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By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa --
Iowa lost 15 of its first 16 football games under head coach Kirk Ferentz
"You could find some negative things to point out," said Ferentz, who replaced Hayden Fry in 1999. "Initially, that was not hard."
One victory in 16 games makes the 2002 season more incredible and it made the scene at the Metrodome in Minneapolis on Nov. 16, 2002, a pinch-me moment.
Iowa crushed Minnesota, 45-21, to finish 8-0 in Big Ten play and earn a piece of its first league championship since 1990. Three years earlier, the Hawkeyes had gone 0-8.
Some of the estimated 25,000 Iowa fans in attendance celebrated by tearing down the goalpost at the south end of the field before trying to carry it out of the Metrodome.
"I have a good friend, Paul Dunn, who worked with me at Maine," Ferentz recalled. "He called me that night and he just got the biggest kick out of that. He said, 'I've never seen that, in all my years. I've never seen the visiting team tear down the home team's goalpost. And then they tried to take it out of there.' He laughed at that, too. He said, 'You guys haven't figured out those revolving doors yet.'"
Iowa quarterback Brad Banks had just completed a similar rags-to-riches story. Recruited out of Hines Community College in Mississippi, Banks saw limited duty behind Kyle McCann in 2001. In a 32-26 loss to No. 8 Michigan, he had three carries for 19 yards. On one of them, he had scrambled, ran toward the first-down marker, and inexplicably stepped out-of-bounds short of it.
"The whole stadium is collectively like…" Ferentz said with a sigh. "What did he do?"
Banks was named the starting quarterback in 2002. After a 2-0 start and a 24-7 halftime lead against Iowa State, the Cyclones rallied for a 36-31 victory.
"It couldn't have gone any worse for any one player than it did for him against Iowa State the second half," Ferentz said.
Ferentz called his former coach and mentor, Joe Moore, before leaving Kinnick Stadium.
"Oh, boy, that was a stupid thing to do," Ferentz said.
Moore offered his unvarnished critique of what Ferentz had done wrong.
"I think I was the last guy out of the locker room that night," Ferentz said. "I know how I was feeling and I think I know how he (Banks) felt. For him to come back and do what he did from that point on, to me that's the best part of this story. You talk about resiliency and finding a way to dig deep, he did."
Banks ran for two touchdowns, passed for two more, and directed an offense that put up 465 yards against the Gophers.
Banks finished second in the Heisman Trophy race. He was named The Associated Press National Player of the Year, an All-American, the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year, and won the Davey O'Brien Award that goes to the nation's top quarterback.
"In my mind, he's one of the greatest stories in college football," said Ferentz, who was named AP National Coach of the Year after orchestrating that dramatic four-season turnaround.
Banks was not the only Hawkeye player to reap rewards from that 11-2 season and a No. 8 ranking in the final AP poll.
There were 11 first-team All-Big Ten honorees on that team: Banks, Dallas Clark, who also won the John Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end, placekicker Nate Kaeding, a finalist for the Lou Groza Award he had won as a junior, guard Eric Steinbach, the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, running back Fred Russell, center Bruce Nelson, offensive tackle Robert Gallery, safety Bob Sanders, defensive end Howard Hodges, defensive tackle Colin Cole, and linebacker Fred Barr.
"All you had to do was go back two years prior to that and nobody would have predicted that for those players, or any of the recognition or honors that came," Ferentz said. "Nobody would have looked into their crystal ball and seen that. I think that was probably the best part about it."
Ferentz points to Nelson as an example of the growth the program made in just a few seasons.
"A guy like Bruce Nelson, who was fourth- or fifth-team tight end when we got here in the spring of 1999," Ferentz said. "His ascension, and the career he had, he was a four-year starter who got beat up a lot his first year. By his junior and senior years he was dishing it out to other people. He was representative of that whole team."
A program that was 1-10 in Ferentz's first season had stepping stones along the way.
There was a 21-16 home victory over No. 25 Michigan State in 2000, Ferentz's first Big Ten win. That year also saw a 26-23 double-overtime victory at Penn State and a 27-17 upset of No. 18 Northwestern at Kinnick.
Iowa went 4-4 in the Big Ten in 2001 and finished 7-5 after a victory over Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl. Joe Moore was on the sidelines for that one.
"A personal highlight for me," Ferentz said.
In 1990, Maine lost to Youngstown State to finish Ferentz's first season as head coach. He remembered listening to some of the Penguin players, who finished the regular season 11-0 after being 4-7 three years earlier.
"One of their seniors was really impressive as he talked about that journey," Ferentz said. "Little did I know we would get to go through the same thing 12 years later."