The regular season is over (TWELVE AND OH, TWELVE AND OH, TWELVE AND OH) and while there's still some very important football to be played -- starting with the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis this Saturday night -- it's also time to hand out awards to the top players and coach from 2015. And so for the fourth time since arriving at Iowa in 1999, Kirk Ferentz is the Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Here's a list of all the coaches in the storied history of the Big Ten Conference to be named Football Coach of the Year four times:
1) Bo Schembechler* (1972, 1976, 1980, 1985)
2) Kirk Ferentz (2002, 2004, 2009, 2015)
That's it. That's the list. Pretty good company to keep.
*Schembechler also won Coach of the Year awards from the coaches (but not the media) in 1982 and 1989.
Ferentz was previously named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2002 (when Iowa went 11-1 overall, 8-0 in the Big Ten and won a share of the league title), 2004 (when Iowa went 9-2 overall, 7-1 in the Big Ten and again won a share of the league title), and 2009 (when Iowa went 10-2 overall, 6-2 in the Big Ten and narrowly lost out on a Big Ten title).
Coach of the Year is a funny award in that it almost always goes to a coach that exceeds expectations and tends to reward those who "do more with less." Ferentz was on the hot seat entering the 2015 season after a dismal conclusion to the 2014 season (a season that was part of a several year malaise at Iowa) and Iowa was generally picked to finish around 4th or 5th in the Big Ten West and projected to go around .500 yet again. Three months later, here we are: 12-0 overall, 8-0 in the Big Ten, undisputed champions of the Big Ten West division, and 4th in the College Football Playoff rankings. I'd say that's "exceeding expectations" -- just a bit.
Some critics of the Coach of the Year award's tendency to reward coaches that "exceed expectations" argue that the award is biased against coaches at programs with considerable resources. Urban Meyer can't really "exceed expectations" when the expectation to begin with is that he goes 11-1 or 12-0 every year and contend for Big Ten and national championships -- if he does just that, he's merely living up to expectations. They tend to further argue that meeting those expectations involves no small amount of pressure and that a coach's ability to handle that pressure and still guide their teams to success should be measured when assessing coaching performances.
There's some merit to those arguments, I think, but this year at least I'd say that Kirk Ferentz's performance has satisfied both criteria. There's no question that he "exceeded expectations" and has engineered a remarkable turnaround from last season, but he's also successfully navigated a lot of pressure in the later stages of the season -- it's not easy to go 12-0, but Iowa was able to handle the increased pressure and expectations (not to mention the distractions) that came with their ever-increasing success this season -- and still stick the landing for a perfect regular season.
Ferentz's win also means that it's now been 36 years since an Ohio State coach was named Coach of the Year and, yes, this drives Ohio State fans absolutely bonkers. Which is always fun. So congrats, Coach Ferentz. The 2015 regular season has been truly unforgettable and you did one hell of a job of helping Iowa reach dizzying new heights. Thank you for a regular season that we won't soon forget -- and here's to hoping there's still a few more wins to come in 2015, too.