I am Fake Kirk Ferentz and I used to teach English.
I am Fake Kirk Ferentz and I used to teach English.
Worcester was no Exeter but I had their attention, the kids, and it was an opportunity to introduce narrative and the idea of the modern personality to those kids still popping zits, sneaking into bars (man, I wish the drinking age were still 18, it would simplify my life with these IC bars), and the rest of it. I mean, you know. Girls, guys. Cars, beer, college choices. You had to find a crack in that wall of distractions, make your points, and wait for the bell to ring.
The key to understanding me is I like to teach. I enjoy the transformations, sure, that occur with this or that unusual kid, and I enjoy being surprised by some kid who has no business -- by all external measures -- turning out as well as he does. I enjoy the maturation of kids and the opportunity to relate to them as men, when they stop being boys and become men.
So. Wow. Michigan. 1998, I'd have not believed this possible. 1999, they so were not calling me. I knew I could do a lot of things, in 1998, but I maybe didn't believe this is where we end up. Michigan. Bo. Yost. Crisler. Yesterday I had coffee with Bump over at Oaknoll, he's doing okay, and he said,
"Iowa City's hard to beat, but, and don't mention this, there's something special about Ann Arbor. It's just the scale of everything you can do there. The assets and tradition. The prestige -- probably has more than any state school other than Berkeley. The networks into which you feed your players after they graduate and go on and work. The 'camps' up north where you can borrow someone's house when you need a week to read and walk. You snap your fingers, the recruits are at your door, pining to be offered. Everything's just a little bit older, a little bit grander, the grass on the fairways at 8 a.m. just a little bit richer. They'll chew you up fast and do it publicly if you slip, but if you win, and if you stay humble -- if you stay Kirk Ferentz -- they will remember you as they remember Yost and Crisler and Bo. And we both know you can win there. You can put them in the Top 10 year after year. You can give Tressel the tremors. Even Bo didn't win a national championship and we know that you just may, there, but never, here. We both know that you had no business doing what you did to them at Homecoming in 2002, and Bo knew that and Lloyd is class enough to know that. Coleman doesn't really know that but she knows you and in that management 101 way she has, she has made two things very clear: the football people get a vote, and if Bill Martin hires someone who embarrasses Michigan, Bill Martin can self-administer the Gary Moeller treatment. That is a lady who doesn't say much but when she does talk, it's probably a good idea to listen the first time."
This is all what I know in my heart.
There was something else Bump said. I wish he hadn't moved to Oaknoll, that was such a pleasant kitchen to sit in, over there on Black Spring Circle, where he would pour me coffee.
"But you're really going to have to decide, this time. You've got maybe 48 hours left. By Tuesday you'll have to make a call. You can't stay here after another round of non-denial denials -- the "that's not going to happen so I don't need to comment on it" or the "I haven't spent any time thinking about that so I don't need to comment on it" -- even the poodle Iowa press is on to all of those polite evasions. You will need to decide, now, Kirk. You've never lied to anyone.
"And you're what? 52? Here's what I can tell you from my vantage point at this sad assisted living hive, booming with the aged like me, the ones slowly loosening their grip on life. This is it, for you, Kirk. This is it. Doors are closing. In three years you will be an "older" head coach. You will never be a caricature of an executive coach, like Bowden or Paterno. You want to be with the guys, coach with your friends, laugh over the pizzas at 11 p.m. on Sunday night with O'Keefe and Parker. Coaches like you can't pull it off forever, and you won't get the chance, besides.
"You want evidence? Of the shabbiness that can be a coach's life? Bobby. Every dream busted, his random illness that let's you in this door, my Bobby's perfect story of a life now a mundane trail of marginal jobs, his wife not even following him to some of them. Iowa man, Rhodes finalist, Hayden's first choice, family loves Iowa City. All gone. When things go away in this profession, they really are gone for good.
"We go through life and the narrative of our lives, if we are achievers and doers and the people who must suffer the rants and envy of non-doers, the narrative of our lives is this act of becoming. We are in search of ourselves, becoming some vestige of everything we wanted to be, back when we were 23 and our wives looked at us not knowing the pattern of time, equivocation, the accumulations of mundane imperfections. We hold, privately and dear, this act of becoming. You have held dear the model of coach that Michigan now seeks. If you say no to this, you may get a call next year from Penn State, because there's no way that they extend Paterno. But maybe not. If you say no, you are closing a door and locking it and you need to be comfortable that here, Iowa City, is where you will be. Where someday you too may sell your fine house and move into this damn Oaknoll and watch your friends slowly collapse and fade and blow away like my memories of Whetstones, of Sandy Boyd, of the paper not being owned and debauched by Gannett, memories when I sent my Bobby off to West High his second semester senior year, the school just a simple rectangle surrounded by fields, no McMansions, no four lane boulevards.
"You will have your own memories in thirty years and maybe, if I'm half-right, you have already constructed the majority of them.
"Besides, if you go, these people will benefit in some way. I have to tell you, when they started booing that Shada kid last week I started wondering what monster it is we've created."
Wow. Just wow. I am a master of finessing the personal, but during that Illinois game when I beat that cheesy Zook for the third straight time, and I realized that I had not, in fact, lost it, that I still have the ability to reach the kids and read the tape right and get all 11 kids to be in the right place on the field at least most of the time -- when I realized that I did almost unload. Right there on television. Got control of that, pretty quick. But that is feeling I haven't had much of the past three years.
So, I'm a teacher and in the seventies you could still teach Twain without all these people claiming racist this or that. What is the narrative of Twain and how does it end? The landscape of Twain is simple: that river is time and each moment is new. And then we light out for the territories, finally, because in the act of becoming we become our young boy selves, again. I am coaching an arbitrary game that is perfect for a few young guys who construct their adult selves, around me. A game of boys crashing terribly into each other, so that men forget that they're fat, or broken in some way, or taking shit for a living at work in order to stay current on the tuition bills, or married to someone who no longer admires them.
It's a game that, with me, is all about becoming.
Time's river: each moment is new. Until it no longer is.
If I am still believing that I am who I wanted to be, it's time I lit out for the territories.
It would be great if all of these Iowans gave me a hand when I come back in a couple of years. But you never know. No good deed goes unpunished, in the end. It might be interesting to demonstrate the game anew for a few of them, the ones screaming at Jake and Adam, when I come back with 60 guys who are all a step faster, and I don't mean in a straight line.
This is probably it, for me. If I stay, I'm basically starting over, here. A lot is broken, here. They want me, there, and I lose the least enjoyable aspect of my life here, trying to recruit guys without cheating and then building them into men and sneaking up on all of these guys who used to think my recruiting base defined my coaching skill.
Bump is onto something. I just looked up and most of the open doors are now closing. They close for all of us. I have 48 hours to decide. Very few second acts in American coaching lives. One last territory, there, for me. My mind a welter of promise, long-forgotten lines from Yeats, Fitzgerald, Yeats. Bobby Elliott's about to get fired again. I have 48 hours to decide.