IOWA CITY — It’s week 14. We are running seriously low on “Kirks.”
“New Kirk” started months ago, after the No. 4 Hawkeyes (12-0) tipped Pittsburgh with a 57-yard field goal on the game’s final play. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz had throttled down and played for overtime in the past (Ohio State 2009, Michigan 2005). Not against Pitt, not on Sept. 19.
As the season unfolded, “New Kirk” became a thing (never mind that the “New Kirk” came with an explanation that it was more a trust between coach and players’ ability that spurred what seemed like a new mindset). During Tuesday’s news conference leading up to Saturday’s Big Ten championship game against No. 5 Michigan State (11-1), “Maverick Kirk” made an appearance.
The question was in response to Ferentz not sending any assistants into hot lava after last season’s disappointing 7-6 and TaxSlayer Bowl debacle which lead to a few weeks of “Tumult Kirk” and then an offseason of “That’s Football Kirk.”
“New Kirk, Maverick Kirk, OK,” Ferentz said.
“12-0 Kirk.” “Big Ten West Division champions Kirk.” “Big Ten title game Kirk.” “College Football Playoff contender Kirk.”
It’s all variations on the theme for 2015.
“‘New Kirk’ was just talk. Coach Ferentz is the same guy, same philosophies and everything,” quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “I just think it’s a different team that’s here.”
How about “Big Ten Coach of the Year Kirk?”
That happened Tuesday night. For the fourth time in his 17 seasons, Ferentz was named the Big Ten’s coach of the year.
“I know you’ve won this award three previous times,” Big Ten Network studio host Dave Revsine said. “That was ‘Old Kirk,’ this is ‘New Kirk.’ In all seriousness, what makes winning it this time particularly satisfying?”
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Ferentz previously earned Big Ten coach of the year honors in 2002, 2004 and 2009. He becomes the second coach in Big Ten history to win the award in four or more seasons, joining Michigan’s Bo Schembechler, who won six times. With a $50,000 bonus for this award and a perfect Big Ten record, Ferentz is now up to $325,000 in contract bonuses this season.
In his 17th season at Iowa, Ferentz is tied for seventh in Big Ten victories (76) and ranks eighth in total wins (127). Ferentz has led Iowa to a school-record 12 victories this season, the fifth time the Hawkeyes have won 10 or more games during his regime.
“I’m glad not to be sitting on my couch watching the fifth Big Ten championship game,” Ferentz said jokingly. “I’ve watched four from the couch in our basement. That’s exciting, not to be sitting around and actually be working, it’s great.”
This is something new this weekend. This is championship football. Ferentz had to give it a second of thought Tuesday, but, yes, this is his first championship game.
“It’s kind of weird,” Ferentz said. “It’s a big game. It’s another big game. That’s what you come for. That’s what the players come here for and that’s what you hope for and dream about. It’s just a great opportunity.”
“House Money Kirk”?
That question came up. Apparently in an ESPN interview, Ferentz said that the Hawkeyes are “playing with house money.” Ferentz has been dismissive of the major digs taken at Iowa from national media during this surprising surge into the College Football Playoff spotlight.
Ferentz’s public face has been that the Hawkeyes begin every season with championship expectations. And then house money and ... whoops.
“Well, in a lot of people’s eyes we weren’t supposed to be here right now,” Ferentz said. “I say that tongue in cheek because it’s important to us. It’s not like we’re out there just winging it. We’re treating this just like any other game.
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We’re trying to put a really good plan in place. The staff has done a great job of that all season long. Our players are doing a great job of absorbing it right now. We’re a couple days into the preparation; we’ve still got a couple more to go.
We’re probably the team that’s not supposed to be there, so what the heck, let’s go cut it loose, see what happens.”
“What the heck Kirk”? That’s kind of a new one, too.
“It’s a team that’s all together,” running back Jordan Canzeri said. “There’s no ‘New Kirk.’ There’s nothing that he changed before the season or during it. It’s really just as a team we’ve bonded together and finished. When you have accountability, the coaches are more willing to open up the playbook and go for it on fourth down, do trick plays, stuff like that. When you have a team that’s shown it’s capable, the coaches have trust in us and that’s when you see those calls made.”
When you’re in a season, living week to week, you probably don’t recognize turning points when they happen.
So, at some point, there was “Kung Fu-Grip Kirk,” “Kirk with the Dragon Tattoo Kirk” and “No. 4 in the latest CFP rankings Hawkeyes.”
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