Brown: Following own footsteps challenging for Ferentz
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – You are what your record says you are. Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Parcells coined that phrase, and Kirk Ferentz has repeated it many times during his term as Iowa's football coach.
"We're 7-6," Ferentz said after watching his team get thumped by Tennessee, 45-28, in Friday's TaxSlayer Bowl. "We've been 7-6 before. We've been 4-8. We've been 11-1, 11-2. That's where we're at."
Unranked since late in the 2010 season, the last time Iowa won a bowl game. With 10 starters to replace in 2015. That's where we're at.
Ferentz took over as coach in 1999. He replaced Hayden Fry, the man who hired him as an assistant in 1981. Ferentz, who coached his 200th game as the Hawkeyes' head man Friday, is 115-85. Fry won a school-record 143 games in 20 seasons.
Fry took Iowa to 14 bowl games. His last one was less than memorable. His team got dominated in a 17-7 loss to Arizona State in the 1997 Sun Bowl, finishing 7-5. Iowa was 3-8 a season later, Fry retired and Ferentz was the next man in.
Ferentz rebuilt the program in short order, going to a bowl game in his third season. He won two Big Ten titles, went to two Orange Bowls, won at least 10 games for three straight seasons starting in 2002, did it again in 2009 and saw those four teams finish in the Top 10 of the national polls.
He was romanced by several NFL franchises, which sent a large portion of Iowa's fan base into panic. But Ferentz stuck around, and now he's in the position of trying to follow in his own footsteps. It hasn't been easy. Iowa is 26-25 the past four seasons, with no bowl victories or national rankings.
Panic in the fan base has an entirely different vibe now heading into the 2015 season. With a mediocre home schedule and the Hawkeyes' recent track record, the prospect of selling season tickets will be challenging.
And between now and Sept. 5, when Ferentz opens his 17th season against a dangerous Illinois State team that plays North Dakota State for the FCS national title Jan. 10, there are plenty of questions to be answered.
Will both Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard return at quarterback, and who will start if they do? And what kind of quarterback is Tyler Wiegers, who will be a redshirt freshman?
Will Greg Davis return? Iowa's offensive coordinator has been a magnet for criticism the past three seasons.
Will this program ever find another home-run hitter at running back, and who will be added during February's letter of intent signing period?
What will Iowa do to improve its speed on the edges defensively, where Tennessee and others schooled the Hawkeyes this season?
Who will step in the for the 10 departing seniors, a list that includes Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff; Kevonte Martin-Manley, the school's career receptions leader; Mark Weisman, whose 32 career touchdowns were one shy of the school record held by Sedrick Shaw and Tavian Banks; and defensive tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, considered among the best in the Big Ten?
The value of a bowl bid, even one as forgettable as Friday's one-sided loss, is the practice time and development opportunities that come with it. Ferentz said a lot of players made significant progress, which didn't make it to the field Friday.
"I'm confident it's going to show in time," Ferentz said, adding, "I don't believe it's going to go down the drain."
For a program that has spun in neutral for the past four seasons, now would be a good time for that progress to show up on the field.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.