|Thursday, December 12
Ferentz earns top honors for dramatic turnaround
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is traveling more and enjoying it thoroughly.
"It's been a lot of fun,'' said Ferentz, taking a breather recently in South Florida after an Orange Bowl news conference. "There's a lot going on.''
Ferentz has a demanding itinerary for a reason: His third-ranked Hawkeyes (11-1) are one of the best teams in the country, own a share of the Big Ten title with Ohio State and return to the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2 to play Southern California.
The job he did in turning a 1-10 team into Big Ten champions in four years was rewarded on Thursday when Ferentz was chosen The Associated Press College Coach of the Year.
"A great honor, representing the work of a lot of people,'' said Ferentz.
The 47-year-old Ferentz received 26 votes in balloting by 71 members of the AP college football poll board, which includes representatives of newspapers, TV and radio stations.
The former Iowa assistant under Hayden Fry won over Ohio State's Jim Tressel, who was second with 20 votes. Notre Dame's Tyrone Willingham was third with 10 votes, and West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez was fourth with four votes.
Receiving three votes apiece were Southern Cal's Pete Carroll, Miami's Larry Coker and Alabama's Dennis Franchione (now at Texas A&M). Georgia's Mark Richt had two votes.
"To be chosen over some very deserving coaches means a lot,'' said Ferentz. "We've moved along in phases and the players have worked extremely hard to get to this point.
Patience helped, too. Iowa won just two of its first 20 games under Ferentz, and there were rumblings the school had made the wrong hire. But Ferentz proved he could turn around the Hawkeyes' fortunes, just as Fry did in the early 1980s.
Iowa won two of its final three games in 2000 and finished 3-9, then went 7-5 in 2001, including a 19-16 win over Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl.
When the AP's Top 25 preseason poll came out in August, a total of 50 teams received votes. Iowa wasn't among them.
But Ferentz thought he had a pretty good quarterback in Brad Banks, a solid offensive line and a defense that would only get better.
"We needed to improve on special teams and we had to learn how to win close games,'' said Ferentz.
Banks, who arrived at Iowa two years ago from a community college, took care of the winning. He led the nation in passing efficiency, had 25 touchdowns and just four interceptions as the Hawkeyes were nearly perfect.
Banks is among the five Heisman Trophy finalists, and Ferentz will be in New York with his quarterback for Saturday's Heisman announcement.
Iowa's only loss came in the third game against Iowa State, a 36-31 defeat that saw Iowa blow a 17-point, third-quarter lead.
Ferentz said his players learned from the loss, and the key to the season came two weeks later when the Hawkeyes traveled to Penn State. Iowa jumped to big lead but the Nittany Lions rallied to force overtime before the Hawkeyes survived, 42-35.
"That was a key moment,'' Ferentz said. "A lot of people had doubts after we lost that one game, but to go on the road and win at Penn State gave everyone a shot of confidence.''
The next week, Iowa was outplayed by Purdue, but still won 31-28 on a late TD drive directed by Banks. "The way we somehow managed to win made me feel pretty good about the rest of the season,'' Ferentz said.
That was the Hawkeyes final close call of the season. In the final six games, Iowa outscored the opposition by a combined 229-67, winning each game by an average of 27 points.
Ferentz was Iowa's offensive line coach from 1981-89 before leaving to coach at Maine for three seasons. He spent six years in the NFL with Cleveland/Baltimore before returning to Iowa.
While the wins were rare early on, Iowa has won 20 of its last 27 games, with the seven losses by nine points or less.
Ferentz, who grew up in Pittsburgh, often recalls that his idol -- Steelers coach Chuck Noll -- started slowly before winning four Super Bowl titles.
"His first three years he was 12-30,'' Ferentz said. "If you're doing things right, you will be successful. You can't worry about failing. You go out there and let the chips fall where they may.''