Leistikow: What would it take for Brian Ferentz to become Iowa's next head football coach?
A day is coming when Iowa will name a new head football coach. It happens so infrequently — once in the past 40 years — that it’s easy to overlook.
That’s not to say Kirk Ferentz, who will turn 64 before Iowa’s Aug. 31 season opener against Miami of Ohio, is nearing the end of his run as college football’s longest-tenured active coach.
But an end is coming.
One more year? Three years? Five?
Ferentz has indicated he doesn’t want to coach past 70, which he would be when his current contract (through the 2025 season) ends. But he works out tirelessly and watches what he eats and, aside from a little genetic arthritis in his hip, remains healthy and hungry.
"In his mind, I don’t think he sees an end," his wife, Mary Ferentz, said in a recent interview with the Register while promoting the annual Iowa Ladies Football Academy, which takes place June 8 in Iowa City. “And I’m kind of like, 'You’re 63. In four years, you’re going to be 67. In seven years, you’re going to be 70.'
"No, he doesn’t have a plan. And it’s not that I have a plan, either. It’s just … we have to face the facts. We’re 63.
"There comes a time when you have to let the younger generation take over."
Whenever that day does come, of course, the next question is inevitable.
Who then should become Iowa’s football coach?
And when that question is asked, the other obvious one tags along.
Should it be Brian Ferentz?
Bring that one up to Hawkeye fans, and each seems to have a different answer. A few would sign up today, no further questions asked. Some would say, no way — we’re ready for someone with a new last name.
Mostly, though, the reasonable fans I've asked essentially come to the same conclusion.
This week, Iowa’s third-year offensive coordinator — and eighth-year assistant — appeared on our Des Moines radio show. And given how much speculation there is about his coaching future, I figured we should first ask: Do you desire to be a head coach?
Naturally, Brian Ferentz said, he’s thought about what it would be like. You would, too, in his situation. Here’s a Power Five offensive coordinator who has studied and learned the game under two legendary coaches: his father and the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick.
His answer was long, compelling and telling.
Here’s the meat of it.
“I’ve got to tell you, I’m not really at the point in my life where I’m really worried about, 'Hey, I want to be a head coach.' Or, 'I want to do this,'" Ferentz said. “I come to work every day, and I just want to do my job as well as I can. I feel like if you do that, perhaps you have some opportunities. But every opportunity is not a good opportunity, either.
“What I value is the fact that I get a chance to go to work every day with people that I respect, with people that I admire, with the same culture and the same vision and the same goals. That’s a really fulfilling experience. If you find that, you’d be really foolish to start looking for other things. I very much enjoy the job I have.”
Then came the most revealing quote.
“As far as being a head coach, shoot, who knows? I don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “As far as being the head coach at Iowa, I just think that’s silly.
"I haven’t done much of anything.”
Now, it’s true that while Brian Ferentz can deliver some his father’s self-deprecating humor, he’s also become more self-aware over the years. And I believe he's sincere when essentially admitting he’s not yet proven enough to be the Hawkeyes’ next coach.
Fans need to remember that. Those who contend Brian Ferentz (still just 36 years old) isn't ready, he agrees with you.
And he doesn’t need to be ... yet.
His father is firmly entrenched at the top, able to trumpet 37 wins over the past four seasons and a school-record 152 over 20.
But, as an exercise in thinking this through, what would it take for Brian Ferentz to not only become Iowa's next head coach but be widely accepted as such?
There are obvious reasons it makes sense. A former Hawkeye who has spent half his life in Iowa City, Ferentz embodies many good things about 20 years of Iowa football under Kirk Ferentz.
Off the field, a respected program operating without fear of NCAA probation. On it, a "tough, smart, physical" mantra that has led to annual bowl trips and periodic runs at national relevance (five AP Top 10 finishes in the last 17 seasons).
Yet there are boxes that would probably need to be checked for maximum satisfaction from the fan base.
Like Iowa’s athletics director (presumably Gary Barta) being willing to put forth a national search whenever the opening comes about.
Like Brian’s continued willingness to push the envelope, which includes being divergent from his father in some ways.
Like the program coming off a series of strong seasons (think 10-3 range, not 7-6).
But all that said, it really comes back to one primary qualifier.
That Iowa’s offense under Brian Ferentz becomes a consistently potent force. One that's capable of winning Big Ten Conference championships. One that's more of a driver than a passenger along for the ride. Do that, and the rest of the questions will naturally be fulfilled.
There are positive trend lines with the offense. Iowa averaged 31.2 points per game last season, the highest in the program since 2002. Yet Iowa has ranked 117th and 92nd in FBS total offense in Ferentz's first two seasons as offensive coordinator.
There’s a lot more work to be done.
And Brian Ferentz knows that, too.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.
Iowa Ladies Football Academy
What: The ninth annual event allows women of all ages to spend a behind-the-scenes day in the life of Iowa football, including tours of the facilities, drill work and interactions with Hawkeye players and sessions with the coaching staff, including Kirk Ferentz.
When, where: Saturday, June 8, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Iowa Football Performance Center.
Cost: A $50 registration fee (which includes lunch and T-shirt) plus a minimum $500 donation to the UI Stead Family Children's Hospital is required.
Cause: The LFA has raised more than $2.1 million for the UI children's hospital. The first million went toward construction of the building that overlooks Kinnick Stadium. The second million went toward pediatric research. Mary Ferentz, the chairperson of the hospital, said the next million will go toward an endowment for full-time, child life therapy positions.
Honorary patient captain: Jackie Montour of Carlisle.
To register: Visit IowaLadiesFootballAcademy.com.