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Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz has 143 wins under his belt at the University of Iowa, one away from the all-time record.

The Gazette will count down each win, as ranked by writer Marc Morehouse.


The 6-4 game: The sooey wasn't there, but the spirit was

Iowa 6, Penn State 4 | Oct. 23, 2004

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz sends in the signal to decline an illegal procedure penalty on the Hawkeyes within inches of the goal line during the fourth quarter against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2004, in State College, Pa. The penalty resulted in a safety and two points for Penn State. Iowa, won 6-4. (The Gazette)
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz sends in the signal to decline an illegal procedure penalty on the Hawkeyes within inches of the goal line during the fourth quarter against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2004, in State College, Pa. The penalty resulted in a safety and two points for Penn State. Iowa, won 6-4. (The Gazette)

Three cool things:

1. Felt like a regular Tuesday news conference.

The Hawkeyes readied to head out to Pennsylvania for a grudge-rumble with Penn State. Iowa started its Big Ten season 2-1 and came off a victory over No. 23 Ohio State the week before.

Just another Tuesday with Kirk Ferentz.

What we didn’t know at the time was Ferentz’s father, John, had died the Sunday before at the age of 84. Word trickled out later in the week. Kirk Ferentz and son Brian, who was a starting offensive lineman for the Hawkeyes in ‘04, left the team on Tuesday and didn’t return until Friday afternoon.

Death doesn’t care about logistics. Football is all about logistics.

Ferentz is intensely private with family stuff. I think I’ve called the house like twice. I don’t know what the heck I was thinking. Did I think that would work? Do I have an ounce of situational awareness? Apparently not.

I was the rookie of the year, sort of, when Ferentz was hired in 1998. I was still on the Cyclones beat. I was enlisted to help track Iowa’s coaching search. I had fantastic conversations with Mike Stoops. I felt like at one point we both hoped Bob Stoops would end up at Iowa, just to get the thing over with.

Gazette columnist Mike Hlas was in the mix. I’m not sure there are a lot of interviews out with Ferentz’s folks. Mike landed that.

Here’s how that story began:

Those who wanted someone with Iowa ties to become the new Hawkeyes’ football coach got just that in Kirk Ferentz.

“My grandfather graduated from the University of Iowa in 1885,” said Elsie Mae Ferentz, Kirk’s mother. “His name was Edward Everett Kirkendall. That’s who we named Kirk after.

“My grandfather’s father homesteaded along the Des Moines River near Keosauqua. So when Kirk first came to Iowa (in 1981, as an assistant to Hayden Fry), it was like going home for me.”

Did you guys know that? I didn’t.

In a roundabout way, Iowa and Kirk Ferentz were sort of a homecoming.

“Kirk feels about Iowa the way I feel about Pittsburgh,” said Kirk’s father, John Ferentz. “It’s a great, great, great place to live, a warm community where people are good to each other.

“He never lost the roots he established in Iowa. He loved it there, from the people in the university to the friends in the community.”

John referred to Kirk’s nine seasons as offensive line coach on Hayden Fry’s staff (1981 to 1989).

John was just getting started. (Mike is a really great interviewer, by the way. That’s a gift and underappreciated in our business these days.)

When Kirk got the Iowa job?

“I said to my wife the other day that I remembered a spring day in 1982,” John said. “Kirk and I were out driving around the community, just gassing, father-and-son stuff.

“I asked him, ‘What do you think about this place?’ He said, ‘If I had to pick an ideal place to end up as a coach, this is it.’

“And man, oh man, here he is. It’s like a dream.”

(I’m calling timeout. “Just gassin’.” As good as it gets, America.)

I wasn’t there when Kirk was growing up, but I think it’s safe to say he loved sports. He knew he wanted to be a football coach when he was like 12. John knew.

”As I look back, I can see it,” said John, who played baseball into adulthood. “I coached him from Little League through American Legion baseball. He seemed to have a quality that kids followed. They respected him. I could get things done through him I knew I couldn’t have gotten done myself. He’s always had a way with people.”

This interview is 20 years old. It rings today as true as it did then.

Kirk’s dad was a baseball coach? This is starting to make sense. Kirk uses way more baseball phraseology than he does football. Seriously. Listen closely. The man loves the diamond.

Life asks you to wear so many hats. Ferentz wore so many at the same time and kept everything in its lane during this week in 2004.

There was some real coaching going on in this game, too.

Facing a fourth-and-17 from Iowa’s 1, Ferentz had punter David Bradley step out of the back of the end zone and take an intentional safety, allowing Penn State to pull within 6-4 with 8:04 left.

Crazy, maybe. A gamble, a little, sure. Calculated, yes, yes and yes.

Iowa’s defense was a brick wall wrapped in barbed wire doused in flames that Saturday in Happy Valley.

The Hawkeyes held Penn State to some Joe Paterno-era lows, including just six first downs, Penn State’s fewest since Paterno took over the program in 1966.

Penn State’s 147 yards of offense was the fourth-lowest under Paterno. That also was the fewest yards Iowa allowed under Ferentz.

Ferentz made a call that played to the Hawkeyes’ hot hand.

“In baseball, you’ve got a guy who’s hot, a pitcher or a batter, you go with who’s hot and what’s hot,” Ferentz said. “You go with what you see, what you believe and those were the results.”

There’s a baseball reference. I honestly didn’t set that up. That quote was just there.

The safety decision paid off immediately.

With first down at the Nittany Lions’ 34, quarterback Michael Robinson looked for wideout Terrell Golden for a 20-yard gain, but Iowa cornerback Jovon Johnson played the play perfectly and picked off Robinson.

When the score is 6-4, every point matters. Every inch matters.

This was the only game I’ve covered — we’re talking 25 years, from nine-man prep football in southern Minnesota to a Super Bowl to the Hawkeyes — where every inch, every mother-loving inch, mattered.

I’ve never asked Ferentz if the moment in front of the cameras after the game offered any sort of catharsis.

His team just won a 6-4 headlock against the team that always wins headlocks. His team won it in his home state, just days after he buried his father.

His postgame was gracious, calm, collected.

Son, brother, dad and, finally and most publicly, coach.

A singular effort.

The sideline shot near the end of the game with Ferentz breaking into tears while hugging son James, who went on to play center for the Hawkeyes for three seasons, and his youngest son Steve, who also played OL for his dad ... that should be college football’s screen saver.

When Kirk Ferentz uses words like “fortitude,” this is what he’s talking about. In the context of 20 years of being Iowa’s head coach, when Kirk Ferentz says “fortitude,” I listen closely.

It’s not just a thing he says. This week, this game shouted that out.

2. When you think you have grief safely stuffed into the recycle bin, it crawls out and finds you in your idle moments.

You can be standing there and everything is fine. Then, it’s nothing like you expect it to be. You can’t see it coming. It has no smell. It’s sudden. It can wobble your knees, blind your eyes and make a perfectly shiny, happy day gray.

John Ferentz was 84 and in the hospital. It was a celebration of life, and that’s never as easy as it sounds.

When the second cousin from New York comes through the line and can’t hug you because she’s crying, that fang sinks deep.

“What he did, how he handled (it), just showed that he doesn’t want us thinking about him. He wants this about the team,” wideout Ed Hinkel said. “That shows how strong he is. I’m so proud of him.

“Anyone would want to play for a coach like that.”

After Hinkel said that, I think I wanted to follow him around and ask why he said the word “proud.” I totally got it. It was the exact right word for the moment. I just hadn’t heard it used in this setting. Sure, players say they’re proud of their teammates all of the time, but for some reason, this has stuck with me. This is the quote I remember the most, and, man, there have been a lot of quotes.

I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but if I don’t get this out now, I probably never will.

In 2016, my dad, Bill, died. He had been slipping. He didn’t have dementia, but he did have a weakening of the blood vessels in his brain. There’s a name, I’m not going to look it up because I’ve forgotten it on purpose.

I never wanted to be a football coach, but I sure loved it when my dad coached me in baseball. He was the manager of the Dubuque Hawks. He kept us off balance with humor.
We played on a football field. Dad would always say, “OK boys, go hit touchdowns.”

The call came on a Sunday night while I watched the Kirk Ferentz show on the TV. It was my sister from Cedar Falls. I knew right away.

The week of the 2016 Wisconsin game (week of Oct. 22), my dad fell, suffered a minor stroke but he also had a series of seizures that left him unconscious. He got a helicopter ride to Iowa City and was in the UIHC for I want to say nine days. (The details aren’t fuzzy, I just wasn’t feeling them.)

I sat in the Kinnick press box during the UW pregame. Some of my parents’ first dates were Iowa-Wisconsin games. Scott Dochterman wrote the “Iowa fans going through Dickeyville, Wis.” story a few years ago. I’d heard a lot of those stories.

I couldn’t take my eyes off where I thought my dad was over there. Finally, I had to get up. I walked around the field and slowed down on the east sideline, as close as I could get to my dad.

If you see me taking a lap around Kinnick in the pregame, that’s why.

Dad passed away on Oct. 26. Bye week. He always dug that I did this for a living. It gave him something to talk about down at the Bierstube in Dubuque. That’s where Dad did his thing after he retired (37 years at John Deere Dubuque).

A little more than a week later, I was at Penn State. The Hawkeyes were getting drubbed. I’m sorry, but it was great. It was great trying to figure out if that was the most yards allowed by a Kirk Ferentz team.

It wasn’t great because of that, it was great because it wasn’t pain.

And here I was asking Ferentz a question about a 41-14 defeat about three concrete buildings over from the spot where he talked about his dad.

I didn’t really deal with grief until my dad died. And then my brother, Matt, died 46 days later. I held it together until his wrestlers (my brother coached the wrestling team at Jefferson Middle School in Dubuque) started going through the line. And then his art students. My high school football coach at my dad’s funeral, Mr. Dick Weitz, was exactly what I needed in that moment and I still lost it.

I’m not here to bum you out. I can already feel you rolling your eyes at 6-4 and it being No. 1. I am here to tell you what Kirk Ferentz did that week, I get it and I don’t know how he did it.

3. Let’s talk about 6-4.

Shut up about it.

Yeah, that’s a gross score. And if that’s where you stop, I believe you’re missing a bleep ton. In these games — and every game against Dantonio Michigan State — it’s a fine line between horrible offense and brilliant defense.

I’m not going to lie, Penn State’s offense was brutal. You already know Iowa was out of running backs.

Let’s call it a horrible offensive football game and a brilliant defensive game.

Let’s use a fishing metaphor. No coach is hammering a 6-4 game on their wall. It’s not a 52-inch muskie. It’s Bart Simpson’s three-eyed orange fish he keeps catching by the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. I believe that fish is called “Blinky.”

This game was “Blinky.” In fact, that’s pretty perfect.

Ferentz got the game ball. You know that’s under glass somewhere. Probably at home, where the coaches hang out after games, kind of like Ferentz’s youth when he had everyone over after games (great detail in Mike’s story mentioned earlier).

I think given everything that was going on in Ferentz’s life that week, 6-4 made it worse.

That had to have been excruciating. Your defense put in a mountain of man hours and it all could’ve gone away with a field goal. Any field goal.

6-4 had to have been like driving your dad’s Cadillac as a 14-year-old. Your eyes are wide open. You’re nervous. You feel like throwing up, you’re so nervous. But wow, this is fun and hope we don’t run out of gas.

Quote: “One thing I’ve learned, I already think I knew, I’m pretty damn fortunate. I’m one of the most fortunate people in the world. And I appreciate that, too. I don’t take it for granted, I assure you that.” — Kirk Ferentz

Note: The Hawkeyes saw their coach at practice Tuesday, when he told the team his father died that Sunday. They didn’t see their coach again until Friday, after Ferentz eulogized his dad.

“It was good for the team to see his face on Friday,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “He led the meeting Friday night, let us know what his situation was. I think the team felt comforted. We could just go out and win the game for him.”

Said defensive end Matt Roth, “Coach is an emotional guy. He’s been down the last week, this is just our way of giving back to him, picking him back up.”

Why No. 1? — I know how hard that had to have been.

Quick note: When I started the Iowa beat a million years ago, The Gazette’s executive editor Mark Bowden called me into the office and complained that I passed on these types of nostalgia pieces.

I just said, dude, I’ve been into this for three weeks, what nostalgia do I have?

I guess I have history now. You see the names and faces. You hope you do them right.

OK, we can have 2018 now.

Thanks for reading!


Game story from 2004

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Kirk Ferentz still had some coach in him late Saturday afternoon.

During a week when life forced him to fill so many roles, coach probably seemed the least significant. Ferentz’s father, John, 84, died last Sunday in Mt. Lebanon, Pa., after a lengthy illness.

Kirk and his son, Brian, a guard for the Hawkeyes, left the team Tuesday and didn’t join the travel party until Friday afternoon.

The Iowa coach delivered the eulogy at his dad’s funeral Friday. Saturday, he coached the Hawkeyes to a tense touchdown-less 6-4 victory Saturday over Penn State.

Son, brother, dad and coach, it was an emotional churn that ended with the coach holding the game ball in the Iowa locker room.

“What he did, how he handled (it), just showed that he doesn’t want us thinking about him. He wants this about the team,” wideout Ed Hinkel said. “That shows how strong he is. I’m so proud of him.

“Anyone would want to play for a coach like that.”

Sophomore Kyle Schlicher kicked two 27-yard field goals and the Iowa defense made them stand. The No. 25 Hawkeyes (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) have five consecutive victories over Penn State (2-5, 0-4 Big Ten), including four in a row at Beaver Stadium.

Iowa’s defense forced five turnovers, including an interception from each of the four defensive backs. The crushing turnover came when tackle Tyler Luebke sacked and stripped the ball from quarterback Michael Robinson at the Nittany Lions’ 14-yard line with 2:30 left.

Penn State had the ball, 2 minutes and two timeouts. But Iowa’s defense played all day as if it would have the final say. And it did.

Linebacker Chad Greenway recovered, and the Iowa offense held on, draining the last 2:30 off the clock. And it took a little chicanery for that to happen, with quarterback Drew Tate using a hard count to draw PSU offside on fourth-and-2, picking up one of Iowa’s three first downs in the second half.

“I know what my dad would’ve wanted,” coach Ferentz said. “My dad was a Hawkeye fan. I darn well know what he wanted. He wanted us to push forward.”

The Ferentz family is a football family, through and through. All but Kirk’s mom, Elsie, and a great-aunt were among the 108,062 fans at Beaver Stadium. Elsie Ferentz might have made it, too, but the great-aunt had to take her to a dialysis treatment Saturday.

“I’m fortunate to be surrounded by great people,” Ferentz said. “I was able to do what I had to do, be with my family, which is the most important thing.

“Today was the best medicine for the entire family. The ache still is there, but this certainly helps.”

What unfolded in front of Ferentz when he put on the headphones Saturday was a three-hour headlock.

It required major-league decision-making. It required a coach at the top of his game. Ferentz made the call to give Penn State a second safety with 8:04 left in the game.

It wasn’t an easy decision, allowing the Lions to pull within two points. But with Iowa’s defense at full-bore, it was the right decision.

“It was a gamble,” Penn State Coach Joe Paterno said. “But his defense was playing well. He has a good kicker, and we weren’t going anywhere.”

The play after Ferentz gave Penn State two points, cornerback Jovon Johnson picked off Robinson.

“You could see the game was setting up that way,” linebacker Abdul Hodge said. “We were playing strong, why not put it on us?”

The Hawkeyes held Penn State to 147 yards total offense, the fewest yards given up by a Ferentz-era team. Free safety Sean Considine, strong safety Marcus Paschal, corner Antwan Allen and Johnson had interceptions.

The Hawkeyes came into the game with four interceptions, two by linebackers.

“We definitely had that stat in our heads,” Johnson said. “Coaches brought it up. We knew all about it and so we went out and did something about it.”

Considine, playing his first game since spraining a foot Sept. 25 at Michigan, broke up three passes. Outside linebacker George Lewis knocked PSU quarterback Zack Mills out of the game in the third quarter.

The Hawkeyes hounded Mills, knocking him down seven times and hurrying him six more in the first half.

“It makes it really easy when you’re playing behind a front seven like we have,” Considine said. “It’s not like we have to be concerned about them running it down our throats.”

Defensive end Matt Roth had two sacks. Linebacker Chad Greenway and Hodge had 11 tackles apiece.

“That’s what we want our defense to be, the backbone of this team,” Roth said. “It came down to defense and we got a good stop.”

Iowa’s offense saw the toughest defense it’s played since Michigan and couldn’t do anything with it.

Tate was off target all day, completing 14 of 31 for 126 yards and an interception. Iowa rushed 40 times for 42 yards.

Tate’s hard-count offsides, fullback Aaron Mickens’ 10-yard run on a third-and-8 to keep a drive alive in the fourth quarter, little things like that massaged the defense’s effort. Just enough to win with a baseball score.

“We came in here and won, that’s unreal,” Tate said. “I took a knee against Joe Paterno. That’s going to be with me for a long time.”

It was a scrapbook game for all involved. The defense, the program, the sliver of black-and-gold fans in the corner of Beaver Stadium end zone.

And for Ferentz, the son, brother, dad and coach. When his son’s Hawkeyes won a game, John Ferentz would belt out a long “sooey.”

The “sooey” wasn’t there. The spirit was.