The year is 2012. Following an abysmal football campaign that saw the Iowa Hawkeyes go 4-8, one could see the torches and pitchforks lighting the way for the head of Kirk Ferentz all the way down Dubuque street.
The surly throng of Iowa fans didn’t get their wish. And there is one thing, and one thing only to thank for that: the buyout clause in the Ferentz contract. It stipulated the coach would be getting paid over $16 million or so (give or take a couple zeroes) if he were canned at that time.
Flash forward to the present. Coming off the heels of a 12-2 football season that saw Iowa reach the Rose Bowl, the very coach whose contract was criticized head-to-toe by everyone with a keyboard, has… well … gotten a shiny new contract that will surely be ridiculed, for it is even more preposterous than the piece of paper that preceded it.
Ferentz had four years left on his previous agreement with the school, which paid him about $4 million a year. Now, he’ll be making $4.5 million a year through 2025, or whenever he decides to retire and hand the reigns to his son Brian, whom this contract more or less names as the next coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes football team. The new contract allows Kirk to leave Iowa on his own terms, which is as sure a sign as any of having the athletic director in your pocket.
This contract is a declaration of stability. It is a statement of comfort, complacency, competence, familiarity and safety and any other conclusion is simply an afterthought. This contract says Iowa may not get the on-field success of the Harbaughs, Meyers or Sabans of the world, but it also won’t get the distractions or derisions that come with the Briles, Fishers or Freezes. The dealer is showing 12 and Iowa is staying on a soft 17.
If Kirk were to serve the entire length of his extension, he would be 70 years-old and the fourth-longest tenured coach in FBS history. With the stroke of a pen he has the potential to go from punchline to institution. Or punchline to obscenely wealthy punchline, pending on how 10 more football seasons pan out.
Here's the new buyout. I think it's weirder. pic.twitter.com/Z8XNPfOoIW— marcmorehouse (@marcmorehouse) September 6, 2016
The verbiage in that buyout clause is similar to that of the previous contract, which is just insane. It is a testament to the arrogance of Gary Barta and his being content with above-average while getting to flirt with greatness every now and then. It also more or less states, well, there won’t be a buyout.
And you know what? I’m OK with all of that. This could be worse. We could be shuffling from coach to coach, in a football limbo like 90 percent of the teams in the country. Do I wish Iowa was in the position where nine wins was a fireable offense? Sure, but that’s just not realistic.
Honestly, when you look at the Big Ten West, who is in a better situation coaching-wise? No one. Look to the East, and you see Harbaugh, Dantonio and Meyer, pending Meyer continues a clean bill of health. That’s pretty damn good company to be in. In a world where James Franklin is making $4.4 million a year, Kirk is highway robbery. Iowa perennially ranks in the top-10 for athletic program revenues, and you can bet the football program (and our support of it) has something to do with that.
Just before the 2013 season, I asked an NFL agent what he thought of the contract and buyout. He told me Kirk could probably get himself an even more lopsided deal if he wanted. Well, here it is. Iowa could do a hell of a lot worse, and only marginally better. That is what its paying for.
You can get hung up on the buyout all you want, and rightfully so. But it is only cosmetic at this point, and quite frankly, I believe Kirk will retire before that button even gets close to being pushed.
In 17 years under Ferentz, we are looking at five top-10 finishes, 13 bowl appearances, six bowl wins, two B1G titles, and one B1G title game appearance. He just finished up the only 12-0 regular season in school history, and has the chance to repeat that again this year. Iowa is looking at perhaps the best recruiting class its ever had, and stability might just be the hardest thing to sell in the current landscape of college athletics as a whole, not just football.
Iowa has the facilities to compete with anyone. It has the culture, stadium, and fans to compete with anyone. It has a coaching staff and strength coach that are amongst the best in college football. If we’re being realistic, Iowa’s academics line up with just about every public institution in the country. All the pieces are there, it just needs a hell of a salesman and director.
No other program has a Kirk Ferentz, and that’s why he’s paid like a unicorn.