Nov. 21, 2004
The sports reporters who cover the Iowa football team were a little early this year. Usually they wait until November to start writing stories about Kirk Ferentz moving on to another job. This year the story broke in October.
Here’s the way it works. A coach at another school (or NFL team) gets fired or moves to another job. The news media in that area — protecting their own rear ends — start throwing names around as to who the new coach might be. Sometimes the list of possible replacements includes Ferentz.
After a weekly news conference in late October, the Iowa coach was literally backed against the wall and asked about reports out of Florida that had him replacing Ron Zook, who had just been fired by that school. The rumor was especially juicy because Ferentz’s Hawkeyes soundly defeated Zook’s Gators in the 2004 Outback Bowl at Tampa.
Why reporters didn’t ask Ferentz the question during his formal news conference, I don’t know. But showing his usual patience and composure, Kirk stood against the wall and responded to questions for more than 15 minutes.
No, he wasn’t looking for another job. Yes, he was happy at Iowa. No, he didn’t think it was unreasonable for fans to judge high-salaried coaches on their won-lost record. Yes, he would like to see all his children go through the local school system and view Iowa City as their home. And so forth. And so on.
So rather than the news of the day being about Iowa players and their fifth straight win over Penn State, it was about Kirk Ferentz staying put as Iowa’s coach. Newspapers that I read devoted a lot of space to subject.
One that caught my attention said, “There is a perception nationally that Iowa is simply a stepping stone for a head football coach on the rise.” To which I shouted, “You gotta be kidding!”
When was the last time a football coach left Iowa for another job? Think hard, because it’s likely you weren’t alive at the time. It was 1949 when Eddie Anderson, whose years at Iowa included 1939, when he produced the legendary Ironmen, left for Holy Cross, where he had coached earlier. Anderson, a medical doctor, sought tenure at Iowa and when he didn’t get it, decided to move on.
More than 80 years ago Howard Jones bolted for Duke when the Iowa Athletic Board failed to meet his demands. Jones, whose Iowa teams won 20 straight games in the early 1920s, stayed one year at Duke, then moved on to Southern Cal, where he gained his greatest coaching fame.
And that’s it, folks. Lots of Iowa coaches have been fired in the past 100 years, but only two have voluntarily departed for coaching jobs at other schools.
The Hawkeyes have had two highly successful football coaches in the past 50 years – Forest Evashevski and Hayden Fry. Neither left for another job.
After winning three Big Ten championships and two Rose Bowl games, Evy quit coaching in 1960 to become Iowa’s athletic director. As for Fry, he had a 20-year run that included 14 bowl games and three Big Ten titles, then retired in 1998.
Like Ferentz, both were in the rumor mill now and then, linked to other jobs. Both had opportunities to leave, but chose to stay.
So take heart, Hawkeye fans, and believe Kirk Ferentz when he says he wants to stay around and have his five kids call Iowa City their hometown.
Editor’s Note: George Wine, the University of Iowa’s long-time sports information director who is now retired and living in Coralville, Iowa, is the author of George Wine Online. George has remained very close to the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI since his retirement and, in fact, has authored two books during that time. The first was a collaboration with the subject of today’s editorial, Hayden Fry, and named “A High Porch Picnic.” The second, “Black & Gold Memories, The Hawkeyes of the 20th Century,” included many of the essays George originally wrote for “The Voice of the Hawkeyes.” As he wrote in the book, “Collectively, they serve as a historical reference, and hopefully provide entertaining reading.” “Black & Gold Memories” is currently available at Barnes & Noble book stores across Iowa and on the world wide web.