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IOWA CITY — All summer, signs popped up that Iowa was working on a new deal with head football coach Kirk Ferentz.
At one point, during a goodbye reception for a longtime Iowa media member, Ferentz and his agent, Neil Cornrich, showed up to say goodbye to Iowa women’s basketball and baseball radio voice Brent Balbinot. It was the height of summer. Ferentz and Cornrich wore flip-flops.
The next day, there was an availability with Iowa players at the Hansen Performance Center. Iowa athletics director Gary Barta and UI president Bruce Harreld strolled through the media gathering. They wore suits.
Barta started to get into more details during Big Ten media days in late July, acknowledging that there were ongoing contract discussions and the discussion are on a contract and not a one-year rollover.
And then Tuesday, Iowa announced it had reached an agreement with Ferentz, 61, on a contract extension. The deal will go through the 2025 season and pay Ferentz $4.5 million a year.
Full contract details were made available late Tuesday afternoon. After the 2014 season, when the Hawkeyes, ranked No. 10 in the USA Today coaches poll on Tuesday, finished 7-6, Iowa experienced a 17 percent drop in season ticket sales. The contract Ferentz and Iowa struck in 2010 had an extremely favorable buyout clause for Ferentz, stating if he were fired without cause the UI would 75 percent of his annual guaranteed amount.
That fact launched a “buyout-o-meter” around the internet. After any bad loss, there was a sea of tweets and posts that stated how much the buyout would be if Iowa decided to cut ties.
The buyout was a big topic when Barta talked about the new deal during a Tuesday news conference. There is a sliding scale attached that’s based on the Hawkeyes having a seven-win season. Through the first five years of this deal, the buyout is 100 percent. For every year Ferentz’s Hawkeyes win seven or more in the first five years, one of the buyouts in years six through 10 rolls from 50 percent to 100.
But, before you tweet that the “buyout-o-meter” is now $30 million and change, let Barta explain his reasons. The idea is that it never comes to that.
“I said a year ago, before the season, that my decision to stay the course with Kirk was based on all of the values and all of the past experiences and not based on the buyout,” Barta said. “The buyout is something we could’ve done financially, but I chose to stay with him because of who he is and he had done.”
So, there’s risk. Iowa won big in 2015, finishing 12-2, winning the Big Ten West Division, appearing in the Big Ten title game and snapping a 25-year Rose Bowl absence. The four seasons before 2015 can best be summed up with the 17 percent decrease in season tickets going into the ’15 season. Momentum was eroding.
Barta acknowledged there is risk in signing a long-term deal. Ferentz, who’s in his 27th year overall at Iowa, including 17-plus as head coach, is in the books for nine more seasons, making this deal a six-year extension (the previous contract would’ve expired at the end of 2019). Barta added that there’s risk in not signing a long-term contract.
“When you decide to make a long-term commitment to a coach, a 10-year commitment, that decision is based on comfort that you’re not going to get to a buyout,” Barta said. “That’s the best way I can answer it. . . . Giving Kirk a 10-year contract, what I’m saying is I don’t intend to change coaches. I intend for Kirk at some point, and as he said, no one can predict the future, when the time is right, for him to retire.
“The idea of giving someone a long-term contract is to say ‘We’re in, we’re in all of the way.’”
What did Barta see as the risks?
“The risk is the thought of having to go out to get another coach at some point,” he said. “If I have to do that, am I going to find somebody who I feel more confident in, someone who I trust as much? The answer is no.”
Barta spoke after Ferentz, who voluntarily talked about the contract and politely fielded a few questions. Oh hey, it’s Iowa State week. The Cyclones are 0-1 after losing to Northern Iowa last week. The last time Iowa faced ISU after it lost to an FCS school was 2014 (oh, that year again), when the Cyclones escaped Kinnick Stadium with a 20-17 victory.
So, yeah, Ferentz, who said he didn’t want to look at 2025 at an “end,” was fidgety on this topic. There is a game, which happens to be a bitter rivalry.
“This is the time of year, quite frankly — cut the machine off so my wife doesn’t hear this — but this is the time of year we all love,” Ferentz said, “because it’s 13 weeks where you’re just kind of right down the tracks, and every week is a unique challenge and that’s really the fun of it. So, we are kind of finally in our game week routine. Last week took forever to get to kickoff, and now things are really flying by.
“There’s no way to describe it. It’s a really unique thing and I just feel really privileged and honored to be able to do it in such a great place with so many great people.”
Barta bought in on his 10 years working with Ferentz. It buys him and the UI stability. If Ferentz coaches through 2025, Iowa will have had two head coaches in a 47-year span (Hayden Fry coached from 1978-98). Along with that, Iowa is on just its third AD since 1970 (Bump Elliott, Bob Bowlsby and Barta).
Barta said the impetus partly was recruiting. Ferentz had four years left on his previous deal. Iowa recruiting staff tweeted this summer about schools trying to use Ferentz’s future against Iowa on the recruiting trail.
“I also don’t want to take him for granted,” Barta said. “... I just felt like this was the time. Obviously, with the success of last year, maybe that pushed it over the top, but it’s based on the 10 years I’ve worked with him.”
Ferentz’s base salary and recurring supplemental payments escalate each year of the contract. He could be in the $5 million range with bonuses as early as this season.
Any of Ferentz’s nine on-field assistants, the head strength coach, the top assistant strength coach and the director of football operations who’ve been on staff for five seasons or more were offered two-year contracts on July 1. Any assistants who met the five-year threshold in the future also will be eligible for a two-year contract.
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