Schwartz: The Ferentz Era Ends

January 3, 2015

Written by David Schwartz

What do you say about the Iowa Hawkeyes following the bowl loss they suffered Friday to Tennessee?

What do you say about a team that gave up 35 first-half points and later trailed 42-7? Do you give that team a green ribbon and say good job for not quitting in the second half against Tennessee’s second string?

What do you say about a program that prides itself on its record of reaching bowl games – any bowl game, really – then uses the bowl game to conduct a quarterback competition that should have been decided last spring or fall during practice?

Jake Rudock vs. C.J. Beathard, wherever your allegiance falls, should not have happened in the 13th game of the season. I’m on the record as being a Beathard supporter, but Rudock belonged in this game, all game. He earned it by being Iowa’s starter 90 percent of the season. I hope he’s pissed.

What do you say when the Iowa coaching staff runs scared and hides those two quarterbacks from media after the game? Iowa football fans financially and emotionally support their team. Media connect the program to fans, so when coaches usher Rudock and Beathard out the back door and media can’t ask the questions that fans want answered, coaches spit in the face of Iowa fans.

What do you say when Iowa goes 0-4 in its trophy games, makes a mockery of itself on national television in a bowl game against a .500 team, and didn’t beat a single FBS team all season that finished with a winning record?

The Hawkeyes haven’t been ranked in more than four years. This season their schedule avoided Ohio State and Michigan State, yet they still finished only fourth in their own division of the Big Ten. The last five Big Ten seasons, a span of 40 games, Iowa is 19-21.

What do you say when you don’t know whether the offensive or defensive coordinator performed worse? OC Greg Davis deserves his criticism, but he gets so much that DC Phil Parker has received a free pass.

The Hawkeyes finished the season 1-4 by giving up an average of 34.7 points their last five games. They gave up 40 a game in the four losses.

What do you say when the future looks bleak? Athletic director Gary Barta told The Gazette’s Mike Hlas that he does not anticipate personnel changes. The recruiting class includes only one player rated above three stars and four below three stars. Rivals ranks Iowa’s recruiting class 12th in the Big Ten.

There’s a ridiculous phrase popular in high school and college locker rooms: hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. But what happens when the talented teams and the untalented teams both work hard? Talented kicks untalented in the teeth.

Despite what many Iowa fans may think, the Hawkeyes don’t own the franchise on hard work. Ohio State works hard. Oregon and Alabama work hard. Iowa State works hard. The biggest FBS programs and the littlest community college programs work hard. Crappy recruiting classes devastate college programs.

Plus, there are other issues going forward:

The quarterback position remains unsettled.

It feels like Iowa hasn’t had a good punter since Nick Gallery.

As Iowa grows weaker, the Big Ten grows stronger. (OK, maybe not Nebraska.) Penn State landed a monster recruiting class and will start recovering soon from its NCAA sanctions. Minnesota is building a strong foundation. Michigan just hired Jim Harbaugh, one of the 10 best football coaches on the planet.

What about Iowa, if anything, inspires optimism?

What do you say to a fan base that includes a subgroup whose self esteem is so low, whose opinion of the State of Iowa is so irredeemable, that it refuses to consider a new head coach because “we won’t be able to find anyone better.”

What a horrible way to do business. Imagine a traditional company operating this way:

CEO: What’s wrong with our software division?

VP: Our district manager makes bad hires, ignores industry trends, and refuses to update our operations manual.

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CEO: It sounds like he needs to be replaced.

VP: Oh, no – definitely not! We won’t find anyone better.

The question is, why couldn’t Iowa find anyone better? Barta has secured state-of-the-art facilities. Iowa City ranks among the nation’s most livable cities. The athletic department obviously can afford to pay a competitive salary for a head football coach. And the state itself shouldn’t be a problem, either. Consider states that have lesser populations than Iowa, yet more successful college football programs:

• Mississippi

• Arkansas

• Utah

• Kansas

• Nebraska

• West Virginia

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• Idaho

These seven states, all of which are smaller than Iowa and four of which are poorer than Iowa, combine to produce 11 programs superior to the Hawkeyes:

• Ole Miss

• Mississippi State

• Arkansas (7-6 but would absolutely roll Iowa)

• Utah

• Utah State

• Brigham Young

• Kansas State

• Nebraska

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• West Virginia (7-6; Iowa *might* have a chance against the Mountaineers)

• Marshall

• Boise State

Claiming it’s hard to build a big-time college football program in Iowa is little more than an excuse to mask other institutional shortcomings.

What do you say after a bowl game in which an Iowa player thought he could lateral forward? In which the coaches installed a confusing quarterback competition? In which Iowa’s best tackle of the first half, as my wife pointed out, was Desmond King accidentally taking out the head coach?

What do you say to a head coach who has presided over the half-decade decline of a program, even if he once elevated that program to great heights? You say the only thing that can be said.

Goodbye.

Look, Kirk Ferentz isn’t Kirk Ferentz anymore. He just isn’t. He deserves a statue inside Kinnick Stadium and a place of honor alongside Forest Evashevski and Hayden Fry as Iowa’s three greatest football coaches.

But it’s over.

Friday’s loss finally swayed me. One more year, I kept saying. He deserves at least one more year to turn things around.

No, I was wrong – he doesn’t.

It’s one thing to lose. It’s another entirely to look disorganized, stubborn, and out of touch.

Relationships end – almost always painfully. Ideally, Ferentz would go out a champion, like Tony La Russa, John Elway, Ray Bourque, and Mitch Richmond. But they’re the exceptions, not the rule. In sports, especially when it comes to coaches, rarely do we get sailing off into the sunset.

At Iowa, the wins aren’t there anymore. The recruiting isn’t there anymore. The player development isn’t there anymore. The assistant coaching isn’t there anymore. The decision-making isn’t there anymore. The joy isn’t there anymore.

Ferentz might still be a good coach, but we’re not watching a great coach anymore. We’re watching the memory of a great coach, a memory we’ve tried to cling to as the real thing.

But a memory, by definition, honors the past. It’s time Iowa considered its present and future.

• Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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