Tuesday afternoon, former SpoCo Radio host DCIII sent our group chat a text with Ryan Nanni’s “We’re Not All Like This” podcast featuring a few familiar Iowa personalities:
So I decided that the only fair thing to do was to go to the back yard, pop in the ol’ Airpods and chip into a net while I listened.
As I hit bucket after bucket, I found myself shaking my head in agreement to A LOT of what Lucy Rohden, Adam Kramer, and Patrick Vint had to say about Iowa fandom as a whole. That’s when Nanni cut in and made a leading statement both DCIII and I couldn’t quite get out of our heads (we’ve been discussing it off and on via G-Chat for the last 24 hours):
“I know how I feel about Kirk Ferentz...but what I don’t have a real good sense of is how Iowa fans feel about Kirk Ferentz at this point in time...”
It was a great question that mustered great responses.
It was a great question that I myself have been mulling over since I came back to BHGP.
If I can be 100% honest with you all, I’ve wanted to write a glowing piece about what Kirk Ferentz has meant and continues to mean to me for the last month or so. I’ve felt drawn to the subject because I kind of feel like this is all coming to an end. Again, being perfectly honest with you all, there are growing parts of me that feel like it could be as soon as the end of this season with all of the outlandish changes happening in the world of college football. As I’ve said before, I just don’t think Kirk Ferentz football is 2024 football anymore and why not go for one more magical season that hopefully gets your son a major college football head coaching job before hanging it all up.
And then there are other parts of me that feel like he could be here another decade and finding his way into a 12-team playoff or two while he’s at it.
God knows there are millions of reasons to stay. And God knows nobody at Iowa is ever going to tell him to leave at this point in his career.
But no matter how many times I tried to put hypothetical pen to paper, I ultimately couldn’t put my own finger on how I truly felt about him. Lord knows I respect the man. I’m more often than not proud to call him my head coach. Hell, he’s been the ONLY head coach I’ve ever had during my Iowa fandom. But damnit if his stubbornness, and his philosophies and unwillingness to go balls-to-the-walls on recruiting 4-to-5 star offensive lineman, defensive tackles, linebackers, tight ends or corners (at MINIMUM) isn’t annoying as all get out sometimes, too.
And maybe that was my answer all along.
That’s when it dawned on me...
When I think about Kirk Ferentz as just a person in the Iowa City community, it gives me goosebumps. While his neighbors might not agree (I’m sorry I had to!), I think the rest of the locals feel very much the same. He’s humble. He’s giving. He’s caring. When you bump into him on campus or at the local Starbucks, he’ll chat with you and ask questions about what you’re studying or how your week is going or your family. When you hear him speak at local I-Club events or his radio show, he’s warm, accepting and pretty damn funny when he wants to be. The way he explains things with his half folded hand moving in a machine like circular pattern makes you feel like you’re talking to both your dad and your grandfather who both just KNOW way more about life than you do or ever will.
When he smiles, you tend to smile too.
He’s comfortable in a way most coaches at this level aren’t. I think it’s fair to say that he “gets it”. You don’t last as long as he has if you don’t have that organically in you.
And because he’s been here for as long as he has doing all of those amazingly important human things, he feels as much a part of my extended family as anyone else. Just like the SpoCo boys, or hell even my wife, Kirk, Iowa and I have gone through some shit together. We’ve seen some major ups and we’ve seen some major downs. I’ve seen his hair turn grey just like I’ve seen our hair start to turn grey. But his consistency to get it right way more often than he gets it wrong has become a fabric of my own persona. Of our persona. It’s not flashy by any means, but it freaking works.
Show up. Do the work. Win. Graduate. Do it right. Skoff. Snort. That’s Football. Teach yours kids how to punt. We’re not the prettiest car in the lot. It’s all 100% Kirk Ferentz. And by proxy, it is all 100% us.
I AM KIRK FERENTZ.
Case and point: sometimes when I try to think about what Kirk would do when he retires from coaching football, I just picture him sitting outside on a rocking chair on a beautiful porch on a beautiful day, gnawing on his favorite bubble gum and listening to the Iowa Cubs on a beat up old silver radio that he carries in and out of his garage...and honestly, that sounds wonderful!
I want to do that right now.
Hell, I was doing my own version of that 20 minutes ago when I was chipping in my backyard listening to a podcast talk about my favorite football team and I’m 35-years old.
To push that point even further - sometimes when I think about the way football was and where it’s going in the near future, I miss the days of Shonn Greene rushing 307 times for 1,850 yards and 20 touchdowns.
There’s just something so beautiful about the ground and pound. Something so proud about 3-yards and a cloud of dust.
I AM KIRK FERENTZ.
Want another example? I started writing personal notes to customers of mine and MAILING THEM WITH A STAMP because I heard he did that for a friend of mine for his wedding day. Do you know what I would do to get a personal note from the head ball coach like that? The sheer idea of knowing that Kirk Ferentz took time out of his day to write a personal note and send it in the mail was astonishing to me. I kept imagining how that would feel to open. It’s such a small thing but carries some hefty weight to it.
So I decided to start doing it myself...
I AM KIRK FERENTZ.
But then of course, I come crashing back to earth and realize that there is no changing the future. You can only accept it. And by accepting it means you gotta play by the new set of rules. And this is where the wedge comes between us.
Is Iowa doing better in these avenues. Of course they are. But could they be doing better under Kirk? Of course they could be.
I know we are a “developmental” school, but is there such a thing going into 2024 and beyond? Maybe I’m part of the problem and why these things continue to change, but an Outback Bowl victory doesn’t carry the same gravitas as it did before. I don’t just want an Orange Bowl every four years, I want to be in the mix for the 12-team playoff every three-years. I want every 4 and 5-star lineman, linebacker, tight end, defensive lineman and corner to realize that there is a major pipeline to the NFL when they come to a place called Iowa.
I want them to collect their Swarm bag. And I want them to help us achieve those milestones in black and yellow.
Does Kirk want the same? Or would he rather shine up the diamond in the Iowa rough and get them to the league?
That jury’s out... but I’m fairly confident I know the answer.
And we all love when that happens. We take great pride in the Josey Jewell’s and TJ Hockenson’s and George Kittle’s and Dallas Clark’s and Bob Sanders (just to name a literal few from our glorious NFL-producing past).
But couldn’t he make it much easier on himself? I mean it’s not like these ranking systems are wrong. Talent gaps absolutely exist and in the today’s college football, Iowa doesn’t HAVE to resort to being a developmental program anymore. They are on national television every single week. Kinnick Stadium is on FULL display and it’s fucking awesome. And now these kids will be playing coast-to-coast.
Not just ho-hum Iowa City.
Does he get that? Does he care?
Why do I feel so bad having these thoughts? Why is there a constant pull between loving the consistency yet always craving more?
I AM THE PROBLEM.
He could retire at the end of this season and everything I’ve known Iowa Football to be can crumble.
But he could also retire tomorrow and everything I know Iowa Football COULD be could manifest itself in a beautiful way.
I AM THE PROBLEM.
See... it’s nuanced.
That’s why I ultimately think the “family” comparison is the most fair when it comes to my feelings. Kirk is a part of my family. He always will be and what he’s done as the head coach of my favorite football team will impact me for the rest of my life. He’s created a foundation of success for hundreds of thousands of people that have gone through his program as well as simply watched it from the stands. And because he’s part of the family, we can crack the jokes. We can make fun of him just as much as we can love him. We can be angry with him just as often as we can be happy with him. We can question him just as much as we can applaud him.
That’s just how families operate.
But you better believe that when outsiders start doing the same, it’s very much an issue. It’s like when your friends make fun of your brother or sister the way you make fun of your brother or sister. I can say what I want but you can’t...
Because you’re just not part of the family.