Steady vs. Sizzle: Ferentz, Harbaugh face off for first time

Chris Cuellar

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Say what you will about Jim Harbaugh, but Michigan’s second-year head coach makes one heck of an impact.

Back at his alma mater after an NFL playing career and successful coaching stops with Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers, he’s already the highest-paid coach in college football and seems to always find a spotlight.

World Series tickets in Chicago last week. The butt of a joke on “The Simpsons” on Sunday. Pushing his weekly press conference to greet President Barack Obama on Michigan’s campus Monday.

Now, Harbaugh is set to be a sideline star opposite Iowa and coach Kirk Ferentz for ABC’s national audience on Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium.

Jim Harbaugh is 19-3 in his second season as Michigan's head coach, and has the Wolverines (9-0, 6-0) ranked third in the nation entering Saturday's game against Iowa (5-4, 3-3) at Kinnick Stadium.

“We’re all different and we all do things differently,” Ferentz replied Tuesday when asked about the former quarterback’s schedule.

“Basically I’ve just tried to focus on what it is I do, but I’ll say this: It doesn’t seem to affect their performance. They’ve looked pretty good on the film I’ve seen.”

Harbaugh is the fourth Michigan head coach to visit Iowa City and face Ferentz.

The previous three had their highs and lows -- Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke -- but Ferentz has outlasted them all since his arrival in 1999.

The Hawkeyes (5-4, 3-3) are major underdogs in Saturday’s Big Ten contest but have won four of the last five meetings in this series. Even if these third-ranked Wolverines (9-0, 6-0) and Harbaugh had nothing to do with those losses.

“I was around Jim in Baltimore (Ravens) and that was a player and a coach,” Ferentz said. “We didn’t work directly with each other, but our players had great respect for him and as a coach I think it’s well-documented he’s done a great job everywhere he’s been.”

The respect is mutual as the Jordan-branded juggernauts have been outspokenly focused since Monday’s campaign stop.

Harbaugh was characteristically curt in his responses during Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches’ teleconference, but elaborated when Iowa and its coaching staff came up. The Hawkeyes have not been an opponent of his as a college coach, and his excellent 19-3 record at Michigan needs to keep rising if the East Division leaders are to breakthrough with a College Football Playoff appearance.

“(Ferentz) does an incredible job, as good as anybody in coaching,” Harbaugh said. “I would say their excellence is more diverse than what (is) described. We’re going through it right now, trying to figure out where we can be successful.”

Most of Harbaugh’s current Michigan run can be quantified as successful. Besides ruffling feathers on the recruiting trail and losing to rivals Michigan State and Ohio State last season, the Wolverines are winning on and off the field, likely ranking No. 1 in team defense and team publicity.

The opening line in an ESPN column on Michigan’s rise last month: “We know Jim Harbaugh can breathe life into the dead.”

But the Hawkeyes were 9-0 at this time last season, too. They have an inkling of what this attention is like. And there are reasons Ferentz has steadily coached on as Carr, Rodriguez and Hoke left the sidelines.

Ferentz is 6-5 against Michigan and Iowa’s last home win over a ranked opponent came against Michigan in 2011.

“In life, you have peaks, you have valleys,” Ferentz said. “We all do. Individually, collectively, and that’s real life. That’s just the way it goes, and if you go out and compete in sports against good opponents, you’re going to experience the good and the bad. Hopefully it’s more of the good.”

Harbaugh has had well-documented bumps in Iowa City. His leg was broken in a collision with a mail truck while his father Jack was an Iowa assistant from 1971-73. And he left with a loss in 1985 when returning as Michigan’s quarterback.

The Wolverines were great that year, too, but the similarities to Saturday end there. It’s a new era.

“We were No. 1 that year,” Ferentz said with a laugh. “That’s the difference.”


No. 3 MICHIGAN (9-0, 6-0) at IOWA (5-4, 3-3)

Where: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City

Time/TV: 7:12 p.m., ABC (Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Sam Ponder)

Line: Michigan by 21½

Weather: Low 40s and clear after kickoff, light wind from south