'Kirk Ferentz, he was right': Iowa men 9-0 since coach's letter

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Make of it what you will, but Iowa hasn’t lost a basketball game since Kirk Ferentz penned a letter of support to Fran McCaffery.

The message from the 17th-year head football coach came after Iowa’s 83-82 basketball loss at then-No. 4 Iowa State, in which the Hawkeyes blew a 20-point second-half lead. Ferentz encouraged McCaffery and, by extension, his players, not to let one painful loss define their season.

Analysis: Sky isn't falling for Hawkeyes after tough loss

“They're getting ready to play in the Rose Bowl, and he wrote me a full-page, handwritten letter,” McCaffery said Tuesday, 47 days since that Dec. 10 defeat inside Hilton Coliseum. “So it was a lot of interesting information in there that was very applicable to what we were going through. There is nothing he hasn't seen.”

The Iowa State loss happened on a Thursday. On Sunday, Iowa players returned for meetings expecting to break down the painful game film. Instead, McCaffery shared Ferentz’s letter with the team.

In this Nov. 1, 2013 photo, football coach Kirk Ferentz, left, and basketball coach Fran McCaffery are seen at a Johnson County I-Club function.

“He just threw (the game film) away,” senior guard Anthony Clemmons said. “He wanted us to throw out our negative thoughts.”

The letter, Clemmons said, “hit everybody in our locker room.” He said the letter reminded the players just how much of the season was still in their control.

Spirits were lifted.

Unranked at the time, Iowa has since won nine consecutive games and is off to its first 7-0 Big Ten Conference start in 46 years. The streak started with a nail-biter over a Drake team that’s now 5-15. But impressive wins followed — beating then-No. 1 Michigan State; ending a 10-year losing streak at Purdue’s Mackey Arena with a 50-26 second half; beating then-No. 4 Michigan State again, this time snapping an 18-game losing streak at the Breslin Center; plus impressive home wins over Michigan and Purdue.

Nobody in the country is playing better than the Hawkeyes. They’ve risen to No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in 28 seasons. Fox Sports pegs Iowa as the No. 2 overall seed in their latest NCAA Tournament projection. Love is flowing Iowa’s way entering Thursday's 6 p.m. showdown at No. 8 Maryland (17-3, 6-2).

Clemmons puts a lot of stock in how Iowa dealt with the meltdown in Ames.

“We’re playing well at this moment, so coming back to those memories — Kirk Ferentz, he was right,” Clemmons said. “One game don’t define our season. That helped us out, got us prepared. We can thank Iowa State. That prepared us for something great.”

Wrapping up, McCaffery said Ferentz — as well as many other university coaches — has been supportive in his six years as Iowa’s men’s coach. The post-Iowa State letter wasn’t a one-time act.

“It tells you everything you need to know about him. But he's been like that since I got here,” McCaffery said. “He's embraced me and helped me and helped our program, met with recruits.

“It's been a great ride from that standpoint when you look at how he's helped us. (Wrestling coach) Tom Brands, same thing; (women’s coach) Lisa Bluder — we're kind of all in this together. And we all try to help each other. That’s how it should be.”