By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — As he fielded questions about becoming the winningest football coach in University of Iowa history Saturday night, Kirk Ferentz touched on the foundation of his success.
“It’s all about a collective effort, and nothing happens in football unless that’s the case,” Ferentz said.
During the 20 seasons that Ferentz has been Iowa’s head coach, collective effort is the perfect description for an approach that made it a historical Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Chris Doyle, Iowa’s strength coach, has been by Ferentz’s side for all 144 victories. So has defensive coordinator Phil Parker. And defensive line coach Reese Morgan arrived from Iowa City West in the second season of the Ferentz era.
These three have seen the Ferentz formula up close and personal, and played important roles in sustaining success over a long period of time.
“It all starts with core values, and what he believes in,” Morgan said. “We’re going to do things the right way with coach. He’s not going to take shortcuts. Guys are going to learn more than football.
“We’re looking for guys who are tough, physical, and smart, but we’re also looking for guys that have something about them character-wise, and play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder and are not afraid to work.”
Iowa is a developmental program, and Doyle is at the core of that process as bodies are built to play Big Ten football. He will tell you Ferentz doesn’t have a phony bone in his body, which is one reason he has stood the test of time.
“He has done things a certain way for a long time,” Doyle said. “He has impeccable character and integrity. He leads by example. He has coached here in his 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and now 60s. There’s nobody like him in the country that has the unique understanding, the unique fit to the job, and role that he does.
“Everybody in the building benefits from that stability – every coach, every family, everybody that works in Iowa football benefits from the stability of Kirk’s character and the way he does things.”
Parker, who played games in Kinnick Stadium as a defensive back at Michigan State, has called it home for the past 20 seasons. He experienced those 15 losses in the first 16 games of the Ferentz era. He has also experienced those 14 winning seasons and 15 bowl games. That represents the highs and lows of college football. It also speaks to the steady presence of the program under Ferentz.
“When I first came here, I didn’t know Kirk as well as I do now,” Parker said. “He has always had the same philosophy. You have to work at whatever you do, and you have to earn it. You have to work hard and give effort, be a good person and do things the right way. That’s what coach Ferentz is about.”
LeVar Woods, Iowa’s special teams’ coordinator, has been at the heart of Iowa football history. He was recruited by Hayden Fry out of West Lyon (Iowa) High School and he played under Fry for one season. He played his final two seasons for Ferentz.
Woods returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown in the first victory of the Ferentz era, a 24-0 shutout of Northern Illinois in 1999, and he was there to enjoy No. 144 on Saturday.
“Two tremendous coaches, that’s an understatement,” Woods said. “They are two instrumental men in my life. Coach Fry gave me my start here as a player. Coach Ferentz transformed my life as a young man and gave me my start as a coach. I can’t say thank you enough to those guys.”
It was Fry who gave Ferentz his big break. Ferentz was 25 years old, and a graduate assistant at Pittsburgh, when Fry invited him to town to interview for the offensive line coach position.
“The 19th of June, 1981,” Ferentz recalled.
Ferentz figured he had no chance at the job, and was using it as a resume-building experience. Now, after nine seasons on Fry’s staff and 20 more as his successor, Ferentz has passed Fry as the program’s winningest coach.
Two coaches. Two different coaching styles and philosophies. Similar success.
“As a head coach you have to be yourself,” said former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who played and coached under Fry and Ferentz at Iowa. “It’s impossible to be somebody else. It doesn’t work.
“In the end, Kirk has a special way. I don’t know that any of us could have been Hayden. I love him, but you just have to be who you are. I’m glad it has worked for Kirk so well.”
Ferentz doesn’t like to talk about personal achievements. He doesn’t play to the headlines to fuel his own ego. It’s the collective effort he cares about.
“He defers everything,” Morgan said. “What he has done? Oh, my goodness. He’s rare and unique and someone people from the state of Iowa love. He truly walks it, and believes it.”