TAMPA, Fla. – Opinions of Kirk Ferentz tend to fluctuate.
There is at least one national media figure, however, who remains firm in his view.
“Tremendous coach,” ESPN’s Mike Tirico said. “You rarely hear about Iowa’s football program having significant issues on and off the field.
“And that traces back to one guy.”
Tirico is the play-by-play voice for Wednesday’s Outback Bowl matchup between the Hawkeyes (8-4) and 14th-ranked Louisiana State (9-3), adding a Monday Night Football feel to the telecast.
Jon Gruden, Tirico’s MNF partner, will be the analyst for the noon game on ESPN.
“I like seeing the Iowa program back,” Tirico said. “I go back to those days when Iowa played No. 1 against No. 2 with Michigan (in 1985). Even in the 1990s, watching an Iowa team on a regular basis just crank out eight, nine wins.
“And guys like (Dallas) Clark and (Bob) Sanders and (Ricky) Stanzi.”
Tirico credits Ferentz with keeping the Hawkeyes on course, both on the field and when it comes making an impact at the professional level.
Other than the January 2011 outbreak of rhabdomyolysis that caused 13 football players to be hospitalized, Ferentz’s national reputation over 15 years at Iowa has been more about producing NFL talent than scandal or controversy.
“There’s a whole bunch of Iowa players (in the NFL) on a regular basis,” Tirico said. “Some other schools, Alabama comes to mind … players come out of those schools are NFL-ready, because of the mental preparation, what is asked of them from a football standpoint.
“So you know if guys can play for and star for Kirk Ferentz, they’ll do well in the league.”
So, why is Ferentz the subject of so much scrutiny? Earlier this year, a blog in Sports Illustrated listed him among the nation’s five worst coaches.
Tirico, a Syracuse alum, answers with a comparison.
“Kirk, at this point, reminds me of Jim Boeheim after 15 years at Syracuse,” Tirico said, referring to the longtime basketball coach. “Tremendously under-appreciated.”
Perhaps, Ferentz — who took over the Hawkeyes in 1999 — is being taken for granted.
“You’re about at that point where most of the schools make changes,” Tirico said. “You start looking around and you really have to think, ‘Would you really be any better with anyone else?’
“And I think the answer is a resounding, ‘No.’”
Tirico made another comparison, striking closer to Iowa City.
Ferentz owns a 108-78 record in 15 seasons with the Hawkeyes. His predecessor, Hayden Fry, went 143-89-6 from 1979-98.
“To me, he’s also done the most difficult thing in sports,” Tirico said of Ferentz. “He’s followed a legend and carved his own niche.
“People say, ‘We’ve added one more game to the schedule.’ … But I also say there are 123 teams in the FBS now,” Tirico added. “There are few given games, now.
“People go to Northern Illinois beating Iowa (in the season opener). That wouldn’t have happened 25 years ago. It’s just the way the talent is spread out.”
The Hawkeyes rebounded and went from 4-8 in 2012 to 8-4 this season.
Even more will be expected in 2014, which could put Ferentz in a different sort of conversation.
“For many years, his name has come up when NFL jobs come open,” Tirico said. “And I would suspect if Iowa follows up an 8-4 season with a bowl victory and then (continues) next year, it will probably come up again.
“That’s just the cyclical nature of it.”