Kirk Ferentz will forever have his past.
The two Big Ten titles, the four double-digit win seasons, the six January bowl games and the multitude of players who he has helped to acquire NFL riches are things nobody can take away from him as the Iowa football coach.
They’re things that represent a spectacular coaching career, things that most coaches never come close to accomplishing, especially football coaches at the University of Iowa.
Ferentz’s legacy is far from being finalized, though.
It’s now hanging in the balance with Iowa having just completed a 4-8 season Friday and with the program having lost 17 of its last 29 games dating back to the latter stages of the 2010 season.
“There were a lot of things that went into being 4-8 this year,” Ferentz said after Friday’s 13-7 loss to Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium. “That’s the objective in the weeks ahead is to figure out what we could have done better, what do we need to change going from here?”
Ferentz was a Hawkeye legend before he turned 50, but his popularity is now on the decline.
The fear is that Ferentz is slowly and steadily destroying what he worked so hard to build at Iowa. Some fans are convinced that the game has left Ferentz behind; that he’s too rigid and stubborn and set in his ways.
That seems like an exaggeration, but it’s getting harder with each loss, with each disappointing season and with each predictable game plan to defend that argument.
I still can’t bring myself to believe that a coach can go from winning a BCS bowl game to being in over his head in just three years.
But I also can’t explain why the level of talent seems to have dropped to the point where Iowa didn’t have an advantage in that category, at least at the skill positions, against any opponent this season, with exception to perhaps Northern Iowa.
Ferentz and his assistant coaches either aren’t recruiting as well as they used to or they’re not developing players like they use to. Or it could be a little of both.
Player attrition has been an ongoing problem under Ferentz, but judging from how few of them have had success in football after leaving Iowa, it seems more related to recruiting than anything else.
The situation is stale under Ferentz right now and has been for a while. Finishing 4-8 and with six consecutive losses only makes things worse with Ferentz heading into his 15th offseason as head coach.
What happens in the next two or three seasons will have as much to say about Ferentz’s legacy at Iowa as the seasons in which he ascended to greatness.
So will the coaches working under Ferentz.
The decision to hire Greg Davis as the offensive coordinator so far looks like a mistake, considering how poorly Iowa performed on offense this season. The decision to promote Phil Parker to defensive coordinator also looks questionable, considering how the defense became an overmatched sieve down the stretch.
But those are decisions that Ferentz made and he must ultimately be held accountable.
Ferentz was evasive when talking about the future of his coaching staff after Friday’s game. He claimed to be unaware of the rumor about Davis possibly not returning to Iowa for a second season. Ferentz also refused to say that he was concerned about the future of his program.
“Nobody is happy about where we are today, obviously,” Ferentz said. “But big picture-wise, no.”
That can be interpreted as Ferentz being in denial, but really it’s more a case of Ferentz protecting the people around him and not wanting to get specific with the media about what’s wrong.
That’s one part of Ferentz’s approach to coaching that should never change. It might make him boring and predictable to the media, but why should he care? There is never a good time to throw an assistant coach or one of your players under bus, and Ferentz has too much class to ever do it.
Ferentz has to consider making changes elsewhere, though, because something is askew within the program.
This isn’t to say that he has to scrap his ground-and-pound mentality on offense, but it’s time to add some new wrinkles, most notably a dual-threat quarterback or two.
It was sad watching Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg struggle in Davis’ offensive system, which screams for a dual-threat quarterback with all the short passes and roll outs.
The Iowa offense under Ferentz never has been a thrill waiting to happen with exception to the 2002 team. But this past season took things to a whole new level of boredom and deficiency.
Losing two-thirds of your games is bad enough. It’s even worse when your team is boring to watch.
Ferentz also needs to be more receptive to recruiting junior-college players, if only to get out of this current skid. His track record in this area, although limited, is good with players like Brad Banks, C.J. Jones, Derrick Pickens and Marshal Yanda.
It’s time for Ferentz to start thinking outside of the box just a little because the game is evolving and coaches have to be more imaginative in order to keep up. That’s especially true for coaches like Ferentz who rarely have an advantage in talent.
The fact that Ferentz has a guaranteed contract that runs through the 2020 season has caused some to question if he’s as hungry and as determined to win as he used to be.
I believe he is, but it’s time to start showing it before Ferentz does more damage to his legacy.
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football