What's Eating Iowa Football?

By Vico on January 22, 2013 at 12:00p

Beyond a start of a new chapter for Ohio State football, the 2012 season served as the 10-year anniversary of the national championship team from 2002.

Upsetting the favored and undefeated reigning champion Miami Hurricanes, Ohio State's 2003 Fiesta Bowl triumph started what was a decade of dominance for the Buckeyes. In the 10 years that followed, Ohio State had two undefeated regular seasons (2006, 2012) and won five conference championships from 2005 to 2009.

Kirk FerentzKirk Ferentz, in his element.

It started with that 2002 team, which may have been the second biggest story of the Big Ten that year.

Yes, the story of the 2002 season in the Midwest, heading into December, was the Iowa Hawkeyes football program, which also experienced a renaissance. Sharing a league title with the undefeated Buckeyes, and losing only to Seneca Wallace's Iowa State team, Iowa took home nearly all the individual accolades. 

Kirk Ferentz was the Big Ten Coach of the Year and Walter Camp Coach of the Year. Brad Banks, who I still think should have won the Heisman Trophy in 2002, was the AP Player of the Year and Davey O'Brien Award winner. Nate Kaeding and Dallas Clark, familiar names for those of you that follow the NFL, won the Groza Award and Mackey Award, respectively. That team had five first team All-Americans, two consensus selections. 

Their season ended with a deflating loss to USC in the Orange Bowl, which had its own renaissance that carried into the next six years. However, that team was the start of something as well. 

From 2002 to 2004, Iowa won two Big Ten championships and 31 games. Iowa finished in the top 10 each of those three seasons.

The years that have followed have not exactly been great. Minus a surprising 2009 run that saw the Hawkeyes win 11 games and the Orange Bowl, mediocrity has prevailed in Iowa City.

Iowa has won more than eight games since 2004 just twice, including that 2009 team. Five of the eight seasons have ended in seven wins or less. The most recent was an abysmal four-win campaign.

Despite all this, Kirk Ferentz seems more secure in his job than he ever was previously. Until recently the highest compensated coach in the conference, Ferentz' job security is never in question. Much of this is Kirk Ferentz' contract. Kirk Ferentz can never win another game and his near $18 million buyout would still make it impossible to fire him. 

If the buyout is making it difficult to hold Ferentz accountable for the downturn in Iowa football, it is but a symptom. In this article, I propose that the problem of Iowa football is one that is familiar to the rest of the conference. 

Iowa is not doing well in recruiting, has subpar facilities, and an assistant coaching staff that may leave a lot to be desired. Kirk Ferentz' albatross contract has only magnified the scale of Iowa football's issues.

Evaluating Iowa's recruiting efforts past 2002 is difficult. Rivals and Scout's services only date to 2002. It also seems like much of the foundation for those 2002-2004 teams, including players like Robert Gallery, and Bob Sanders (among many others), predate what is available. 

Still, there a few patterns to emerge.

First, it is clear Iowa cannot survive on in-state talent alone. A state of only three million people, Iowa does not produce a lot of talent. Even though it is of similar size to Oklahoma, and even Alabama and Mississippi for that matter, it lacks the contiguity with great prep states like Texas and Florida. 

Thus, Iowa's reach already needs to be extended. At the height of Iowa's three-year renaissance, it had done fairly well in tapping two states in particular for talent: Illinois and Texas.

Texas has produced a fair bit of talent for Ferentz, including the Nathan Chandler (via JUCO), Scott Chandler, Charles Godfrey, and Drew Tate. Since then, Iowa has usually signed about one player from Texas a year. This has not always worked out well for Iowa of late.

Much of the signees have not panned out for one reason or another, including players like Jacody Coleman, James Cleveland, and Justin Collins. If Iowa has struck out with a lot of these players that eventually leave the program, it may need to make it a higher priority to sign more from the Lone Star State. Presently, Iowa has one commitment from Texas in the 2013 class.

The other state that may have been even kinder to Kirk Ferentz is Illinois. Illinois, while not the best state for prep football, is a natural pipeline for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Chicago, the focal point of the state, is about three hours from Iowa City via I-80 or I-88. Further, kids from Chicago have nearly zero loyalty to in-state Illinois or Northwestern, making them open season for any program across the country. 

The biggest payoff of Iowa's recruiting efforts in Illinois may have been 2005, which saw Ferentz sign Jake Christensen, Dan Doering, Tony Moeaki, and Dace Richardson. All four were significant contributors in various ways to Iowa football and Moeaki is making a nice living in Kansas City for the Chiefs right now.

Of late, though, Iowa has not done as well in Illinois as it had in the past. The overall numbers from Illinois signed are still there, but the quality really isn't (C.J. Fiedorowicz is an exception). Of all possible culprits, I think Notre Dame and, yes, Charlie Weis, played a big role in this. 

Charlie Weis did a lot of things wrong as coach at Notre Dame, but recruiting wasn't one of them. Notre Dame's reach has been national in scope, but, for Iowa, its effect in Chicago and the rest of Illinois has made it more difficult for Iowa to gain an audience with recruits that it might otherwise attract. 

Further, I think the cat's out of the bag now regarding Illinois recruits. Whereas Oklahoma was the only non-Big Ten or Notre Dame school that did well in Illinois previously, other suitors have come calling. For example, the top three recruits from Illinois this year are going to Ole Miss, USC, and Louisiana State, respectively.

For Iowa, the message should be to try much harder to compete with Ohio State (which took Illinois' no. 1 player last year) and Michigan, which will sign the #4 player from Illinois and, for kicks, signed the #1 player from Iowa last year

Ferentz may also want to be more open to JUCO players who can and will go anywhere. JUCO players are a big reason for Kansas State's success and Iowa is already home to one of the better community college football programs.

In addition to falling a bit short in recruiting, which is the lifeblood of any college sports program, Iowa's football facilities leave a bit to be desired. Make no mistake, football-specific facilities are becoming the arms races of college football. 

For example, it is easy to think that the flashy uniforms get recruits' attention when thinking about Oregon, but it's the facilities that often sell them. Oregon, a state that has only about 800,000 more people than Iowa, also needs players to come to Eugene from far and wide (including Texas). Seeing the facilities where they will spend much of their time lifting or relaxing becomes an important recruiting pitch. 

It's a big reason for why Oregon has become nouveau riche of college football, and why Ohio State, for example, is doing fantastic.

Iowa's facilities are scheduled for an upgrade. As late as 2012, Iowa had an indoor practice facility, "The Bubble", which it shared with other sports, an outdoor facility, and an administration building. The new facility expansion will have a budget of $36 million and revamp the existing Hayden Fry Football Complex in order to become a more luxurious place for Iowa football. It will certainly help Iowa compete with regional heavyweights Ohio State and Michigan.

Finally, Iowa seems to be having issues with its assistant coaching group. Namely, it may be that Kirk Ferentz has become so expensive for Iowa football that the athletic department is not finding it in its interest to help Ferentz by paying for the best assistant coaches it can find. 

Iowa, right now, spends $2.1 million on assistants, sixth in the conference.

Kirk Ferentz and Greg David discuss their plans for the 2012 season.The men responsible for Iowa's offense.

Iowa has already had a few notable defections after the 2011 season. Norm Parker, the excellent defensive coordinator for Iowa, retired after the 2011 season at the age of 70. Ken O'Keefe, who could frustrate Iowa fans at times, left his position as QB coach and offensive coordinator to become the wide receivers coach for the Miami Dolphins.

I found two other moves, though, to be even more telling. 

For one, Iowa lost its defensive line coach, Rick Kaczenski, to Nebraska in a lateral move. Kaczenski, who is not from Nebraska and had no other connections there previously, left Iowa for the same position under Bo Pelini.

The primary motivation may have been money. The lowest-paid assistant under Kirk Ferentz, Kaczenski got a pay raise of about $50,000 for taking the job with Iowa's new rival. Kaczenski had mostly negative reviews from Iowa football fans regarding his responsibilities for recruiting Florida (related to other points raised in this article), but his evaluation as defensive line coach was mostly positive.

The other move I found interesting was replacing the previously mentioned Ken O'Keefe with Greg Davis, whose credentials have long been inflated for having the Texas Longhorns' talent at his disposal and for being connected to Vince Young. 

However, one man's trash became another Kirk Ferentz' offensive coordinator. The end result was a season which saw three and outs start with two zone plays to set up 3rd and 7, and end with a three-yard out route. Iowa won four games last season, finishing next to last in total offense (ahead of only two win Illinois).  

Naturally, Greg Davis is returning for a sophomore season as Iowa's offensive coordinator.

If Iowa is going to compete under Kirk Ferentz, it could do better to attract higher quality assistant coaches and compensate them well, disincentivizing them to make lateral moves to conference foes.

However, this is really nothing exceptional. Iowa's downturn is highlighted only by reference to its three-year stretch from 2002 to 2004. Iowa's problem is no greater than anything else the rest of the conference is facing.  

The $2.1 million afforded to Iowa's assistants is the median for the conference. Wisconsin is next to last among the public Big Ten schools, which is a pivotal reason why Bert left Wisconsin for Arkansas.  

No team in the conference outside of Ohio State and Michigan is recruiting on a national championship caliber. Further, most programs outside of the "big name" programs in the league — Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Nebraska — do not have world-class facilities to attract the top recruits.

As such, Iowa's plight is not terribly exceptional. The implication is that it is even solvable in the short term, especially if you still value Kirk Ferentz' reputation as offensive line coach, game manager, and teacher of zone blocking. For the most part, I do.

However, Ferentz' $18 million buyout is exceptional. If Tim Beckman face plants in 2013 as he did in 2012, despite some of the added commitments he got from Illinois for things like assistant coaches, he becomes a relatively easy person to replace. Kirk Ferentz, though, was essentially tenured for his 2002-2004 seasons and set for life as an inducement to not jump ship to the NFL.  

Iowa's problems are solvable, only if Kirk Ferentz commits to having them solved. Gary Barta has already conceded all the leverage for Iowa's football fortunes to Kirk Ferentz.


Comments Show All Comments

Codeezy's picture

Amazing article and research. This is the best blog site on the web.

I_Run_The_Dave's picture

But he failed to mention AIRBHG in the article, which we all know is the real reason for Iowa's recent lack of success.

+1 HS
Colonel Quaritch's picture

I second this statement

"The question isn't who's going to let me, it's who's going to stop me." 

TBDBITLinWIScantSON's picture

Perhaps also worth considering is, what the hell did they do to rile the AIRBHG?!?
also like the reference to "Bert". Even people here in Sconsin refer to him as "Bert".


I_Run_The_Dave's picture

Ahhh beat me to the AIRBHG reference. Haha

TBDBITLinWIScantSON's picture

Also, curious how the rating system for facilities works? Have you seen Iowas facilities, or Ohio States? Penn States? Or is it based on reviews/ comments?
Really just curious. Great article. Thanks!


bigbadbuck's picture

I also enjoyed the article.keep up the good work fellas!!!.........Also anytime someone puts the word EAT in a sentence you know Brady (C) Hokes name is gonna come into play..........

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, its a war room

Chief B1G Dump's picture

Getting kids to agree to spend their college years IN IOWA is what's eating Iowa football.

BTwrestle04's picture

Have you been to Iowa's campus? They have some good looking women and one of the nicest campuses I have been on. 

Nkohl13's picture

Where did you find that picture of Brady Hoke in college?

tampa buckeye's picture

um dont we play them in bball tonight? 

bigbadbuck's picture

somewhat resembles a very young Leo Dicaprio

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, its a war room

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Yes, I was trying to be subtle, but maybe too coy.
Question: What's Eating Iowa Football? Which evokes the name of a movie starring a very young Leo DiCaprio . . .
Answer: well, if Iowa football = "Gilbert Grape," what was eating Gilbert in that movie? One of the challenges facing Gilbert was that he had to care for Kirk Ferentz . . . errrr, I mean his brother Arnie.
If I'm not careful, though, I will get into trouble here, which is an ever-present concern in light of today's Great Oregon Cheerleader Controversy . . .  

popeurban's picture

What good is all this B1G Network money if the schools won't use it?  Nick Saben is paid a ridiculous amount and Bama still has money for his assistants.  It is about a financial commitment from the University and alums to winning. 

AndyVance's picture

In short, there is not incentive for the B1G schools to "get better" because they'll get an equal share of the BTN money pie regardless. The only incentive, really, is winning and selling more tickets/merchandise, etc. When it comes to the network money, though, the schools can more or less ride mediocrity all the way to the bank.

Moses Cleveland's picture

VICO, welcome to 11W. I've been an avid follower of you on Twitter and Our Honor Defend. Your tweets always crack me up.

I have an interesting perspective on Iowa football since I am a native Ohioan who has lived in Iowa for 4 years, Iowa City for the past two years, and in July I am marrying a Hawkeye. I will always be, first and foremost, a Buckeye - but I have come to appreciate the Hawks and I root for them whenever they aren't playing Ohio State.

I listen to a local call-in show here in eastern Iowa every night after work and I am persistently mindful of the drastic difference in expectations between Ohio State and most of the other teams in the BIG10. At OSU we see anything other than a perfect season as a disappointment. We lament chances lost in National Championship or BCS games. We are ticked when we don’t land our ninth 5-Star recruit.
At Iowa – they are truly pleased with a 7-4 season and a visit to the Insight Bowl. Their expectations are so much lower than OSU it’s unbelievable. They are still talking about the Orange Bowl victory vs. Georgia Tech from a few years past. It seems they’ll remain happy if Iowa can make it to a BCS game once every 5 years. Therefore, most folks are okay with KF's salary. You will have your random caller who is upset about Kirk’s massive contract, but Iowans seem to, by in large, be okay with it.
I mean they treat Hayden Frye like a God out here. His career record at Iowa was 143–89–6 (98-62 BIG10) That type of record would get you fired at Ohio State.
My point is just to give Buckeye fans some perspective on what the tenor is at another BIG10 school -As a Buckeye fan living in Ohio (an OhIowa Buckeye) I find I appreciate the Bucks even more than I did when I lived in Ohio. I think Craig Krenzel said it best... “The minute we stop expecting greatness from our football program, we become Wisconsin."

Dougger's picture

what an awesome name drop with circle k.. .well done sir!!
and im not that surprised they don't expect great things (not in a bad or derogative way), the feeling I get is that we are more upset about them stinking than their actual fans are! Because I feel they always play  us tough. the end

I like football

Dougger's picture

i'm just going to reference the actual chant that iowa fans use during the games and when they're out partying:
America needs farmers, we don't need you!
Great article though, a lot of solvable problems, except Kirk Ferentz's buyout (which is bonkers)

I like football

jameslee203's picture

Great post!
I think Iowa's plight and that of the little 7(BIG minus tOSU, scUM, Nebraska, PSU, Whisky) is recruiting and coaching.  The teams need to set up recruiting bases and stick to them.  At this point Iowa should be more competitive for Chicago and StLouis recruits.  The fact that they arent is an indictment on the staff.  Outside of 4-6 very special schools, if you are recruiting everywhere, you are really recruiting nowhere.  Iowa needs to pick some home bases and own them.  
Also, if you don't want to pay for a name coach, take a flyer on an up and coming asst or lower tier coach.  Tressel came from YSU! Harbaugh was at USD before Stanford!  The BIG needs to get over the whole MAC coach thing and start looking other places for talent.
As far as ferentz, he has to be a goner.  Like, watch, he'll come up with a Legends div championship this yr. But seriously, dead weight like that could end up keeping OSU out of the BCS or a playoff.  Have a little pride and do you job or move on.  Iowa AD should have been smart enough to put an ISU W/L clause in his contract.

BuckeyeSki's picture

This article had more information than DJK's house had drugs

Banned from BlackShoeDiaries since 2008. Crime: Slander/Defamation of Character Judgement: Guilty

CPBuckeye's picture

Why doesn't the B1G form a committee to identify key areas of improvement that would make the schools and the conference stronger? Obviously football generates the most revenue via TV contracts etc. If you participate in conference revenue sharing the conference should have some say in how the money is being spent. In the case of Iowa, X amount of 22mil should be spent improving the athletic facilities. It makes the conference stronger thus generating more revenue. It's win win all the way around.

okiebuck's picture

Man; great article Vico; you should send it to the Des Moines Register as a letter to the editor!
When Hayden Fry (who has a great coaching tree) was coach; the Hawks had two mini pipelines into Iowa City; one from Texas and the other from the New Jersey & New York area; that appears to have dried up under Ferentz. Great fans there in Iowa; they deserve better.

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

pjtobin's picture

Thanks for the brain food my man. Great piece. Thanks again. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad.