Schwartz: ‘Longest Tenured’ More Than Just A Title

June 11, 2017

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

It won’t amount to any wins or losses this coming season, but it feels … well … pretty cool that Kirk Ferentz is now college football’s longest-tenured head coach.

Bob Stoops held that mantle until last week, when he unexpectedly retired from Oklahoma. He and Ferentz, of course, were hired the same year, but Stoops was hired a few days ahead of Ferentz.

Now, it’s all Ferentz. It’s a neat title: College football’s most tenured coach. Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer once held the mark. Joe Paterno, too.

What does it mean for the Hawkeyes and their fans? Pride. Stability – if you’re into that kind of thing. It means ABC/ESPN and Big Ten Network will use it as a talking point every time it shows an Iowa game, right after they show b-roll of a cornfield that’s as representative of Iowa City as the Pacific Ocean.

But we’ll take it. There’s nothing wrong with a little consistency, especially when that consistency has led to two Orange Bowls and a Rose.

Sure, it hasn’t been perfect. Emergency rooms use film from Iowa’s recent bowl-game performances to induce vomiting in patients. The Greg Davis era answered the question of what happens when a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust head coach hires a pass-first offensive coordinator.

Overall, however, Kirk Ferentz is as Hawkeye as black and old gold. He won’t be around forever. To some, that’s sad. To some, it’s not.

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Whatever one’s reaction, what is undeniable is the rarity of Ferentz’s feat in today’s college-sports landscape. P.J. Fleck will be the sixth Minnesota head coach to face Ferentz. Tom Allen is the sixth from Indiana, and Lovie Smith is the sixth from Illinois.

Ferentz’s tenure – he’ll begin his 19th season this fall – begs the question of how a coach manages to last this long. In the case of Stoops, it’s a national championship. For Paterno, it was multiple championships and undefeated seasons, unparalleled academic success, and an eerie cult-like grip on the community. Beamer never won a national title, but he played for one at the end of the 1999 season, losing along with his quarterback, Michael Vick, to Florida State.

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A Ferentz team has neither won nor played for a national title. The closest they came was the 2015 season, when they likely would have reached the college playoff had they been able to stop Michigan State on the Spartans’ final drive of the Big Ten Championship Game.

Other factors for Ferentz’s longevity include the aforementioned Orange and Rose Bowls, 135 wins and a relatively clean program. Plus, there are the long, giant, coach-friendly contracts that Ferentz keeps getting from the University of Iowa, which make it difficult to fire him even if the UI ever wanted to.

This longest-tenured honor speaks highly of both Ferentz and the university. They have served each other reasonably well. Ferentz represents the Hawkeye community with dignity, and he is well compensated for it. Plus – and this is gravy – in the great Hayden Fry vs. Kirk Ferentz debate, “longest tenured” is a title that even the great Fry never held.

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Is it window dressing? Sure. No reasonable person would ever argue that Ferentz is more successful than Nick Saban just because Ferentz has stayed longer at one school.

But “longest tenured” is a pleasing title nonetheless. It holds meaning. For Ferentz, it’s a genuine accomplishment that has been well earned.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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