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Overreaction Monday: Are the Iowa Football Dominoes Beginning to Fall?

Has the ‘Brian Ferentz as head coach’ plan already been set in motion?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 Rutgers at Iowa
Bruce Harreld is on his way out. Is Gary Barta next?
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One week from today, we’ll be entering our first game week of the season. It became readily apparent just how close we are to an actual football season when we got media availability last week not only from Iowa coaches on Thursday, but also from offensive and defensive players. We even got our first look at a depth chart for 2020.

While we didn’t learn much new for this season (we even learned how little we could draw from that depth chart when Kirk Ferentz revealed the reason Cole Banwart, the presumed starter at LG, was left off was just that he had been forgotten), there appears to have been a lot to read between the lines from the last several weeks. Nothing was explicitly put out there, but for all the Iowa fans who have concerns about Brian Ferentz, his qualifications, abilities and nepotism, the Spidey senses we’re going wild.

Ferentz the younger addressed the media as part of Thursday’s availability, marking the first time since several current and former players came forward about racial improprieties within the program last spring that he’s spoken publicly. While strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle was pinpointed as the primary culprit and has since been dismissed, Brian Ferentz was also singled out by more than one former player for several different instances. The independent review conducted over the summer also named Doyle, but other individuals remained nameless with findings sealed in personnel files and no public disciplinary action has been taken.

Before Ferentz got into the 2020 season, he opened with a statement addressing the situation for the first time since the allegations surfaced.

There was nothing groundbreaking or profound in the statement. I’ll leave the analyzing of every detail said or left unsaid for someone else, but what is incredibly clear not just from the statement, but from the entire episode is that Brian is on track to be Iowa’s next head coach.

Since the moment he was hired, that’s been the speculation. That of course intensified when he was promoted to offensive coordinator with almost no prior experience. Now, it feels as if the question is when rather than if. And the when may be sooner rather than later.

Somewhat quietly, the University of Iowa announced a little less than two weeks ago that president Bruce Harreld had submitted a letter of resignation. Roughly five years after a contentious appointment that went against the UI faculty’s recommendations, Harreld will now walk away shortly after agreeing to a contract extension that pays him an extra $1.3M. There’s plenty there to unpack, but the bottom line is change will be coming at the top of the University of Iowa.

While that seems like it’s a million miles away from Brian Ferentz becoming head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes, it could certainly give us some insight into the timing of such a move. Why? Because a search for the new president is likely to take several months with best case scenario being a replacement in place for next school year in summer 2021.

That, by itself means little. Kirk Ferentz’s current contract runs through 2025, though he could walk away at any time. The twist comes from a random Twitter comment that found its way onto our timeline this weekend.

Now that is certainly eyebrow raising.

If Barta were to step away, the stars could certainly be aligning for the Ferentz transition of power we’ve all be suspecting. A new UI president would no doubt love to bring in their own AD, and while many an AD would love to bring in their own head coach, few look forward to replacing a hall of famer.

It’s not inconceivable to think Ferentz the elder might coordinate his retirement with that of Barta’s, such that Barta’s parting action as AD could be to name Kirk’s replacement. I’ll save the conspiracy theories and speculation on Kirk stepping into Barta’s role as AD and stick to what feels like a very plausible scenario wherein Ferentz retires after a highly successful season, Barta then hires Brian as his replacement before announcing his own retirement.

In such a world (I almost typed ‘wild world’, but it’s 2020 and this hardly seems wild comparatively speaking), the new UI president could hand pick their AD, who would in turn have a free pass on replacing Kirk Ferentz. If Brian were to work out, great. If he struggled in the first year or two, the new AD could hand him his walking papers perhaps easier than Barta could (and then there’s the whole ‘would Barta hand him his walking papers if things were going poorly’) as most new AD’s would like to have “their” guy lined up.

The real question is whether the new administrators would actually be any different than the current ones. Iowa fans’ issues with Barta are long and span several years. From lawsuits to contract extensions, there have been major red flags over the years but we’re constantly told it’s worth it because he’s such a great fundraiser. Except when we’re in the middle of a pandemic and actually need the funds and have donors lining up trying to hand over money to keep non-revenue programs alive, then he’s a cut-throat business man who isn’t going to waste those donations on a short-term stop gap when the programs are clearly going to lose money over the next decade.

That style of management is what we were told to expect from current UI president Bruce Harreld. The former business executive was selected by the Board of Regents, who solicited input and recommendations from the UI faculty and staff on the candidates they had sourced, only to completely ignore that feedback (which was universally to hire anyone not named Bruce Harreld) and hire Harreld because he was going to be a cut-throat businessman who would make tough decisions and improve the school’s finances. Now, in the midst of a pandemic that is perhaps more financial stress than the University has even dealt with (exacerbated by declining state funding), the businessman is walking away. With an extra $1.3M.

What’s to say the Board won’t do something similar with their next hire? What’s to say that hire won’t manage to do worse than what we’ve seen from Barta? What if the new AD (we’re three deep on ‘what-ifs’ here on speculation stirred from a single tweet, but that’s Overreaction Monday baby!) simply chooses to hold on to a poor-performing Brian Ferentz or hires someone far worse?

Well that would just be par for the course.