Wine Online: Continuity Equals Success

May 4, 2009

IOWA CITY, Iowa – For a college football program to succeed over the long haul, it must have continuity and stability at the top. And for the past 30 years, no football coaching staff in the Big Ten Conference has been more stable than the University of Iowa’s.

During that time the Hawkeyes have had only two head coaches, Hayden Fry the first 20 years and Kirk Ferentz the past 10. Over those three decades, their staffs have had remarkable continuity. Fry had only two coordinators on both offense (Bill Snyder and Don Patterson) and defense (Bill Brashier and Bob Elliott). Ken O’Keefe on offense and Norm Parker on defense have been the only coordinators for Ferentz.

This stability is perhaps the biggest reason Iowa has won 140 Big Ten games, five conference championships and made 21 bowl appearances in the past 30 years. Only Michigan, with four head coaches, and Ohio State, with three, have better numbers in each of those three categories. (Penn State has played a Big Ten football schedule only 16 years and is not included in this survey.)

In fact, all the other Big Ten teams have lost more conference games than they’ve won in the last 30 years. On average, they’ve each had six head coaches during that time.

Turnover is high among college football coaches. Sometimes they leave one school for another, but more often they are fired.

Coaching continuity matters, as Iowa fans who lived through the 1960s and 1970s can attest. During those two decades the Hawkeyes changed head football coaches every three to five years and never had a winning season.

Fry took over a wobbly Iowa program in 1979 and his teams won three Big Ten titles and played in 14 bowl games. Ferentz succeeded Fry in 1999 and his teams have won two conference championships and made seven bowl appearances. It didn’t hurt continuity that Kirk was Hayden’s assistant coach for nine years during the 1980s. Neither Fry nor Ferentz got off to dazzling starts at Iowa. Hayden was 9-13 in his first two seasons, Kirk was 4-19. But the University stuck with them and they stuck with the University. Both had opportunities to leave for other jobs. Iowa fans are grateful they did not.

Ferentz, of course, is still the man in charge of Hawkeye football. His 2008 team had a strong finish, capped by a convincing victory in the Outback Bowl. Sixteen starters return from that club and Iowa will probably be ranked among the Top 20 going into the 2009 season. Kirk is only 53 years old and might coach at Iowa for another 10 or 15 years, giving Hawkeye football continued stability and continuity, and the likelihood of many more successful seasons.

Below is a 30-year breakdown of Big Ten football from 1979 through 2008 that should put a smile on any fan of the Hawkeyes.

The following provides evidence of the importance of continuity at the top of the coaching staff for the football programs in the Big Ten Conference.

School Head Coaches Big Ten Record Percentage Titles/Co-Titles Bowl Games
1. Michigan 4 187-53-4 .775 13 29
2. Ohio State 3 179-59-4 .748 12 27
3. Iowa 2 140-98-5 .586 5 21
4. Michigan State 8 119-121-3 .496 2 15
5. Wisconsin 5 114-127-4 .473 3 17
6. Illinois 6 112-129-4 .465 3 12
7. Purdue 5 108-132-3 .451 1 13
8.Minnesota 6 80-163-2 .331 0 10
9. Indiana 7 78-165-1 .322 0 8
10. Northwestern 6 73-172-1 ..299 3 6