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The Seven-Year Itch: Staying Faithful to Kirk Ferentz

The 7-year Itch is a psychological term which suggests happiness in a relationship declines after around seven years. Kirk Ferentz is five years into his third 7-year term as head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

1955 FILM : "SEVEN YEAR ITCH"
1955 FILM : "SEVEN YEAR ITCH"
NO FEE

In numerology, the number 7 represents perfection and safety or security. In the Bible the number 7 occurs more than 700 times and on the 7th day, after creating the world, the Bible says God rested. We mortals have been resting on the 7th day ever since, usually, nowadays, by watching football where a touchdown will get you 7 points.

The number 7 is one of the most important numbers and to prove it a British mathematician once surveyed over 44,000 people to ask them what their favorite number was, and one in 10 said the number 7.

My family has an awesome number 7 story, and it goes like this: In 1977 my uncle who was a gambleholic, among other holics, did something on his birthday that my family has talked about ever since. My uncle died rather young of hard living, so I don’t know for sure if this is truth or myth, but I wanna believe. So, my uncle was born on July 7, 1943, and if you add up the 4+3 of his birth year, to go along with his birth month and day, you have a lot of 7s, and if you’re a roofer and part-time firefighter who is susceptible to urban myths, conspiracy theories and astrology, this means something. Then, on July 7, 1977 (7/7/77) my uncle turned 34 (3+4), and the 7s in his life were just too great to pass up. He headed to the track.

Betting on the ponies or anything that had a winner and a loser was a serious pastime for my uncle, and which horse he would bet on had less than nothing to do with the racing prowess of that specific horse. Bets were placed based on the stars or the names of the horses that day, but on on this occasion, a bib number. At the track on that fated date, 7/7/77, my 34-year-old uncle patiently waited through six meaningless (for him, that day) horse races, but once the betting windows opened up for race number 7, paying no mind to the odds or track conditions or much of anything other than the randomness of that horse’s number, my uncle laid down a $7,777 bet on horse number 7 to win. That amount of money was very likely every penny he could scrape together.

What happened next is both incredible and poignant. On his 34th birthday on 7/7/77, with every spare penny to his name riding on horse number 7 in race number 7 to win, the horse placed, all too predictably, 7th. My uncle was scarcely heard from again. The number 7 which for so long was his true love became, at that moment and forever, his dark cloud. And so it goes with the number 7.


In 19 years as head coach at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz has won an average of 7.5 games per season. In fact, Ferentz has had a whopping five 7-win seasons, by far more than any other season victory total. One out of every four seasons, on average, Kirk Ferentz will give you a 7-win season. It’s up to you to decide if this is a virtue or a sin. For a lot of programs they’ve decided what an average of 7.5 wins means.

On Sunday, Arizona State, a team that since 1978, the year it joined the Pac-12 conference, and the 32nd-winningest football program in America, fired their head coach, Todd Graham. Since 1978 Iowa is the 30th-winningest football program. making the success difference between these two teams, in terms of wins and losses, about .02 percentage points apart. .

Graham was the head coach at ASU for 6 years and in those years the Sun Devils won 46 games, which so happens to be the exact number of wins Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa Hawkeyes has amassed during that same time span. Graham was 7-5 this season, same as Ferentz, yet for ASU alums it was just too much, or rather too little. And so, Todd Graham is gone. Meanwhile, Kirk Ferentz’s 7 win season? Well, it triggered lucrative clauses in his contract that have led to financial rewards for him and his staff, and made possible further bonuses and, most importantly, brought about an incredible level of security regarding his future employment. Proving that one’s man’s 7 win season is trash, but another man’s treasure chest.


It is well known that a bit over half of all marriages end in divorce, and the famous Seven Year Itch theory suggests that the time frame of the greatest number of divorces is on or around the 7-year mark. In the world of college coaching I’ve read that the average head coach lasts less than 5 years (and that number is declining) with a median tenure of 3 years. If you survey the head coaches in the Big Ten, right now, you have Kirk Ferentz — the freakishly long-tenured coach of the Hawkeyes completing season number 19 — followed by Mark Dantonio and Pat Fitzgerald, who were both hired in 2006, and then you have Urban Meyer who will (YIKES!) be entering his 7th year as head coach at Ohio State next season.

After that, no one has more than 4-years on the job. How did Kirk Ferentz avoid the Seven Year Itch?

FIRST 7-YEARS

At the 7-year mark as the Iowa head coach, Kirk Ferentz had accomplished quite a bit:

  • Iowa won 49 games, an average of 7 wins per season
  • Iowa had three double-digit win seasons
  • Iowa tied for two Big Ten Conference Titles
  • Iowa was invited to a BCS Bowl game (lost)
  • Iowa won 3 bowl games
  • Kirk won multiple Coach of the Year awards (2002, 2004)
  • Iowa finished three seasons ranked, all inside the Top 10 (8th, on each occasion)

In Kirk Ferentz’s 7th season the Hawkeyes finished with a 7-5 record and despite a noticeable drop off from the double-digit win season success there was no hint whatsoever of a 7-Year Itch among the fanbase.

According to psychologists, after the 7th year of marriage couples either act on growing dissatisfaction and seek divorce, are still experiencing Honeymoon-like rewards and continue on in rapture, or merely adapt to each other and the highs and lows of marriage and accept their partners as they are as the relationship shifts into a “maintenance” mode.

SECOND 7-YEARS

In the 2006 through 2012 seasons, the 7-years after the initial 7-years, Kirk kept a steady pace of accomplishments, similar in some ways to his first 7-years:

  • Iowa won 51 games, an average of 7.25 wins per season
  • Iowa had one double-digit win season
  • Iowa was invited to a BCS Bowl Game (won)
  • Iowa won 3 bowl games
  • Kirk won a Coach of the Year Award (2009 season)
  • Iowa finished two seasons ranked, once inside the Top 10 (yep, you guessed it…7th)

N.B.: Iowa did not win a conference title

THIRD 7-YEARS

Now, in his third 7-year period, Kirk has again kept a steady pace of accomplishments despite being only 5-years into it:

  • Iowa has won 42 games, or an average of 8.4 wins per season
  • Iowa has had one double-digit win season
  • Iowa finished first in the West Division of the Big Ten
  • Iowa was invited to a New Year’s Six Bowl game, the Rose Bowl no less (lost)
  • Iowa has not won a single bowl game
  • Kirk won multiple Coach of the Year awards (2015 season)
  • Iowa finished one season ranked, inside the Top 10 (9th)

In each of the 7-year periods described above, Kirk Ferentz has improved his overall win total. However, finishing the season with a ranking inside the Top-25 has gone from three, to two, to now one. It is a record, though, that has garnered him raises and greater and greater contract security.


As the college football season rolls to to the end of the 2017 regular season, athletic directors across the country are evaluating their coaches. In addition to Todd Graham several other coaches whose records are comparable to Kirk Ferentz have been let go.

Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M) - 6 seasons, 51 wins, season wins avg. 8.5

Todd Graham (Arizona State) - 6 seasons, 46 wins, season wins avg. 7.7

Jim Mora (UCLA) - 6 seasons, 46 wins, season wins avg. 7.6

Kirk Ferentz (Iowa) - 19 seasons, 142 wins, season wins avg. 7.5

Jim McElwain (Florida) - 3 seasons, 22 wins, season wins avg. 7.3

Butch Jones (Tennessee) - 5 seasons, 34 wins, season wins avg. 6.8

Mike Riley (Nebraska) - 3 seasons, 19 wins, season wins avg. 6.3

Bret Bielema (Arkansas) - 5 seasons, 29 wins, season wins avg. 5.8

STAYING FAITHFUL

Evaluating a football coach and his success entirely based on average number of wins per season may seem simplistic, because wins do not always provide the full picture of success or failure. But few programs offer more avenues for constructing a positive coaching impression than the job as head coach of Iowa football.

For example, consider that Iowa plays 4 trophy games — no other team in America plays in more active trophy games. The Iowa football complex has, as you would expect, a prominent location for these traveling trophies, for all to see.

Iowa also plays in a conference that uses a division model, which provides for a benchmark of success that is short of a conference championship but in addition to the trophy games. Then there is a bowl game on top of all that! Kirk Ferentz has the good fortune to be able to paint a unique picture of success in every season. Think about it... an Iowa coach could conceivably conclude a season with only 7 wins, but a byproduct of those 7 victories could be 4 rivalry trophies, a bowl victory, and if everything fell just so, he could also win a division title.

The more likely scenario of a 7-win season is what’s happened so far this year: 3 trophies and a pending bowl game. The talk of this blog and others has been, “Can Ferentz finally break his bowl losing streak?” as if it matters to the success and failure of this particular 7-win season. My guess is that for a lot of fans if Iowa wins their bowl game this year, the season will have been an unambiguous success. Oh, and do not forget another criteria of success: The major upset of a Top 10 blueblood program on national television. Paul Rhoads made millions off this one alone, and certainly Ferentz’s resume has benefitted from marquee victories.

Staying faithful to a 7-win coach is much easier when the raw win total only paints a partial picture of the success and failure of the program. Kirk Ferentz’s agent, if not the man himself, has smartly leveraged the greatest natural resource of his position, which is to add on as many of the available bell and whistles to a 7 win season as you can. As long as Iowa fans take extra seriously major upsets, bringing home or retaining rivalry trophies and being competitive or winning division titles, as well as securing bowl game victories, they make digestible, if not delicious, the 7 win season, and none other than Kirk’s biggest cheerleader, Gary Barta, understands this fact.

In September 2016, on the heels of an undefeated regular season Kirk Ferentz’s agent, Neil Cornrich, and Gary Barta hammered out the ultimate contract of Ferentz’s long career. According to the contract details obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and written about by Chad Leistikow at the time, if Iowa wins 7 or more games in each of the next five seasons, Ferentz would receive 100 percent of his guaranteed pay if he's fired anytime between 2021 and 2025.

And there you have it. With this contract, likely Kirk Ferentz’s last ever, Gary Barta memorialized once and for all the definition of success for Iowa football — lucky number 7! Ferentz is incentivized specifically to win 7 games. But, within those 7 victories are numerous opportunities which help to create an impression of value, greater, and perhaps impressionistically far greater, than what 7 wins for any other coach for any other team in America could create. And so it goes, at Iowa, with the number 7.

Consider your itch scratched.