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Hawkeye Football: Brian Ferentz Contract Amendment as Bungled as Iowa’s Offense

Iowa stayed on brand in announcing changes to offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s contract.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa
Should Brian Ferentz start packing some things up?
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday afternoon, the Iowa Hawkeyes announced that offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz had signed an amended contract. Most places, that would not be major news. Then again, most places would not have retained an offensive coordinator whose unit finished dead last amongst its peer group (power five schools). Most places would not have hired an offensive coordinator whose father was the head coach. Doing so, it would seem, might make it hard for the head coach to be objective in judging the performance of the OC.

Yet here we are.

Beyond the absurdity of the situation, the press release and its context only make things seem more absurd. The news dropped late Monday afternoon, but rumors of your traditional Iowa Athletics Friday Afternoon New Dump had been swirling since before Kirk Ferentz addressed the media last Wednesday. Ostensibly, the amended contract, or at the very least that one was forthcoming, was known to both Kirk Ferentz and Gary Barta when they addressed the media nearly a week ago. Neither thought to mention anything about it during their prepared remarks, but in retrospect some of the commentary seems like laughable foreshadowing of the farce that was to come.

Instead, the news was held back for Friday afternoon when the contract was signed by both Barta and OC Brian Ferentz. However, University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson didn’t sign the amendment on Friday. Thus, burying the news on late Friday afternoon before a weekend went out the window and instead the news was pushed to late Monday. Classic Iowa AD execution.

As for the contract amendment itself, the details are somehow simultaneously hilarious, disheartening and understandable.

On the surface, the wording of the release makes the entire thing appear to be another laughable ruse in the house of nepotism. A 5% reduction in salary to an employee earning $900,000 per year is not a meaningful stick to swing and the specified targets are flat out laughable. As virtually everyone was quick to point out, they set an incredibly low bar. The seven win target is a metric Iowa has hit every year since 2012 (save for the COVID-shortened season in 2020). And the 25 point per game target would put Iowa just below the middle of the pack nationally. It’s a number Iowa has hit 14 of the last 20 years with two of those misses coming in the last two seasons.

Given the wording of the press release, this is simply another rubber stamp from Gary Barta to give Brian his $50,000 back in 2024 and justify not taking any action this offseason.

However, one again the Iowa AD appears to have totally bungled something that was incredibly difficult to bungle. Those “Designated Performance Objectives” with “financial incentives” are not that at all when reading the full contract amendment.

In actuality, the verbiage states that Brian’s contract is now for one year, ending June 30th 2024, based on the amendment. If those “Designated Performance Objectives” are not met in 2024, the contract is not renewed. In other words, if Iowa doesn’t score 25 points per game AND win at least seven games in 2023, Brian Ferentz is fired. Automatically.

That sounds much more reasonable than the way things have been presented. Granted, the bar is still quite low. As noted, that really only means Iowa needs to finish top-half nationally in points per game. Furthermore, the points per game metric does not back out scoring by the defense or special teams. It’s a poor measure of true offensive performance plain and simple. But it is a minimum target to stay employed rather than a financial incentive for higher pay.

Which is to say this is a start. For most of 2022, Hawkeye fans bemoaned the fact that with just an average offense, Iowa was a top-10 team given their elite defense and special teams. That can be said most years. As Kirk Ferentz pointed out in his presser last week, the Hawkeyes are 55-3 in games where they score just 24 points (again, below the midpoint nationally) over the last five years.

Now that’s not an aspiration but a minimum threshold for Iowa’s offensive coordinator to remain employed.

The story, of course, will be much more about the journey than the destination in 2023. If the Hawkeyes finish at or above those minimum requirements with, say, 7 wins and 25.1 points per game buoyed by scores run up against Utah State, Western Michigan and other low-end opponents, the “Designated Performance Objectives” will have saved Brian’s job but not achieved their true objective.

Given the soft schedule (Iowa’s other non-conference game is at Iowa State and the Hawkeyes will face Penn State, Michigan State and Rutgers from the Big Ten East) and the influx of transfer portal talent this offseason, not achieving the targets seems highly improbable. But it also means Iowa fans should have a more enjoyable ride in 2023 than in 2022 regardless of changes Brian Ferentz makes to calling plays.