Stay or go? Iowa’s Ferentz has been courted like Campbell

AMES, Iowa (AP) — Kirk Ferentz has been where Matt Campbell is in his career.

Successful college coach in his 40s, sought after by other schools and the NFL.

Ferentz decided to stay at Iowa and has become an institution in Iowa City, currently the longest-tenured head coach at one school in major college football and one of the winningest in Big Ten history. There have been bumps along the way, but Ferentz’s 23rd season with Iowa has a chance to be one of his best.

In five seasons with Iowa State, Campbell has already turned down opportunities to leave. If this season comes even close to reaching the lofty expectations set for the Cyclones, there will be even more suitors trying lure him out of Ames.

“I know this, the experts sometimes will say, ‘Geez, I can’t believe he didn’t want to go to this college, or a pro job, or whatever.’ Really, it’s hard for other people to judge what’s important to another person in that position to make a decision,” the 66-year-old Ferentz said Tuesday.

The 41-year-old Campbell took over a program with little history of success and has lifted it to unprecedented heights and shown he is in no rush to leave.

When Campbell and the ninth-ranked Cyclones (1-0) host No. 10 Iowa (1-0) on Saturday in the biggest Cy-Hawk rivalry game ever, all he has to do is look to the opposite sideline to see that a college football coach can make a pretty nice life for himself in the state of Iowa.

“They know who they are. They understand their identity. The ability to sustain success over a long period,” Campbell said of the Hawkeyes. “It’s hard to win in college football. To be able to win over an extended period of time, and sustain success, there’s a sincere respect factor for any coach that’s got the ability to do that and do it over a long period of time.”

Ferentz had his time as a hot commodity in coaching.

A former NFL assistant before taking over at Iowa for Hayden Fry in 1999, Ferentz revived the Hawkeyes, stringing together three consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins. The Jacksonville Jaguars came calling in 2003 and it seemed every time the Cleveland Browns made a coaching change, Ferentz’s name would come up.

Fretting over whether Ferentz would stay put was an almost annual event in Iowa City. But the shine can quickly wear off coaches.

Ferentz’s long-term contract and massive buyout turned into a bit of a joke around the Big Ten during five so-so seasons from 2010-14. Even Iowa fans began to wonder if they were now stuck with the coach they once worried about losing.

Since then, Iowa is 54-21, one of the few schools in major college football to embrace patience and stability.

“It’s an example to everyone in college athletics you don’t have to change faces and change coaches and administrators and (athletic directors) every four, five or six years,” said Dan McCarney, the former Iowa player who coached the Cyclones from 1995-2006. “There’s going to be ups and downs. Kirk’s gone through that. But look at the unbelievable track record now that Kirk and everybody at the University of Iowa has.”

The only real pressure Ferentz has faced was last year when some Black former players criticized him for maintaining a team culture that made it difficult for minorities to fit in. Ferentz’s longtime strength and conditioning coach, Chris Doyle, was let go, and he vowed to make changes in a program that had maybe become a bit too set in its ways.

Iowa State hopes it has found its Ferentz in Campbell.

Under Campbell, the Cyclones have played in a conference championship game for the first time, won a major bowl for the first time, finished first in its league for the first time in more than a century, won consecutive games against Texas and beaten Oklahoma twice.

Iowa State is 27-19 in the Big 12 under Campbell. To find a better conference winning percentage for an Iowa State coach, you’d have to go back more than 100 years.

These days, it’s Iowa State fans fretting about who is coming after their guy. Speculation and rumors about Campbell have swirled each of the last three years.

Campbell, whose most recent contract extension runs through 2028 and pays him $4 million per year, has insisted he is content in Ames and backed it up with his actions.

“The money that he turned down last year and the opportunity he had with the Detroit Lions is a classic example,” McCarney said. “His family loves Ames. His wife loves it. That doesn’t guarantee anything beyond this season. We all know that.”

Ferentz figures Campbell doesn’t need his advice, but he knows what led him to stay in Iowa.

“You decide what’s important to you, what are you looking for in the job you have over the long-term, and make that decision,” he said. “For some guys, it’s the higher the better. Some are more prudent or whatever.

“I’m always kind of amused by the people who are like, ‘Why wouldn’t he have done that?’ Yeah, whatever. Sometimes those moves don’t always work.”


AP freelance writer John Bohnenkamp in Iowa City contributed to this report.


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