It turns out the Indiana-Iowa clash this Saturday might actually be a meaningful football game in several ways. Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes are a very mediocre 4-4 on the season, and a loss to Indiana would all but end Iowa’s shot at bowl eligibility. The Hawkeyes would need to win two of three from Purdue, Michigan, and Nebraska down the stretch, and that’s probably not happening.
Iowa has been bad enough this year that there is speculation that Ferentz – who has been Iowa’s coach for about a decade – could be on the hot seat if the team doesn’t make a bowl game. Adding some pressure to a game in which Indiana (3-5, 1-3) is actually favored in a conference game for the first time since 2007 (thanks, Hickey).
Ferentz has even gotten a
kiss of death public endorsement from his athletic director, Gary Barta.
Iowa has actually been shockingly successful under Ferentz, though it’s difficult to name any of his starting quarterbacks for reasons other than hilarious over-investment in otherwise very mediocre players by the fans (see: Drew Tate, Ricky Stanzi, Jake Christensen). The team has won 100 games during Ferentz’s tenure, which began before the 1999 season. He has also coached many future NFL players, especially on defense, and a Heisman finalist in quarterback Brad Banks.
Other than Banks’ 2002 team that got smoked in the Orange Bowl by USC, it’s extremely difficult to name a season in which Iowa was a serious contender for anything. That good-but-not-great ethos is the hallmark of Ferentz’s time at Iowa, though you’d think Iowa fans would be pretty happy with that since it’s freaking Iowa and Hayden Fry isn’t walking through that door.
Iowa’s offense has been stagnant all season, scoring just 20.4 points per game and gaining only 325 yards per game, which both rank near the bottom of the FBS. Some of this may stem from a change in offensive coordinators for the first time in over a decade. Former Texas OC Greg Davis has struggled to get the Hawkeyes to adapt to his system, which is a departure from the even more conservative system run by Ken O’Keefe for years in Iowa City.
You may know Davis as the guy who tutored (and got the best from) Colt McCoy and Vince Young, along with a bevy of talented receivers and running backs (Jamaal Charles to name one). But I remember him mostly as the guy who categorically refused to give the ball to the immensely talented Charles until his junior year when he doubled his career rushing total in one season.
The shocking part has been the sudden mediocrity of Iowa’s defense. Missed tackles and blown assignments are not what Iowa fans are used to seeing, which is part of the reason there is speculation about Ferentz’s job security.
The Hawkeys are allowing 21 points and 355 yards per game, which is more than what Iowa is averaging offensively. While those defensive stats aren’t terrible, Iowa is usually a solid, if unspectacular, defensive team.
It’s doubtful that Ferentz would be fired after the season if Iowa fails to make a bowl, though it would mean the team would have to be markedly better in 2013 for him to survive another season. If Iowa fails to win six games, it would be just the fourth time (and first since 2006) that Iowa was under .500 with Ferentz as the head coach. The other two years were his first two as a coach when he was rebuilding the program.
It’s also unlikely Iowa will take losing the stability having the same coach since 1999 brings. Firing Ferentz would also mean trying to hire a young, hotshot coach, most likely a successful coordinator or lower-tier head coach. That would mean, of course, that the new guy would probably try to use Iowa as a stepping stone rather than a destination, which could do more harm that good.
As always, it’s all about perspective. Indiana, for example, would kill for a 100-71 record since 1999, which is exactly what Iowa has had.