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By DARREN MILLER
TAMPA, Fla. — The coaching paths of Kirk Ferentz and Jim McElwain intersected briefly prior to Thursday’s pre-Outback Bowl meet and greet at Raymond James Stadium.
Ferentz is in his 18th season as head football coach at the University of Iowa, McElwain is in his second season as head coach at the University of Florida. They will meet for the first time as head coaches Jan. 2 in the 31st annual Outback Bowl, but they aren’t complete strangers.
McElwain was assistant head coach in charge of wide receivers and special teams at Michigan State from 2003-05 under John L. Smith. Iowa was 10-3 in 2003 and one of its losses was to the Spartans, 20-10, in East Lansing, Michigan. The Hawkeyes were 10-2 in 2004 and defeated Michigan State, 38-16, on Homecoming.
“They had this guy by the name of Bullet Bob Sanders, alright?” McElwain said. “I’m just going to tell you something. You could swear, OK, now look, he’s back there and we can go ahead and get him blocked, and we would try to hand it off and (Sanders) was hitting them in the backfield. Or he is standing there and you try play-action and he’s in the middle of the field knocking the pass down.”
Sanders had seven tackles and a pass breakup up in the 2003 meeting.
McElwain made one trip to Kinnick Stadium in 2004 — a game Iowa led 31-6 in the fourth quarter before winning by 22 points.
“I can say this, the locker room wasn’t pretty,” McElwain said. “One thing that stood out is they had a really good sense of humor because I think all the urinals in there were set for 7-footers. We had to have step stools for our guys to relieve themselves.”
McElwain’s connection to the state of Iowa began in 1985 when, as a graduate assistant, his Eastern Washington team lost in the playoff quarterfinals to Northern Iowa, 17-14. The same teams met in the first round in 1992, with Northern Iowa winning by an identical score.
Iowa and Florida will renew acquaintances for a fourth time in the postseason. Florida defeated the Hawkeyes, 14-6, in the 1983 Gator Bowl, Iowa won the 2004 Outback Bowl, 37-17, and the Gators emerged victorious, 31-24, in the 2006 Outback Bowl.
“The Hawkeyes have the entire package: they have a really good football team that is surging right now. When you get a chance to bring the Hawkeyes back, we’re going to take it every opportunity we get, especially when you can match them up against the Florida Gators. This is a classic Big Ten-SEC matchup and we’re excited about it.” — Jim McVay, Outback Bowl CEO/President
“I know our guys are looking to get back to work to come here and play a great Iowa team, one that is coached by a legend in college football, and a brand of Iowa that obviously everybody knows,” McElwain said. “When you merge those two brands, you have the Gators and you have the Hawkeyes, this is going to be a fun one.”
“We’re honored to be invited to the Outback Bowl and have an opportunity to play an outstanding opponent such as the SEC East champions,” Ferentz said. “Coach McElwain has done a great job in two years; they have a tremendous tradition and tremendous players. We know we have a big challenge on our hands.”
Tradition and temperature were “hot” topics Thursday.
“Why is college football a good fit for Outback Steakhouse? It comes down to tradition,” a marketing representative for the Outback Streakhouse said. “College football gives people tradition they can hang onto and that tradition is hard to find. We’re lucky this year to have the University of Iowa and the University of Florida because those two schools have unparalleled tradition in both academics and athletics.”
Gary Barta, Iowa director of athletics, touched on both.
“We know what a great tradition the Outback has, our fans know it is going to be a fun time down in Tampa,” Barta said. “It is going to be a high of 6 degrees next week (in Iowa), so we will be ready to come to town and have a great experience. Iowa fans love coming to Tampa — it’s going to be two great traditions — Florida and Iowa — two great, historic football programs.”
Todd Buchanan, vice-chair of the Outback Bowl, took his turn at the mic. After checking his smartphone, he announced to the crowd:
“Right now in Iowa City it is 22 degrees, so the RVs are heading to Tampa, Florida.”
Jim McVay, president/CEO of the Outback Bowl said the eyes of the sports world will be on Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 2.
“The Hawkeyes have the entire package: they have a really good football team that is surging right now,” McVay said. “Beating Michigan, beating Illinois, clobbering Nebraska, that’s what did it. When you get a chance to bring the Hawkeyes back, we’re going to take it every opportunity we get, especially when you can match them up against the Florida Gators. This is a classic Big Ten-SEC matchup and we’re excited about it.”
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