In today’s sports climate, exceeding expectations are everything and you’d better just win. I wrote about this in another article about my opinions on what fosters the expectations game and how we quickly find an excuse to blame the coach when our own expectations aren’t met. It was a general article, meant for the masses, not just Hawkeye fans. It’s my opinion and I believe, as written, it’s hard to argue with. But, I’m sure you will.
Since the topic of missed expectations is quickly sweeping through the Twitterverse with respect to our own Iowa Hawkeyes and Head Coach Kirk Ferentz, I’m going to lay it out here as clearly as I can why I support Kirk Ferentz. I’m doing it in an environment where cold-heartedness rules supreme. An environment where past performance doesn’t seem to matter. In fact, “past performance” I’ve learned, can be debated hair-splittingly with the finest tooth comb and the record shredded with the sharpest of knives. It’s a cultural issue that has become one of my biggest pet peeves of all-time: What have you done for me lately, Kirk Ferentz?
Before I go into my defense of Kirk Ferentz to remain the head coach I want to make sure you understand some things about me. Yes, I’m frustrated with where we are today. Yes, I personally had the expectation of an 11-1 regular season or better and being in a position of one of four national championship finalists. Yes, I bought into the “easy schedule” mirage. Yes, I absolutely loathe losing to a MAC team, an Iowa State team, any team from Illinois, or any team with a rodent as a mascot and I also believe we never should. I’m not a mediocre person. My brain and the way I use it has enabled me to achieve personal and professional success and I understand how to be goal-oriented. In many ways, I’m probably a lot like you. Like you, I have my own definition of “investing” as a Hawkeye football fan and, personally, I’ve enjoyed watching them lately more through my camera lens than without. Like you, if I ever see one more successful fake punt or fake field goal at the most obvious, yet inopportune time I am sure I’d rather be in cardiac arrest. Like you, I don’t like predictability of our schemes and game plans, but I do understand the supreme importance of strong fundamentals and playing mistake-free. Like you, I want to get back to 10-win seasons. Furthermore, I don’t think we should just accept mediocrity and I believe that it is possible for the Iowa Hawkeyes to one day be college football’s National Champion, although due to gut-feel, I don’t believe the Cubs will win a World Series in my lifetime. Like many of you, I like craft beers, and I can tell the difference between a good tasting $9 bottle of wine and a bad one. Finally, just exactly like you, I am not a football expert. Like the vast majority of you, I have never coached a game of football and I have never prepared a team to take the field, neither as an amateur or a professional. Like you, I have never convinced a coach to use my play calling skills and I’ve asked my TV countless times, “why not?” Like you, I watch other teams offenses and I say, “I wish”. And, I’ll say it again: I’m not content with 6-6 or 7-5 or even 8-4.
But here’s where maybe we are different or where I have grown to see things through a different lens, so to speak. I have a fundamental belief that, since football teams are made up of human beings, the differences on the field are attributed to desire, effort, preparation, and execution as opposed to talent and speed. I do believe in the importance of game planning and play calling, but those things can be countered with the attributes I mention. Moreover, get this: I believe sometimes things just don’t work out. I believe in the law of averages and there is no better landscape for the law of averages than college football. I believe that for any team in any state to string together perennial 10-win seasons is an anomaly. I believe that, even in the state of Alabama, with all that southern talent, it’s a very challenging thing to put those market-dominating products on the field year after year after year. Heck, we’ve seen it! It wasn’t that long ago that Alabama and Auburn were both average or worse. Guess, what? It will happen again. When you start talking about making coaching changes, you must consider the risk and upside. I believe there is much more risk than upside at this point in time.
So, where does that leave me with Kirk Ferentz? I respect and admire him. I love the story of taking a team from zero to beating the defending national champions within a handful of years. I believe he has proven his worth (and donates much of it back) and I believe he is an expert of the game. I don’t like the comparison game because it can be shredded to pointlessness. But, if you go to the wikipedia and just pull a quick, glancing comparison between Ferentz’s career at Iowa and Barry Alvarez’s, you will find there is not much difference. Hold on Mr. Naysayer, I’m not splitting hairs with Rose Bowls and Orange Bowls, or the effects of the BCS Bowl of Baloney. I’m talking about conference play winning percentages and the ups and down both have had. Go look for yourself, it’s strikingly similar. Ferentz’s current conference record is actually better at 66-57 while Alvarez’s is 65-60-3. The difference between the two is one left the profession before he could get chased out of town (because it was bound to happen sometime, right humans?) and the other is still looking for his next wave crest so he can do the same thing. We should also not underestimate the record Ferentz has in bowl games against the SEC. If we are to believe the pundits, the middle tier of their teams are always better than the top tier of the B1G teams. But, when you actually play the games, Ferentz’s record against them is over .500. I also tend to rely on the expertise of others when judging someone I have no real expertise in. So, find me a coach that has a better professional reputation in the field of coaching than Kirk Ferentz. Let’s look at the hot B1G coach of today, Mark Dantonio.
Wow, wouldn’t it be great to have him? Why can’t we have what he has? Mark Dantonio has gone on record, practically every season since he’s been at MSU, and said the one program he wanted to emulate in building his own was Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa Hawkeyes. Kirk Ferentz is not incompetent. Over the years he has demonstrated the ability to win consistently and, thus any true expert would say he has excelled in his profession. Unfortunately for us, we just have a hard time accepting the law of averages. Because of his past performance, his values, his integrity, and his representation of his institution, I believe Kirk Ferentz has earned the right to call his own shots. I believe he has the expertise, the desire, and the infrastructure to win consistently again, because there isn’t any valid reason not to believe this, other than the overall product we’ve seen the last few years, I realize. I’m not forgetting the shellacking the Hawkeyes put on Nebraska last year. But, look. Football is football. By the recruiting rules of college football today, you compete only against tradition. As fans we have to realize this and it is the number one challenge any college coach faces. But, once you have your team, you prepare your team and get your 70 young men to gel better, practice better, work harder, and execute better than the other 70 young men for a whole season. If you’ve acquired that special sauce that gets bottled up just 15 or so times a year, you’re a winner.
So, I’m going to give Kirk Ferentz the respect I believe he deserves. I’m going to keep buying my tickets because it’s the choice I’m making until it doesn’t provide me any more enjoyment. I’m going continue to mature and temper my expectations to a reasonable level and cheer like I always have that they exceed them. I’m not going to just knee-jerk my way to thinking someone else can do a better job on a consistent basis and trash talk someone else in the process. I believe it is more likely that if Kirk Ferentz is fired, we will endure more than a few years of a worse brand of football. The Tom Davis Forceout and the Steve Alford Experience tells me we are one bad hire away from years of door matting. To be quite candid, the law of averages tells me that’s not far away, and you might want to ask yourself if you are ready for this? Illinois and Purdue are not that far away, metaphorically. Brady Hoke and Will Muschamp were the hottest names in coaching just a few years ago and landed jobs in talent hotbeds. Ask any Michigan or Gator fan how its worked out to chase out a coach. In hindsight, I’m sure the most teeth-gnashingest of Wolverine fans would love to see Lloyd Carr roaming the sidelines. Ok, maybe that’s a stretch, but you get my point (he did win a national championship, though). Yes, I’m going to let Kirk Ferentz decide when he’s had enough of us and is ready to take on his next challenge. I believe he is already making that plan. If I were him, and I’ve accomplished what he has (what countless others really haven’t), that’s exactly how I’d want to be treated whether I made $4MM or not, fellow laymen.