So this little tidbit turned up in Mark Schlabach's article on ESPN about the early-season firings of Lane Kiffin and Paul Pasqualoni, discussing Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley's coaching search in 2004 after handing Ron Zook an in-season pink slip:
Some of the coaches on Foley's wish list -- Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and then-Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis -- weren't interested in the job. It didn't take Foley long to focus on then-Utah coach Urban Meyer, who was on his way to guiding the Utes to a 12-0 record in 2004, including a 35-7 rout of Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.
Which was news to me. I don't remember hearing anything about it at the time, which is a little surprising when you consider how many times we've seen Ferentz's name linked College Job X or NFL Job Y. And the Florida gig, even after Zook's tenure, was still a pretty high-profile job. Either Ferentz or his agent apparently kept a very tight lid on this particular bit of gossip.
It's not hard to see why Florida would have been interested in Ferentz at that time. Zook was fired midway through the 2004 season (after an embarrassing loss to Mississippi State and an even more embarrassing public confrontation at a frat house) and 2004 was Ferentz at his apex. He was in the midst of an unbelievable run of success at Iowa, bearing down on a third-straight 10-win season and a second Big Ten Championship in three seasons. Iowa would also finish in the top 10 that year for the third-straight year. It was a run that Ferentz (and Iowa) have been trying (and mostly failing) to match ever since. Ferentz was one of the hottest commodities in the sport at that time, so it's no surprise that Foley would have made inquiries.
It's perhaps a bit more surprising that Ferentz would have shot them down as swiftly as he (seemingly) did. As good as things were going at Iowa, there's no doubt that Florida could offer far superior resources and a recruiting talent base than Iowa. To say nothing of the fact that they probably could have offered a lot of money (in 2004, Ferentz was well-paid, but not getting top-of-the-profession money the way he is now). On the other hand, Ferentz has frequently been linked to jobs with more prestige (Michigan, for one) and/or more money (pretty much any NFL job) and he's (obviously) still at Iowa. (Although the money issue became even less of a potential enticement to leave after Barta backed up a Brinks truck following the 2009 season.)
What would have happened if Ferentz had a) shown more interest in the Florida gig and b) actually been hired by Foley? It's hard to say, although I doubt he would still be coaching at Florida, nine years later, if only because not many coaches last nine years in the SEC. Would Ferentz's philosophies and strategies have been successful in the biggest of big boy conferences? Would he have been able to recruit well enough to thrive in the SEC? Would he have chafed under the intense spotlight of media and fan scrutiny in the football-mad south?
And what would have happened to Iowa? Here's a list of some of head coaches hired after the 2004 season: Skip Holtz, Urban Meyer, Ron Zook, Terry Hoeppner, Les Miles, Ed Orgeron, Hal Mumme, Charlie Weis (!), Frank Solich, Mike Gundy, Dave Wannstedt, Walt Harris, Greg Robinson, and Ty Willingham. Meyer, Miles, and Weis all took blue-chip jobs; they probably weren't leaving their current gigs to move to Iowa City. The Iowa gig (particularly coming off three-straight 10-win seasons) probably would have been as good (or better) than most of those other jobs, though (East Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma State, Pitt, Stanford, Syracuse, Washington). The thought of Dave Wannstedt, Greg Robinson, or Ty Willingham patrolling the sidelines of Kinnick Stadium does not exactly fill me with glee. Or maybe Bowlsby would have taken a chance on a coordinator with a rising national profile, a coordinator like, say, Chuck Long, who in 2004 was the co-offensive coordinator for an Oklahoma team headed to its second-consecutive national championship game.
But none of that "what if" scenario came to pass. Ferentz (or his agent) turned down Florida's interest and focused on the 2004 season; in the span of a few weeks, he capped off one of Iowa's most memorable seasons ever with an unforgettable bowl victory and one of the greatest (on paper) recruiting classes in the program's history. Florida ended up hiring Urban Meyer; I think things worked out pretty well for them. Of course, just a year later Ferentz and Iowa played Meyer and Florida in a bowl game (the 2006 Outback Bowl), because apparently the college football gods have a wicked sense of humor.