Kirk Ferentz: Victim of His Own Success

Not too long ago the name I remember hearing about for every job was Kirk Ferentz. Every other NFL and major college job was his to be had it seemed. And rightfully so. He took an average at best Iowa program and turned it into a powerhouse going to 4 straight New Years Bowls. Not just any bowls, the ones people actually watch. He was National Coach of the Year. He won 2 Big Ten titles. Then he must have forgot everything he knew. While the $10 million he has made is great for his family, I am sure he'd rather be winning right now.

With the 18 players having police run ins and the major sexual assault allegations lingering, somewhere along the line character was compromised. Whether character is the reason Iowa has hovered around .500 for the last couple seasons or if the downturn has resulted in the higher risk taking in recruiting, either way the jimmy's and the joe's they are bringing in aren't working because Ferentz has proven that the x's and o's do. Now the once heralded head man may be on thin ice. Maybe there is something to be said for 'striking while the iron is hot' and 'beating the posse' in the crazy coaching business. Loyalty and losing have only one thing in common and thats in Webster dictionary.

Ferentz on hot seat at Iowa
Friday, September 19, 2008

Don't feel too sorry for Kirk Ferentz, one of Western Pennsylvania's own who made it big as a college football coach. The hard fall he could take at Iowa because of an alleged rape by two of his former players would be cushioned by the $10 million he made in the past three seasons.

It seems a little hard to believe now that Ferentz, who will lead Iowa against Pitt tomorrow at Heinz Field in a game that could go a long way toward determining his coaching future and Dave Wannstedt's at Pitt, was just about the hottest thing going in the college game a few years ago. He was The Associated Press' Coach of the Year in 2002. Iowa shared the Big Ten Conference championship in '02 and '04 and played in four consecutive New Year's Day bowls from '02-'05. NFL fame and millions were his for the taking. All he had to do was say yes to one of the many pro jobs he could have had.

But Ferentz stayed at Iowa.

It looks now as if that was a bad mistake.

Professionally, anyway.

From a personal standpoint, Ferentz clearly has no regrets -- and not just because of that $10 million, which easily makes him the highest-paid state employee in Iowa. He wanted his five children to have a sense of stability and "to know where home is," just as he did growing up in Upper St. Clair. Iowa City seemed like the right place for that. The four older kids attended the same high school and went to Iowa. The youngest, Steve, is in ninth grade and could end up playing for his dad, as his older brothers -- Brian, a Hawkeyes captain in '05, and James, a freshman center on this year's team -- did.

That's if Ferentz, in his 10th season at Iowa, can keep his job that long.

Iowa has dropped far back in the Big Ten pack. It went 6-7 in '06, losing to Texas in the Alamo Bowl. It finished 6-6 last season and didn't go to a bowl for the first time in seven years. Almost inconceivably, it lost its final game to Western Michigan at home with a trip to the Insight Bowl on the line.

Forbes magazine recently rated Ferentz as the most-overpaid coach in college football.

Even worse for Ferentz is a flurry of off-the-field troubles involving his players. Just as at Penn State, which has had similar problems with its players, there's a perception that Iowa -- specifically, Ferentz -- has lowered the standards and taken chances on kids with questionable character to win big again. Since April '07, at least 18 Iowa players have had issues with the police. Most serious are the rape allegations against Abe Satterfield and Cedric Everson, who since have been dismissed from the team. They have pleaded not guilty to raping an Iowa female athlete in a university dorm last October. Their trial is scheduled for Nov. 3.

Can ESPN's "Outside the Lines" be far away from knocking on Ferentz's door?

The mother of the alleged rape victim has accused Iowa officials of improperly investigating the incident. If there was a cover-up, it could bring down a lot of important people at Iowa, everyone from President Sally Mason to general counsel Marcus Mills to athletic director Gary Barta to Ferentz.

Ferentz has denied any wrongdoing.

The scandal is unfortunate because Ferentz, just like Joe Paterno at Penn State, is widely regarded as a good man with good intentions. The many relatives and friends who will be at Heinz Field tomorrow to cheer for Iowa swear by him. His program, until the past two years, was virtually squeaky clean.

The question now: Has Ferentz built up enough good will to make it through the rough days ahead and the scandal that doesn't figure to go away anytime soon?

The short answer: Ferentz had better win big this season, just in case.

You know the sad truth of big-time college athletics: Winning trumps all evils.

That makes the game tomorrow especially important.

Wannstedt and Pitt need a win because he's in his fourth season and, aside from that glorious Dec. 1 night in Morgantown last year, the Panthers have shown few signs that he has them on the path back to prominence. They had a dreadful home loss to Bowling Green in their opener Aug. 30 before struggling to beat Buffalo. A loss to Iowa could do irreparable damage to the program.

Ferentz and Iowa need a win to build a little momentum going into the Big Ten season. The Hawkeyes are 3-0, but, as Ferentz readily acknowledges, they've "hardly done anything yet." All three wins were at home, two against cupcakes Maine and Florida International and the third against rival Iowa State in a game that was 3-3 into the fourth quarter. A loss to Pitt easily could lead to a third consecutive bad season.

Considering the circumstances, it's hard to say which coach needs the win more.

Ferentz, I'm thinking.

"Coach implores players to avoid potentially troublesome situations"

From the L.A. Times, there is an article about Pete Carroll dealing with every coach's nightmare: off the field transgressions. This article talks about his handling of cornerback Shareece Wright's legal issues after resisting arrest at a house party. With 2 off days, the spare time makes Coach Carroll worried but says the Wright incident is a "teachable moment".

Coaches bare the brunt of the responsibility for the athletes they recruit onto their respective college campuses. Fair or unfair that is the deal. In college basketball we are dealing with 13-18 players. It is much more difficult in the college football side of things where there is upwards of 80-100 bodies to manage.
"It's a tremendous challenge for everybody to stay in line, to keep track of what's going on and do the right thing," Carroll said.

Even the best of kids can get caught up in being part of the college student crowd. Fact is they have to understand that they are not regular college students. They are not entitled to anything a regular student is allowed to do. As high profile athletes and members of an exclusive team, they are choosing to be public figures and as public figures their target for criticism is also open to the public. I tell our guys the second you accept the privilege of being part of the program, you are choosing to live in a glass house. With camera phones and the youtube age, we're all living in a reality show. For example, Josh Howard disrespects the national anthem at a pickup football game and within 4 days 508,437 times just one of the posting of the video was viewed on youtube. Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy's press conference tirade's two top postings on youtube combined for over 1.4 million views.

Rather than going out this weekend, junior running back Stafon Johnson said he would spend the off days playing video games at home or visiting with teammates at their residences to avoid public scrutiny.

"You can spit and that would be in the newspaper the next day," Johnson said. "So the best thing to do during the season, especially on break, is just to chill out. Just relax."

No truer words have been spoken.