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Ferentz is Making His Mark on the Program

Ferentz is Making His Mark on the Program

10/1/2002 by Jon Miller of Hawkeye Nation


Alright, I know that I am going to take some flack for the following statement and don’t read anything more into this than what I will say, which will be enough.

But Kirk Ferentz has the opportunity to go from being an afterthought to an Iowa legend in four years time.

In the hearts of many Iowa fans in late 1998, Bob Stoops was THE coach for Iowa. And for the previous few years, most of the Hawkeye faithful had Bob Stoops penciled in on their scorecards as the replacement for Hayden Fry when he finally stepped down.

Stoops was as hot commodity as the defensive coordinator for the Florida Gators who had won a national title. Stoops was on the A-list for many schools around the nation.

He was THE name in a game where names reign (but not on the plain in Spain, where it mainly rains. Sorry Miss Doolittle.)

At the end of the 1998 season, Hayden Fry retired and the Stoops coronation party was starting all across the Hawkeye State. College football’s talking heads were talking about it, too.

But a funny thing happened. Instead of waltzing up the yellow brick road to Iowa City,

Stoops’ treaded a path more on line with the Trail of Tears, the southeastern route that many Native Americans took in the early 1800’s before ending up in Indian nation’s of Oklahoma.

It was a trail of tears for some Iowa fans when Stoops ended up a Sooner instead of a Hawkeye.

Some conspiracy theorists will argue that at best, Ferentz was the third or fourth choice by the Iowa search committee. Fact is, we will never know for sure and it really doesn’t matter one single bit right now.

Stoops went on to win a national title at Oklahoma, bully for a former Hawkeye.

But Ferentz has the chance to carve out his own legend at Iowa. And I mean this year, not down the road.

WARNING: Any mention of the Rose Bowl does not imply that Jon Miller is off of his rocker or that he has contacted a travel agency to ‘beat the rush’ on reservations for Pasadena.

With that caveat out of the way….

Kirk Ferentz, his staff and the 2002 Iowa Hawkeyes have an opportunity before them to be immortalized in Iowa football lore.

The Big Ten race is wide open, maybe more so than Iowa fans can ever remember. If there is one possible national title contender in this conference, it might be Ohio State. Iowa does not play Ohio State this year.

Iowa opened the Big Ten season last week with a win at Penn State in front of the largest crowd to ever watch the Hawkeyes play football. Iowa got the job done playing old-fashioned Big Ten football. There were huge lineman paving the way for a talented tailback. There was total domination on both sides of the line of scrimmage. It was Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler smack you in the mouth football for three quarters.

Iowa is also showing the type of offensive balance that the 1985 Rose Bowl team exhibited. Iowa gained more than 200 yards on the ground and through the air. The 2002 team is more of a run first team and the 1985 squad was a pass first team.

Iowa hosts Purdue this weekend and the Boilermaker defense will provide another test for the Hawkeye offensive juggernaut, a group that is ranked #5 in the nation in total offense.

If Iowa should somehow manhandle this defense and win the game, then they would be one step closer to Pasadena both literally and figuratively.

The Purdue defense is for real. Iowa thinks its offense is for real. Something has to give.

But before you break out the ‘Nothing would be finer than to be in Pasadiner’ in the Mornin’ Hayden Fry cartoon from 1981, there is a date with Michigan State the following week in Iowa City.

The Spartans have been embarrassed on national television by California this year and they lost a game to Notre Dame as well. They looked unremarkable in their Big Ten opening win against the hapless Northwestern Wildcats, but they still have one of the most talented offenses in the Big Ten and one of the best players in the nation in WR Charlie Rodgers.

Iowa then travels to Indiana for a bit of a breather, but then it’s off to the Big House in Ann Arbor to face the always-dangerous Michigan Wolverines. Michigan beat Utah 10-7 at home two weeks ago but bounced back to spank Illinois on the road last week. Michigan also beat a highly ranked Washington team at home earlier in the year but lost to Notre Dame. To say they are a hard team to figure out would be correct, but they are still dangerous and will be favored against the Hawkeyes. If you want to point to a game where Iowa can prove if they have ‘broken the rock’, circle that one on your calendar.

If Iowa would be fortuitous enough to escape through October unscathed and if they did it would mean quite a boon to their recruiting efforts and they could be flirting with a top 10 national ranking, November 2 nd will provide no quarter. Wisconsin will visit in Iowa City this year and they have a very good offense, the kind of offense that could expose Iowa’s weakness through the air and soften them up on the ground with their talented tailback Anthony Davis.

A home game with Northwestern follows and then the always dangerous trip to Minnesota to face the Golden Gophers who were exposed a bit last week in their loss to Purdue.

So we have come full circle. Purdue is the only game that matters right now and Iowa needs to focus on overcoming the challenges they present. Montrell Lowe and a revamped offensive line are capable of running the ball on most opponents. The Boilermakers are always dangerous through the air and their ground attack is all the more difficult when Kyle Orton and his receivers are clicking. Teams are not just piling up the yardage against the Iowa secondary, they are ripping the Hawks in measurements of nearly two-tenths of a mile per game.

But the Hawkeyes have a punchers chance against every team on their schedule.

If Kirk Ferentz’s troops can keep winning the games one at a time, they could find themselves in a legitimate run for the Roses. If they achieved that, Ferentz could etch his name right up there with Fry, Evashevski and Jones. Part of that would be due to winning a Big Ten title, but the other part is due to the void being created by the Iowa Basketball team.

Iowa football is all that the Iowa faithful have to cling to right now.

Their hopes are pinned to the Iowa gridiron. Iowa football is like a morphine drip right now; they are the catharsis amid the maelstrom of felony charges and player defections from the basketball side of the ledger.

Winning the Big Ten title is not your average annual fishing trip, so the adulation would be well deserved.

But Kinnick Stadium is the eye of the Hurricane for Hawkeye fans right now. The sky is clear and the sun is shining and you wouldn’t know that there are storm warnings close by. If this is to be a magical season on Melrose, Kirk Ferentz will be an Iowa legend at the young age of 47 and Bob Stoops will be fondly remembered as good old number 41, not for being the one that ‘got away’.

And he might not have to lead Iowa to California to do that. Any bowl game on New Year’s day might just suffice.

Thankfully, the Iowa coaches and players leave this sort of talk and speculation to the writers and to the fans.

Clearly, their mission and focus is on the Purdue Boilermakers, as it should be.

Hawkeye NationHawkeye Nation was founded by Jon Miller, and later acquired by Rivals and Sports Illustrated. You can visit them at

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