Hensley: In defense of Ferentz and football

Iowa football has had its share of ups and downs, but in no way are the fans and the Hawkeye program itself content with mediocrity.


Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz speaks into his headset during a timeout in Kinnick Stadium on Friday, November 28, 2014. Iowa was defeated by Nebraska in overtime, 37-34. (File Photo/The Daily Iowan)

On June 25, a Daily Iowan columnist wrote an opinion piece on how Hawkeye fans need to demand more from the football program, specifically out of head coach Kirk Ferentz.

The piece concluded that because of Ferentz’s bowl record of 7-8, the coach is “failing.” The writer added that Ferentz’s 143-97 all-time record is “below average” and that his most recent extension was a “participation award” for “the hometown boy.”

Related: Wooden: Hawkeye fans need to demand more

Good thing college football isn’t based on an academic grading scale.

Hayden Fry, whom Ferentz ties for most wins in program history, had a .560 career winning percentage. That’s worse than the “below-average” Ferentz. Nick Saban, widely regarded as currently the best college football coach in the country, has a .781 winning percentage. According to the typical academic grading scale, that’s a C-plus. Not very good for a coach who won two of the past three national championships.

There were only three schools in Division 1 football last season that had a .900 or better winning percentage. Should all 127 other programs fire their head coaches because they didn’t meet that A-minimum standard? Are all other programs and their fans settling?

As someone who actually covers Iowa football for the DI, I’d like to point out that there is no settling in the program. No one welcomes mediocrity. There were plenty of voices calling for Ferentz’s head after the team won only 8 games in 2016, one year removed from an undefeated (12-0, A-plus on the grading scale) regular season.

After five-straight seasons without a bowl win, no Hawkeye fan was content. I’m positive that fans demanded more. No one cheers for mediocrity.

But 8 wins is nothing to scoff at, especially when playing in one of the most competitive conferences in college football. Last year, Iowa’s 8-5 record was better than 81 other programs in Division 1 football. That 8-5 record is the same as Michigan’s 2017 mark, and many regard Jim Harbaugh as the best coach in the Big Ten.

But what Ferentz has done for not only the football program and Iowa is outstanding. In football, he’s taken a team that went 1-11 in 1999 to 15 bowl appearances in 20 years, including two Orange Bowls and a Rose Bowl. He’s put Iowa football on the map; the team has won 10 or more games five times during his tenure. Ferentz’s “below average” football team embarrassed then-No. 3 Ohio State on national television last season. The year before, the Hawkeyes shocked the country and beat Michigan.

So much for that Iowa Nice.

There are four coaches in Big Ten history with more wins than Ferentz: Amos Alonzo Stagg, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and Joe Paterno, all of whom are in the College Football Hall of Fame. I think that says something.

I’d like to also add that comparing and contrasting the LSU-Les Miles situation isn’t a viable option. SEC and Big Ten football are two different beasts. On one hand, Miles is working with four- and five-star recruits.

On the other hand, Ferentz has built the Iowa program around developing under-the-radar prospects. Josey Jewell and Akrum Wadley were two-star recruits coming out of high school. Desmond King, Shonn Greene, and Ricky Stanzi were all three-star recruits, and, somehow, they became the faces of an Iowa program, appearing in bowl game after bowl game after bowl game.

Iowa football is not flashy. There is no turnover chain. The Hawkeyes have the Tigerhawk, which has become a symbol for grit, grind, and winning. Not settling for mediocrity.

The so-called mediocre head coach that the “Oakley- and cargo-shorts wearing, translucently pale fans” cheer for on Saturdays is one win away from the school record for all-time victories. There’s nothing mediocre about that.

Setting a school record for wins in program history? That’s an A-plus on my grading scale.

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