Joe Coughlin

Awful Contract Chains Iowa To Ferentz

Created on Apr. 19, 2013 3:37 PM EST

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has overcome mediocrity — and worse — before.

In his first three seasons with Iowa, the Hawkeyes were a combined 12-24 before Ferentz led them through the best three-year stretch in program history, in which they went 31-7 and finished the season ranked No. 8 each year from 2002-04.

Then, Iowa fell back into relative obscurity, posing a seven-win and two six-win campaigns. But low and behold, the Hawkeyes resurged, finishing at 9-4 in 2008 and 11-2 in 2009, when it beat Georgia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

Now that Iowa has hit mediocrity again, sinking to a 13-season low in 2012 with just four wins, Hawkeyes fans aren't sweating. They’ve seen the black and gold rise from the ashes with Ferentz leading the charge. History says they may be due for a 10-win season, right?

Not this time. 

After the extraordinary 2009 season, Iowa Athletics locked up Ferentz with a huge contract. In fact, the school may as well have chained the coach to Kinnick Stadium. It was a 10-year, $39-million … mistake.

What have you done for me lately?

Ferentz and his contract had quite a honeymoon phase. To start 2010, the Hawkeyes were 7-2, losing only to two ranked opponents. Then, three straight losses — two to unranked Northwestern and border rival Minnesota — put a kibosh on any BCS hopes. An Insight Bowl victory, however, salvaged something.

But in 2011 and 2012, not much was there to be salvaged. A 7-5 season ended with a bowl loss, and last year, the Hawkeyes were never in it, posting losses to Iowa State and Central Michigan, and finishing with six straight defeats, including an embarrassing 27-24 home loss to Purdue.

Since signing his lucrative deal, Ferentz is 19-19 overall, 10-14 in the Big Ten and 2-7 in rivalry games (Iowa State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin).

That’s not worth the sixth-highest paycheck in college football.

According to a report from USA Today, Ferentz's salary is only behind Alabama’s Nick Saban, Texas’ Mack Brown, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and LSU’s Les Miles. Those five coaches have won eight of the past 10 national championships (Stoops' Sooners played in three title games in that time and won a crown in 2000.) Outside of Ferentz, only one other coach in the top 18 in terms of annual salary had four or fewer losses in 2012. It was Gene Chizik, who led Auburn to a 14-0 mark and a national title in 2010. Chizik was fired after finishing 3-9 (0-8 in SEC) last year.

Paying the price

Hawkeye nation is among the strongest collegiate athletics followings in the country. With no pro teams in the state, Iowans cling to Hawkeye sports, especially football. Kinnick Stadium is overflowing every Saturday home game.

But, according to public documents, Iowa Athletics revenues ran $6.75 million in the red in 2012. The cause was major facility improvements and capital projects, but the result is nevertheless a weight on the program.

This relates to Ferentz because his buyout clause may be the most egregious in college football history. If Ferentz were to get fired, Athletic Director Gary Barta and the Iowa Athletics Department would owe their former coach 75 percent of his base salary (about $2 million) for the remainder of the initial contact (until January 2020). That’s more than $18 million. Chop that up into increments and Barta would have to write Ferentz a check for about $225,000 every month for the next 80 months.

Despite bringing in millions each year, Iowa Athletics cannot write that check.

Kirk, Kirk, he’s our man

Many Iowa fans don’t seem to mind most of this and expect the dreadful 2012 campaign to be just a bump in the road, which will eventually just be another endearing part of the heroic tale of Kirk Ferentz.

There aren’t boosters calling for the coach’s head because many boosters remember an Iowa program that didn’t see a winning season for nearly two decades, a span of 19 seasons from 1962-1980.

Kirk Ferentz should be on a seat hotter than that of your black-leather-interiored Volvo in August, but he’s not. Iowa doesn’t have the money to pay a non-employee $2.6 million a year, and there is no serious push from the Hawkeyes' community to get him out of Iowa City.

But a look at this 2013 roster and this schedule, and I don’t see more than seven games that are possible to win. Iowa wins six if they’re lucky and four if they play like last year.

If that happens, with an average of 5.5 wins in four years, Ferentz better be telling his recruits to pack plenty of water because another drought could be in store for Iowa City. 

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