#B1GCoachRank: No. 4 Kirk Ferentz
Anybody can do power rankings. Anyone and everyone will have some sort of ranking of college football coaches. Simply ranking coaches without much explanation is easy and far too common.
Instead of doing that, we went into detail about the tenures of every B1G coach. We looked at their biggest win, their most embarrassing loss, their top recruiting class and most importantly, why they were ranked where they where. We’ll go in depth with each coach until we get down to No. 1.
With that in mind, let the #B1GCoachRank debate begin:
Coach — No. 4. Kirk Ferentz (Iowa)
Record — 127-87 (76-60 in B1G)
Record vs. top 25 — 22-37
Where team was when he was hired — The basement.
Hayden Fry was the face of Iowa football for 20 years, but his worst season was his last. His retirement came on the heels of a 3-8 season in 1998, which was only the fourth sub-.500 finish during his time in Iowa City. On top of that, Iowa lost to Iowa State for the first time in 15 years. It was a sad, brutal finish for one of the B1G’s great coaches.
Ferentz had familiarity with Iowa already having served under Fry as an assistant from 1981-89. After a couple of stints as an assistant in the NFL, Ferentz was brought in to restore the glory years of the Fry era. He got the job over two current Iowa assistants, which might not have been the easiest sell in the locker room.
Fellow former Iowa assistant Bob Stoops was considered by some as the home-run hire. But he pulled his name from consideration after accepting the Oklahoma job.
Unfortunately for Ferentz, he didn’t have the talent to work with that Stoops did. Ferentz had to rebuild a three-win team and ultimately struggled to get out of the basement in his first two years in Iowa City. Stoops, on the other hand, won a national title in Year 2. But Ferentz did end up evening the gap.
Ironically enough, both are the two longest-tenured coaches in FBS now.
Biggest win — Nov. 8, 2008 vs. No. 3 Penn State
Kirk Ferentz has a bunch of big wins to pick from. The 2002 beatdown of No. 8 Michigan at the Big House fueled Iowa to win a share of the B1G title. The dramatic Capital One Bowl victory over No. 12 LSU in 2004 capped off one of the best seasons in school history. The Nebraska win in Lincoln last year clinched Iowa’s first B1G Championship berth and put the Hawkeyes a game away from the College Football Playoff.
You could argue that all of those were better wins for Iowa. But the best win for Ferentz, in my opinion, came against No. 3 Penn State in November of 2008. The clout of three straight top-10 finishes from 2002-04 — after which Ferentz received an extension through the 2012 season — had worn off. The Hawkeyes had win totals of seven, six and six since then, and it appeared the 2008 season was heading in that direction.
Iowa was coming off a crushing loss to a mediocre Illinois team and had to host the unbeaten Lions on a cold night in Iowa City. With Joe Paterno bidding for his first ever unbeaten national title team, Iowa played spoiler. The Hawkeyes rallied from nine points down in the fourth quarter and backup kicker Daniel Murray drilled a last-second field goal to sink the mighty Lions.
It was certainly one of the best, in-the-moment victories during the Ferentz era (it was Iowa’s first win over a top-five team since 1990). But it began a stretch of never-say-die victories that gave Ferentz the second wind he desperately needed. Iowa won three more games to end the 2008 season, including a 31-10 thumping of South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
The Penn State win was the first of 12 straight for the Hawkeyes. They actually didn’t lose until a day removed from the PSU game a year later. By that time, Iowa was in the national title hunt and it earned itself a BCS bowl bid.
Ferentz got a massive 10-year extension after the 2009 season. That PSU victory was the launching point of it all.
Most embarrassing loss — Sept. 22, 2012 vs. Central Michigan
Man, the 2012 season was rough. Arguably the most painful season of Ferentz’s tenure was headlined by a humiliating loss to Central Michigan.
Iowa scored a touchdown to take an eight-point lead in the final two minutes. Central Michigan marched down the field and scored a touchdown, which set up a possible game-tying two-point conversion. The Hawkeyes actually got the stop they needed, which should’ve ended the game with 45 seconds left.
But CMU recovered the onside kick and they capitalized on an Iowa personal foul to move into field-goal range. The Chippewas made a 47-yarder to win it and stun the Hawkeyes.
It was a complete collapse that Ferentz received plenty of criticism for. CMU then lost four straight games and barely made it to the Little Caesar’s Bowl. The 2012 season was Ferentz’s third straight year with fewer wins than the year before. Even worse, Iowa finished with its lowest win total since 2000.
Ferentz usually avoided the nasty non-Power Five losses, but he had a tough time shaking the CMU loss.
Best recruiting class — 2005
That 2005 group was full of four and five-star prospects, which have been somewhat rare during the Ferentz era. He landed three 5-star recruits (Tony Moeaki, Dan Doering and Dace Richardson), and six 4-star recruits (Rafael Eubanks, Jake Christensen, Kalvin Bailey, Trey Stross, Ryan Bain, Alex Kanellis).
The group, which was ranked No. 7 nationally, actually had a bunch of flameouts. Eubanks, Moeaki and Richardson were the only ones who ever became consistent starters, much less stars.
But Ferentz’s studs came from the guys who filled out that 2005 recruiting class. Tailback Shonn Greene set Iowa’s single-season rushing record and was a unanimous All-American. Three-star recruit Pat Angerer became one of the best linebackers in the country. JUCO signee Marshal Yanda starred at Iowa and went on to become arguably the best offensive lineman in the NFL.
There was also Kyle Calloway, who started three seasons at left tackle and earned All-B1G honors.
The 2005 class did end up being loaded with stars, just maybe not the ones Iowa fans expected when they signed seven U.S. Army All-American Bowl invitees.
The 2006 group (Ricky Stanzi, Adrian Clayborn, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos) will always be credited with the magical 2009 run. But to me, the 2005 group was still the most talented and most important in getting Iowa back on the national stage.
What could get him fired — What a difference a year makes. If you had asked this question at this time last year, I would have said Ferentz could’ve been fired with another seven-win season. Eight wins would’ve made it tricky, but not out of the question.
So in typical Ferentz fashion, he quieted the job security noise with double-digit wins. Maybe Ferentz should be on the hot seat every year. That’s when his teams play at their best.
What does that mean for his future? Well, instead of people saying he didn’t deserve to stay beyond 2015, Ferentz earned national coach of the year honors and could be in line for an extension. His current deal runs out in 2020, but his buyout is down to $8.1 million after the 2016 season and $5.45 million after the 2017 season.
It would take a lot to get Ferentz fired. Even if Iowa somehow missed a bowl game, Ferentz is probably fine. He survived 17 seasons in Iowa City filled with ups and downs. Right now, Iowa is on a major up and Ferentz’s 2017 class is proof of that. The only thing that could bring him down a year removed from a Rose Bowl berth would be a national scandal.
But in all likelihood, Gary Barta is doing what he can to tack on a few more years on to his deal.
Why he’s at No. 4 — This might sound crazy, but Ferentz still would’ve been in the top five at this time last year. But after taking Iowa to its first Rose Bowl in a quarter century, Ferentz is firmly in the top four.
No B1G coach ranked behind him has been to a New Year’s Six/BCS bowl. Ferentz has been to three. The B1G coaches ranked behind Ferentz have a combined 12 wins vs. top-25 teams. Ferentz has 22. No B1G coach ranked behind him has ever earned a share of a B1G title or division title. Ferentz has three.
Ok, so why isn’t he ahead of a guy like Jim Harbaugh? After all, Harbaugh only has one year of B1G coaching under his belt.
Well, it’s the other accomplishments that gave him the nod. Besides doubling Michigan’s win total in his first season in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh locked down a top-five class in his first full recruiting cycle. He appears to be on his way to doing that in 2017, too. He also took a one-win Stanford team and turned it into a BCS bowl game-winner in four years. Some forget that he turned San Diego into an FCS power in a matter of two years.
By the way, he also led a team to the Super Bowl three years ago. So for now, Harbaugh gets the nod.
But it’s not as wide of a gap as some might realize. Ferentz is the reigning B1G Coach of the Year, which some would argue is reason enough to give him the top spot. That, however, is a one-year award. This is based on who the conference’s best coaches are heading into 2016.
If Ferentz can keep Iowa in the national spotlight for the next few years, he’ll be on an even shorter list.
No. 4 Kirk Ferentz
No. 3 — TBA