In 1988, researchers Patricia and Peter Adler produced the study, “Intense Loyalty in Organizations: A Case Study of College Athletics.”
Although the study focused mostly on athletes, the interesting angle centered on five elements in college athletic departments that breed loyalty: domination, identification, commitment, integration, and alignment.
Over the last week, two objects of Kirk Ferentz’s loyalty – quarterback C.J. Beathard and offensive coordinator Greg Davis – exited the Hawkeye program. Beathard, a senior, completed his eligibility in the Outback Bowl. Davis retired Friday.
The Adler study came out 11 years before Ferentz became Iowa’s coach. But conceptualized differently, the researchers’ decision to tease out a form of organizational loyalty called “intense loyalty” might as well have been written with Ferentz in mind.
Ferentz is, above all, loyal. It’s why his players love him. It’s why his coaches swear by him, and it’s why Iowa fans – even when they disagree with his decision-making – respect his integrity.
Sometimes, however, Ferentz is loyal to a fault. This past week was proof that loyalty should not be dispensed blindly, but judiciously and with limits.
On Monday, Ferentz showed loyalty to Beathard by leaving him in the Outback Bowl even though the quarterback was clearly injured. Backup Nathan Stanley could and should have played. By leaving Beathard in the game, Ferentz reduced the Hawkeyes’ chance of winning and potentially jeopardized Beathard’s future. The NFL, in which Beathard aspires to play, will hold its draft combine next month. Beathard needs to be at full strength for the showcase.
“I think we certainly owe it to him [to keep him in],” Ferentz said after the game in which the injured Beathard completed only 7-of-23 passes for 55 yards and three interceptions. “[Beathard has] had a tremendous career and laid it out there for us game in and game out.”
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The loyalty is admirable but misguided. Beathard was hurt. He could barely move. Ferentz, the head coach, should have taken him out for Beathard’s good and the good of the team.
And then there’s Davis. Davis may have been a good offensive coordinator, but he wasn’t a good offensive coordinator for Iowa.
Ferentz’s approach and Davis’s approach – both valid – were mismatched from the beginning. For Ferentz, offense begins with the run. For Davis, it’s the pass.
The result: Five years, one Big Ten division title, an 0-4 bowl record, and not a single Iowa quarterback, running back, or wide receiver in the NFL – unless you count Jake Rudock, who became an NFL prospect after transferring to Michigan.
To be fair, the Ferentz-Davis partnership produced an overall record of 39-26. That comes out to about 8-5 a year, which is exactly how the Hawkeyes finished the 2016 season. Still, anyone who has watched Iowa’s offense over the last half-decade could tell that something was just … well … off.
In Davis’s first year, senior quarterback James Vandenberg threw for 800 less yards and 18 less touchdowns than during his junior season. The wide receiver renaissance that had just produced Derrell Johnson Koulianos and Marvin McNutt came to a screeching halt. The best receivers coach of the Ferentz era, Erik Campbell, left, and in a move that can’t be blamed on Davis, running back Marcus Coker left the program.
The Ferentz-Davis partnership was doomed from the beginning to mediocrity. That’s what happens when philosophies misalign.
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Yet Ferentz, loyal to the end, stuck with him, even as fans begged and pleaded him to make a change. Under Davis this season, the Hawkeyes finished 12th in the Big Ten in total offense. 13th in pass offense, 10th in scoring offense, and even with two 1,000-yard rushers only eighth in rushing offense.
“When the going gets toughest,” wrote Stanford University Graduate School of Business instructor Alyssa Rapp, “it is loyalty that will keep the ship afloat in the storm.”
True, loyalty is a valuable trait. It’s part of what makes Ferentz Ferentz. But if there’s a lesson to be learned from Hawkeye football over the last week, it’s that loyalty should have its limits when the good of the overall team is at stake.
* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.