.
Further along the lines of how absurd the “recruits” argument is – Memphis. Sitting at 8-1 and ranked 22nd in the CFP you’re going to have a difficult time convincing me that they have better recruits, like most of the kids there wouldn’t have preferred a scholarship or even a walk on opportunity at a Power 5. The fact of the matter is that Mike Norvell is doing better with inferior recruits right now. Acting as if 7 win seasons is the pinnacle of what can be done with the level or recruits that Iowa gets is akin to burying your head in the sand. And let’s not forget recruiting falls on the coaching staff.
“But who would want to coach at Iowa,” is the next thing you’ll ask. My answer? ANYBODY. Ok, that’s a bit of hyperbole but you get the point. Who wouldn’t want to be overpaid to underperform? Who wouldn’t be content with the kind of job security that the University of Iowa shells out to football coaches? Or, who wouldn’t want the chance to turn a mediocre Power 5 team into a consistently good one?
If you’re intent on getting names though I’ll give you some (keep in mind these are hypotheticals as, despite my complaints, I’m aware that thanks to Barta we’re saddled with mediocrity through 2025). Back to Mike Norvell, he’s a young (36) up and coming coach that has a lot of promise ahead of him. He’s 16-6 at Memphis as their head coach. In his first ever year as a head coach he won 8 games and took the Tigers to a bowl. He’s currently poised to outdo his initial season. You could also look at a guy like Jason Candle. He’s at Toledo and holds an 18-6 record there (where he’s won a bowl game sometime in the last 6 years). Both he and Norvell will likely be looking to move to bigger schools in the Power 5 sometime in the next couple of seasons and both have proven that they can do more than Ferentz with less. There’s also Joe Moorhead, the Offensive Coordinator at PSU. He’ll be looking for a head coaching job and we could definitely use someone that can adequately run an offense in today’s league.
“But we could end up like Nebraska!” Yeah, we could. But we could also end up like Wisconsin. We could end up better than Wisconsin. This particular argument irks me more than the others. We’re talking about football. This is a combat sport. It’s not meant for the meek or the timid. If you’re not actively striving to do better and to win more then what is the purpose of even playing the game?
The last common rebuttal I hear in favor of Ferentz is, “but he runs a good clean program.” He runs a clean program, like it’s some sort of either/or situation. Like it’s impossible to have a good program and a clean program simultaneously. Never mind that many other programs do this. Hell, we just witnessed James Franklin sprint down the field to make sure all of his players shook hands after a loss. You can have classy and good at the same time.
Ferentz is the biggest weight holding the Hawkeyes back from potentially stepping forward to the next level and it’s past time to acknowledge that he will never take Iowa to the next level. Averaging 7 wins, with a breakout year every 3-4 seasons, complete with a bowl loss is the best that we can expect. I know change isn’t coming soon because of Barta’s ridiculous contract extension but, in the very least, I wish I could stop seeing fans pass out the proverbial participation trophy to him telling him he’s doing great when, at best, he’s doing just barely above “ok.”