One of the Best, Too

Dec. 6, 2009

Editor’s Note: The following article first appeared in the Dec. 4 edition of the Official Sports Report (OSR) for the University of Iowa. OSR is a daily e-newsletter exclusively about the Iowa Hawkeyes. Click HERE to learn more.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — There has been discussion recently about what makes an attractive BCS bowl team. A double-digit victory total is just icing on the cake, we have discovered. The real ingredients include a mobile and excitable fan base, national appeal that makes millions of television viewers tune in, and a recognizable cast of players or coaches.

The University of Iowa’s track record and reputation for filling seats at bowl games is well documented. So, too, are the numbers of people who grab the remote each fall Saturday to watch the Hawkeyes on the tube. Many college football fans would be hard-pressed to identify any of the Boise State players, but they know the Broncos win with regularity and play their home games on an eye-irritating blue surface.

So where do the Hawkeyes fit in on the `recognizable cast of players’ list? Synergy is a word that describes the splendor of the UI football program — the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You might pause to avoid calling Brett Greenwood, Brent. You might ask a friend if Edds or Angerer is the linebacker with the tattoos or rather, the longer, curly hair. Is the offensive lineman named Vandenberg or Vandervelde, and doesn’t one of those guys have a strong passing arm?

The most identifiable part about this Iowa football team is 10 victories…a No. 9 rating in the most recent Bowl Championship Series standings…road victories at Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa State, and triumphs over six bowl-eligible teams.

There is not a recognition problem for the UI at head coach, although the question should be asked how long it takes to become a living legend. The first prerequisite would undoubtedly be a pulse, but then it is up to subjective judgment. UI head coach Kirk Ferentz rattled off the names of two Hawkeye living legends Wednesday at a press conference — wrestling icon Dan Gable and football coach extraordinaire Hayden Fry, the man Ferentz replaced on the Kinnick Stadium sidelines.

Gable coached the Hawkeyes 21 seasons, capturing 21 Big Ten Conference and 15 NCAA national championships. Fry inherited a football team that was victorious twice in 1978, but in the next 20 seasons, the Hawkeyes won 143 times and traveled to 14 bowl games.

Gable and Fry are retired. A bona fide college football coaching living legend, Joe Paterno, is still producing at Penn State, and one of his most fervent supporters is Ferentz.

“They’ve got a legendary coach and that’s not just talk,” Ferentz said. “Coach Paterno has done so much. I’ve said this so many times, what he’s done for college sports; I think he’s been so good in so many ways. I can just tell you he’s a tremendous human being. I’ve got so much respect for their program and it starts at the top.”

And of course, Paterno can coach…and win. The Nittany Lions have won 393 games with Paterno as head coach, including a record of 50-13 since 2005. It goes without saying that Paterno qualifies as a living legend, but how do the numbers compiled by Ferentz match up? You might be in for a surprise.

Including all games for one complete decade (dating back to the 2000 season), Ferentz has been named American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) national coach of the year once (in 2002); Paterno received the honor in 2005. Ferentz was named Big Ten Conference coach of the year in 2002, ’04 and ’09; Paterno collected the award in 2005. Ferentz and the Hawkeyes have won four bowl games since 2000; Paterno and the Nittany Lions have won three.

Looking at the complete body of work from the past 10 years, the University of Iowa football program has won 79 games with a winning percentage of 63.7. Penn State has won 76 times with a winning percentage of 62.3.

It would take a fool to dispute that Paterno is anything but a coaching marvel. It would also take a fool to argue that Ferentz doesn’t deserve an equitable place in that same fraternity.