Like father, like son: Brian Ferentz extends tradition as Iowa O-line coach

LOS ANGELES -- His eyes wide with fulfillment, Kirk Ferentz will tell anyone ready to listen that he and his wife, Mary, raised five children.

“I’m kind of taking a liberty there,” he said. “Mary raised five children. I’ve been a bystander in a lot of ways.”

So it goes for a longtime coach -- 38 years in all for Ferentz, including the past 17 seasons in charge at Iowa.

On the subject of his children, the proud father cannot discuss one of without mentioning them all. There are daughters Kelly and Joanne and sons James (who plays for the Denver Broncos), Steve (a reserve lineman for the Hawkeyes), and Brian (the Iowa offensive line coach).

The question for the head coach on this day is about only Brian, who, at age 32, nears the end of his fourth season on dad’s staff after three years under Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots. Kirk Ferentz, by the way, at the same age, coached his seventh year as the Iowa O-line coach and later spent three seasons with Belichick in the NFL.

So, Kirk, how does Brian’s progress in the profession compare to yours at the same age?

“He’s light years ahead of where I was,” the elder Ferentz said. “But that’s not saying a lot. I’m a slow learner.”

Kirk Ferentz, 60, has done well for himself. Four times recognized as the Big Ten coach of the year, he cooked up a crowning achievement with this 12-win season, capped Friday by a clash with Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual (ESPN, 5 p.m. ET).

And Brian Ferentz, the former Iowa lineman who nearly sacrificed a leg for the sport and school he loves, is more than just along for the ride. Elevated this year to include run-game coordinator in his job description, he’s an integral piece of the Hawkeyes’ offensive success.

Brian is engaging and intelligent, according to the coaches and players who work with him at Iowa, fiercely competitive and a young standout in his business as the caretaker of the Hawkeyes’ most-prized position group.

His future? Expectations are growing, but Brian, the prodigal son, looks prepared to meet them.

The younger Ferentz is also a chip off the old block. He’s got the same square jaw and self-deprecating humor of his father. The similarity of Brian’s mannerisms and the cadence in his voice to his father's is uncanny.

It’s easy, in fact, to envision a young Kirk just like Brian, who concedes that callers to the Ferentz home, after he hit puberty in 1990s, could not separate father from son.

“I grew up idolizing him,” Brian Ferentz said. “I grew up watching him, and like any son, I tried to imitate and emulate my father. Professionally, I think he’s a pretty good role model.

“But how much are we similar? I think we’re very different.”

Brian is more fiery than his father, Iowa center Austin Blythe said. But his intensity is authentic.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he’s one of the smartest football guys I’ve been around,” Blythe said. “Just the way he communicates to us and talks about the game is incredible. I’m always amazed how much knowledge he has.”

The coaching successes of the younger Ferentz, too, are striking. In 2011, his final year with the Patriots, Ferentz coached the New England tight ends as Rob Gronkowski caught a career-high 17 touchdowns, the first player at his position to lead the NFL in TD catches.

At Iowa, Brian Ferentz helped groom bookends Andrew Donnal and Brandon Scherff, who last year won the Outland Trophy and was drafted fifth overall by Washington Redskins.

Even without the pair of standout tackles this season, Iowa’s rushing production jumped 18 percent. The Hawkeyes average 4.71 yards per carry, better than a half-yard more than in 2014.

Three different Iowa running backs produced 195-yard games.

“One way or another,” guard Sean Welsh said, “he knows how to motivate you.”

As a guard and center at Iowa from 2001 to 2005, Brian Ferentz was an inspiring figure.

In 2004, he developed a serious infection after multiple knee operations, raising fears about amputation. Instead, Brian returned to the field months later, driven by two Iowa losses in its first four games, to solidify the line as the Hawkeyes won eight straight to earn a share of the Big Ten title.

“He was the best leader I ever had on the offensive line,” said 16-year Iowa assistant Reese Morgan, who shifted to coach the defensive line in 2012 when Brian came back from the Patriots.

Brian said he looks no further ahead than the next practice. He simply aspires to work around people who make him happy.

“Right now,” he said, “coaching the offensive line at Iowa makes me happy.”

For reasons personal and professional, Kirk Ferentz said, he’s happy, too.