IOWA CITY, Iowa - Kirk Ferentz has coached the last 22 Iowa football teams to 168 victories. That puts him fourth on a distinguished list of most victories at a Big Ten school. Only Woody Hayes, Amos Alonzo Stagg and Bo Schembechler are in front of him.
It had to start somewhere. For Ferentz, it came on Sept. 18, 1999, at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes rode a 21-point fourth quarter to a 24-0 triumph over Northern Illinois. The final two touchdowns came on a 87-yard return of a blocked field goal by linebacker LeVar Woods, who somersaulted into the end zone, and a 10-yard run by tailback Ladell Betts, who rushed for 174 yards in 33 carries that day.
Turn the page to 2021. Ferentz is now the Dean of Big Ten coaches, and Woods and Betts are members of his coaching staff. So are two other former Hawkeye players, Brian Ferentz and Kelvin Bell.
“I think that’s a tribute, not only to this state and this program, but Coach Ferentz,” Woods said. “This is home for all of us. A place we feel strongly about and believe in, myself included. It’s fun when you get to work with a teammate like Ladell Betts, who I played with and was on campus four years with. I was with Kelvin for one year. Brian, I missed him by a year, but I certainly knew him as a child and a young man. It’s a lot of fun working with these guys. We have fun every day coming to work, telling a couple of old stories every once in a while and reminding kids what it used to be like.”
Woods was a linebacker at Iowa, and shared most valuable player honors with wide receiver Kevin Kasper in 2000. Woods signed with Arizona as an undrafted free agent and had an 88-game, seven-year NFL career with the Cardinals, Chicago, Detroit and Tennessee. Recruited out of West Lyon of Inwood by Coach Hayden Fry, Woods returned to Iowa as an administrative assistant in 2008. He then coached linebackers and tight ends before moving to special teams. He was named Iowa’s special teams coordinator in March of 2017. “It hit me the other day when someone asked me, “How long have you been at Iowa?’ ” Woods said. “I started doing the math. Fourteen years, that’s crazy.”
Brian Ferentz, a three-year letterman in the offensive line, was named offensive coordinator after the 2016 season. He’s also the tight ends coach. Before that he was run game coordinator in 2015 and 2016 and offensive line coach for the five seasons before that. Bell came to Iowa as a defensive lineman in 2000. After taking a redshirt season, his career came to an end because of injury. Bell is in his third season as offensive line coach, and was recruiting coordinator and defensive assistant coach before that. Bell is in his ninth season on the staff.
Betts, the rookie on the staff, had been the head coach at Pine Crest High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., since 2019. He will coach running backs, the position he excelled in, at Iowa. Betts, who came to Iowa from Blue Springs, Mo., twice rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season for the Hawkeyes. He finished his career with 3,686 yards, second all-time. He was Iowa’s co-MVP in 1999 and 2001.
Selected by Washington in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft, Betts spent eight of his nine seasons with the Redskins. His final season came with New Orleans, and had 3,326 career yards rushing and 1,646 receiving.
“He was an awesome teammate,” Woods said. “Really good running back. Great guy off the field. I’m very excited that he’s gotten into coaching. I think we need to see guys like Ladell Betts in coaching. He and I had a long conversation back in January when he was trying to get into
coaching, and I felt a different air, a different sense, about him. He’s ready for this role. And I’m really excited for him. After we hired him I told the running backs they have no idea what’s in store for them. They’re getting one of the best guys to coach them, one of the best people that’s ever played the position here at this university. He’s a demanding coach. But he coaches hard and loves them up.”
Woods is the sage veteran among those Hawkeyes who have returned to the nest. He said that one key element, Ferentz, hasn’t changed.
“I (first) met him back in December of 1978,” Woods said. “Back when I was young and I had curly hair and Coach Ferentz didn’t have gray hair. But he’s very much the same guy. It’s very much the same message. He’s very consistent. The things he believes in - developing people, working and preparing to be your best, those things - have remained consistent from back in 1978 to now.”
Listen to Woods describe his work with the special teams during spring practice, and one thing resonates. His words come from the School of Ferentz.
“Right now, spring practice is about teaching and developing and coaching,” Woods said. “Trying to improve players and taking some young players and putting them in a position where they can compete in the fall. Everyone’s been working, everyone’s been pushing.”