IOWA CITY — Nebraska might have one up on the Iowa Hawkeyes going into their regular-season finale Friday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium. A one up you might not have even considered.
Cornhuskers defensive coordinator Erik Chinander is an Allison, Iowa, native who played offensive line for the Hawkeyes from 1998 to 2002. One of his teammates and linemates was Brian Ferentz, Iowa’s offensive coordinator.
If anyone knows Iowa and the way it operates offensively, it’s Chinander.
“I didn’t even think about that,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He probably knows our playbook, right? He played offense. But those guys don’t know the plays, our guys don’t. So it’s not like 20 years later, he would remember what they were.”
The fanbases of these two programs continue to spar back and forth on social media and things. It has been kind of mean.
After a 9-6 win last week over Michigan State, Nebraska captain Jerald Foster said “I can’t wait to beat Iowa. I really can’t.”
But the coaching staffs have some connections and appear to be on friendly terms.
There is the whole Chinander angle. There’s that Chinander, first-year head coach Scott Frost and quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco were assistants at Northern Iowa at one time.
There’s that Brian Ferentz took an offseason trip to Oregon about three years ago to observe the program and ask questions about how the Ducks practiced. Frost and Chinander were assistant coaches there then.
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Frank Verducci was an assistant coach at Iowa under Hayden Fry but is an offensive analyst now at Nebraska.
“Yeah, Chins is a great guy,” Kirk Ferentz said. “Chins grew up in a football family, his dad is a coach. His one brother, Bret, he escaped, is an engineer for John Deere. He’s living a normal life. But Chins got sucked in and has done a great job, and he’s really paid his dues. I think he was volunteering up at UNI, think that was his first tour of duty. He’s just done a great job. He’s been rewarded, and he’s a really good football coach and a good person.”
Chinander was asked Tuesday at a press conference in Lincoln about what it will be like to return to Kinnick Stadium this weekend.
“It’s going to be good to go back to that stadium,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of friends and family coming, wearing red to the game, so that will be good. This is an important game for our team. Really important to finish strong, really important for the defense to play well this game and to get some momentum going into spring football and recruiting.”
Chinander said he and Frost would spout the merits of their respective alma maters at each other from time to time in fun, but he’s full-bore red and white now.
“Yeah, back when we were at Oregon, it was fun to go back and forth. Alumni and alumni,” he said. “But I tell the kids all the time ‘You guys have great stuff here. The facilities are unbelievable, the training table, the academics. My favorite place in the whole building, the whole complex is when we walk out of that gate and it says ‘We play for Nebraska.’ I coach at Nebraska, I get to coach at Nebraska. There’s no doubt about it, I grew up in Iowa. But home is where the heart is, and my home is in Lincoln. My heart is in Lincoln.”
“I’m sure it will be as emotional for him going over there as it was for me coming back here,” Frost said.
Kirk Ferentz said he doesn’t know Frost especially well, just that the two would see each other at coaching clinics. Frost, of course, returned to his alma mater this season after leading Central Florida to an undefeated 2017 season.
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Ferentz said he respects the Nebraska coach and former NFL player “as a person, first and foremost.”
“You look at what he’s done as a coach, he’s just had a phenomenal run,” Ferentz said. “Same thing, he’s earned it. He’s worked hard. There probably aren’t a lot of guys who would be willing to leave pro football and take a job maybe at a ‘lower-level’ school. Most guys want to start on third base and move over to the batter’s box. But he’s paid his dues, and he’s done a great, great job. Unless they could have gotten Dr. (Tom) Osborne to come back and do it again, I don’t know what would have made more sense to really embrace what Nebraska is all about (than to hire him).”
“(Ferentz) is one of the good guys in the sport,” Frost countered. “Rivalry games, I’ve said this a bunch, are kind of for the fans more than the players. We have to prepare like we’re playing anybody else. I have a lot of respect for their coaching staff and their program, so there’s not any animosity or hate between the coaches. I know the fans probably argue and don’t like each other, but they run a good program. We’re trying to run one here.”
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