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The tree of death

Kirk Ferentz has done things his way for decades and it will be his undoing

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Iowa v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Preface: I cannot claim the idea for this column, as it came from a July 2022 email from former BHGPer, StoopsMyAss.

The offseason column I never got around to was a one-for-one comparison of Kirk Ferentz to Terrance Malick. Malick, for those disinclined to cinema (as I often am), is best described as “polarizing” with Wikipedia framing that dynamic as: “The stylistic elements of the director’s work have inspired divided opinions among film scholars and audiences; some praised his films for their cinematography and aesthetics, while others found them lacking in plot and character development.”

I have “watched” one Malick film: “Tree of Life.” I think it was the result of my Dad seeing Brad Pitt & Sean Penn’s names on the cover of the DVD at the local movie rental store. I remember the conversation after he brought it home as something like: “I don’t think this movie is what you think it is?” to which he responded, “Well, we can just fast forward.”

We did.

The theatrical release of “Tree of Life” was similarly jaded by the public at large. It inspired at least one movie house to reiterate their no refunds policy with a disclaimer, emphasis mine:

Dear Patrons,

In response to some customer feedback and a polarized audience response from the last weekend, we would like to take this opportunity to remind patrons that “The Tree of Life” is a uniquely visionary and deeply philosophical film from an auteur director. It does not follow a traditional, linear narrative approach to storytelling. We encourage patrons to read up on the film before choosing to see it, and for those electing to attend, please go in with an open mind and know that the Avon has a no-refund policy once you have purchased a ticket to see one of our films. The Avon stands behind this ambitious work of art and other challenging films, which define us as a true art house cinema, and we hope you will expand your horizons with us.

Malick, as you may ascertain, is not a box office draw. The comparison falls flat when remembering Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa football team sold out Kinnick Stadium for every game before this season’s first kickoff. However, both have found operated in a way where they can sustain careers operating their way. In the past, Ferentz required some sideways records (2007, 2014) to change 5 to 10% before a successful season. He faced no such on-field consternation before capturing his third lifetime contract pre-2022 Citrus Bowl.

Considering it is the bye week, there is no better time for me to revisit that email. Kirk practically teed it up with his “we are who we are” soundbite in Saturday’s postgame presser. It wouldn’t be so upsetting if it weren’t so obtuse. There’s no one more in charge of changing who Iowa is than Kirk Ferentz.

In the 2021 offseason, Iowa had 1) an offensive coordinator who lost his way (if he ever had it), 2) a QB who was constantly overwhelmed, and 3) an offensive line losing its best player and generally young, otherwise. All Iowa did to paper over the issues was hire Jon Budmayr as an analyst to help instill new passing concepts. No transfer portal offensive linemen (or QB). The offensive coordinator was transferred over to QB coach after Ken O’Keefe’s retirement.

It was a double-, triple-, quadruple-down of who Iowa was, which is what makes this so frustrating. There is no reason to believe that this group of adults leading this group of athletes is going to change all of a sudden. The only reason to be more mad now than in the offseason is that the results have been even worse: points/game are down 9 from last year and yards/game are down 65.

Four teams in the conference have made coaching changes since the season started. The three in the last week were directly tied to offensive performance. None are worse than Iowa.

Yet none have the entrenchment of Kirk Ferentz. A $42-million buyout, even in the era of fake money flooding athletic departments, would hamstring an Iowa donor base who can’t (or won’t) rub two pennies together to develop an industry-standard NIL collective. The guy leading his offense into subterranean levels is his large adult son. It merits repeating because as Alex Kirshner described: it’s explicitly NOT a dead horse, but one which continues to live and breath and produce just seven touchdowns in six games.

Like Malick, Kirk Ferentz has found his golden goose (thanks Gary!) where he can do things his way with mixed results. There is no reason to believe things are going to get better with the current infrastructure. As long as he is going to reference last year or 2015 as he did on Saturday to justify what we are currently watching, this is not a man serious about the changes required to lead the Iowa Hawkeyes into the new era of college football.

With a man who has done things his way for two-plus decades, there is no reason to believe he’s suddenly going to start building a football team outside of his aesthetic. We are witnessing the beginning of the end.

No refunds.