Brown: Hoiberg gone? I say yes...but I've been wrong before

Rick Brown
Kirk Ferentz has passed on the NFL several times to remain Iowa’s football coach. Ferentz was, like Fred Hoiberg is now, a red-hot coach with a popularity rating off the charts when the calendar turned to 2003.

Is Fred Hoiberg leaving Iowa State's basketball program to return to the NBA as the next head coach of the Chicago Bulls? My money says yes. But I've been wrong about these things before.

In January of 2003, I was convinced Kirk Ferentz was leaving Iowa's football program after four seasons to return to the NFL as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Ferentz was, like Hoiberg is now, a red-hot coach with a popularity rating off the charts when the calendar turned to 2003. Ferentz had just been named Associated Press national coach of the year after the Hawkeyes went through the Big Ten undefeated, lost to Southern California in the Orange Bowl and finished 11-2.

Ferentz, an assistant to Hayden Fry at Iowa for nine seasons, returned to succeed his mentor following six years as the offensive line coach at Baltimore and Cleveland. A return to the pro ranks seemed like a matter of when, not if, especially after Iowa's victory total had increased from one to 11 in four short seasons.

On Jan. 7, 2003, Ferentz informed his athletic director, Bob Bowlsby, that Jacksonville wanted to talk. That secret didn't have a long shelf life. Three days later, the Florida Times-Union reported that Ferentz had interviewed for the job and was the leading candidate to replace Tom Coughlin.

Ferentz Frenzy was alive and well in the Hawkeye State. Iowa fans were wringing their hands in worry, much like Iowa State fans are doing now.

"Jaguars hunt Iowa's Ferentz," The Des Moines Register headline read on Jan. 11, 2003. Ferentz could not be reached for comment. Bowlsby declined comment. The silence told me this: Ferentz was a goner.

"My gut feeling right now — this is gut, based on some information — this will be Kirk Ferentz's or (San Francisco 49ers coach) Steve Mariucci's job," ESPN's Chris Mortensen said.

The following day, Ferentz released a statement that tap-danced around the stay-or-go question.

"I have recently received attention regarding contacts that I periodically receive from other teams," Ferentz said. "Unless a strong mutual interest exists with another team, I will refrain from taking inquiries that could only lead to conjecture."

Six days of conjecture, speculation and drama followed. And then it ended, much differently than I expected. Ferentz beat the odds by telling the NFL no and returning to Iowa.

"The attention I've received regarding the Jacksonville Jaguars has been flattering, especially because I have the utmost regard for (owner) Wayne Weaver and the entire Jacksonville organization," Ferentz said. "However, my heart continues to lie with the University of Iowa, and I will remain the head coach of the Hawkeye football team."

Ferentz got an 8.4 percent raise — $72,800 dollars worth — to return and coach Iowa to a 10-3 record and a victory over Florida in the Outback Bowl. Again, Ferentz was mentioned for several NFL jobs. Again, he returned to Iowa.

This scenario has played out many times since, most recently after the 2012 season when he was mentioned for the Kansas City Chiefs job. And Ferentz's contract, which runs through the 2020 season and is in the neighborhood of $4 million a year, has become a toxic point of conversation during a three-year stretch that has seen the Hawkeyes go 19-19.

That 19th loss? It came to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The game was played at EverBank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Will Hoiberg say no to the NBA, where he played for 10 years and worked in the front office after that? I don't see him pulling a Ferentz. But it's happened before.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.