It turns out the Indiana-Iowa clash this Saturday might actually be a meaningful game in several ways. Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes are a very mediocre 4-4 on the season and a loss to Indiana all but ends Iowa’s shot at bowl eligibility because they would need to win two of three from Purdue, Michigan, and Nebraska.
Iowa has been bad enough this year that there is speculation that Ferentz, who has been Iowa’s coach for about a decade, could be on the hot seat if the team doesn’t make a bowl game, adding some pressure to a game in which Indiana (3-5, 1-3) is favored in a conference game for the first time since 2007 (thanks, Hickey).
Ferentz is even getting the proverbial kiss of death public endorsement from his athletic director, Gary Barta.
Iowa has actually been shockingly successful under Ferentz, though it’s difficult to name any of his starting quarterbacks for reasons other than hilarious over-investment by the fans in otherwise very mediocre players (Drew Tate, Ricky Stanzi, Jake Christensen). The team has won 100 games during Ferentz’s tenure, which began before the 1999 season. He has also coached many future NFL players, especially on defense, and a Heisman finalist, quarterback Brad Banks.
Other than Banks’ 2002 team that got smoked in the Orange Bowl by USC, it’s extremely difficult to name a season in which Iowa was a serious contender for anything. This good-but-not-great ethos is the hallmark of Ferentz’s time at Iowa, though you’d think Iowa fans would be pretty happy with that since it’s freaking Iowa and Hayden Fry isn’t walking through that door.
Iowa’s offense has been stagnant all season, scoring only 20.4 points per game and gaining only 325 yards per game, both ranking near the bottom of FBS. Some of this may stem from a change in offensive coordinators for the first time in over a decade. Former Texas OC Greg Davis has clearly struggled to get his new charges to adapt to his system, which is fairly different from the even more conservative system run by Ken O’Keefe for years in Iowa City.
You may know Greg Davis as the guy who tutored (and got the best from) Colt McCoy and Vince Young along with a bevy of talented receivers (Andre Johnson) and running backs (Jamaal Charles). I, however, remember him mostly as the guy who categorically refused to give the ball to the immensely talented Charles until his junior year when he doubled his career rushing total in one season because he finally got starter’s touches.
The shocking part has been the sudden mediocrity of Iowa’s defense. Missed tackles and blown assignments are not what Iowa fans are used to seeing, which is part of the reason there is speculation about Ferentz’s job security.
The Hawkeys are allowing 21 points per game and 355 yards per game, which also happens to be more than what Iowa is gaining offensively. While these defensive stats aren’t terrible, Iowa is usally a solid, if unspectacular, defensive team.
It’s doubtful that Ferentz would be fired after the season if Iowa fails to make a bowl, though it would mean the team would have to be markedly better in 2013. If Iowa fails to win six games, it would be only the fourth time (and first since 2006) that Iowa was under .500 with Ferentz as head coach. The other two years were his first two as a coach when he was rebuilding the program.
For Iowa, Kirk Ferentz means success, but mostly unremarkable success. While I find it hard to believe that Iowa fans or administrators would cut bait after a bad season, you never know when it comes to peoples’ opinions of how the program SHOULD be doing.
It’s also unlikely Iowa will take losing the stability having the same coach since 1999 brings. Firing Ferentz would also mean trying to hire a young, hotshot coach, most likely a successful coordinator or lower-tier head coach. This would mean, of course, that the new guy would probably try to use Iowa as a stepping stone rather than a destination as well as risking the program bottoming out
As always, it’s all about perspective. Indiana, for example, would gladly kill for a 100-71 record since 1999, which is exactly what Iowa has been.