IOWA CITY, Ia. – Kirk Ferentz has been a football coach and a public figure long enough to know that when you stand in front of the class and look out at the school of public opinion, you hope to bat .500. And that's probably optimistic.
Ferentz saw his batting average dip this season, when Iowa's results on the football field didn't match the expectations of coaches, players or fans.
Both Ferentz and Iowa athletic director Gary Barta have acknowledged this publicly since the regular season ended. Dissatisfaction seems to be growing inside the fan base, beyond anonymous message board rants. This goes to the core of Iowa football, the season ticket holders. Barta admits that.
Some of the noise can also be attributed to Ferentz Fatigue. In today's upwardly mobile coaching society, it's rare that someone stays locked in at the same place for 16 seasons. You're only as good — or bad — as your last game. No one wants to hear about the big picture, and past success. It's what can you do for me now, captain?
Iowa will make its 12th postseason appearance of the Ferentz era when it plays Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla. Iowa had no victories this season against an FBS opponent with a winning record. Iowa's record at Kinnick Stadium the past three seasons is 10-11. It's been a decade since the last Big Ten championship. Iowa lost all four trophy games this season. The Hawkeyes haven't been rated since late in the 2010 season.
So I understand the handwringing. And I understand the passion. It's that passion that makes Iowa football a leading topic of conversation each and every fall. A passion that has landed in my email inbox this season, calling me everything from a Ferentz apologist and enabler to, as Hayden Fry would say, a cheap-shot artist.
But there's no debate about this: Iowa never found consistency in all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams — during a 7-5 season.
Here's what Hawkeye reporter Chad Leistikow and columnist Rick Brown are looking for leading up to Iowa's Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl game against Tennessee. Andrea Melendez
It might be too strong to say Barta drew a line in the sand with his recent comments about this disappointing season, and how he felt Ferentz remains the right man for the job moving forward. Barta said it would be an entirely different discussion if he didn't feel that way. If the 2015 doesn't go well, that discussion might head in a different direction.
There's been a lot said about Ferentz in the last five months, and some of the criticism has merit. But there's also been plenty of nonsense.
My favorite is the school of thought that says Ferentz has it on cruise control, he doesn't care if Iowa wins or loses and he's just sticking around to cash in on his $4 million annual salary. If you believe that, you don't know Ferentz. You don't know coaching, period.
Ferentz touched on that when Iowa held a news conference Dec. 7 after accepting a bowl invitation. He talked about perception, and how it would have been different had Iowa had won its last two games — a 26-24 loss to Wisconsin and a 37-34 overtime loss to Nebraska. Winning is the ultimate goal, he said, mentioning the investment his players and coaches make to reach it.
"So to suggest that winning is not important, that would be almost insulting if you said that to any player or coach," Ferentz said.
Goals weren't reached in 2014. The 2015 season will be played under a microscope. But no one wants to win more than the players and coaches who will ultimately determine that success or failure on the field.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.