Iowa Football

Kirk Ferentz gets 100th Big Ten win in 'special' place: At Penn State

Ogden column: Consistent coach deflects attention after another milestone

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz looks at the scoreboard during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against P
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz looks at the scoreboard during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Penn State in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Woody Hayes. Bo Schembechler. Amos Alonzo Stagg.

Kirk Ferentz.

Those, folks, are the only football coaches in Big Ten Conference history to win 100 league games.

That’s pretty good company. That’s what is called rarefied air.

“It probably means I got there a little slower than those guys,” Ferentz said on BTN before leaving the Beaver Stadium field with a 41-21 win Saturday in University Park, Pa. “Appreciate being there.”

Typical Ferentz. No fist pump, no Gatorade shower, no dance in the locker room.

He appreciates being there.

Say what you will about a 65-year-old man in his 22nd season coaching football at the University of Iowa. He’s nothing if not consistent.

He wasn’t the top choice by fans to replace Hayden Fry before the 1999 season. That didn’t matter. He endured some tough patches early, going 1-10 and 3-9 his first two seasons. He’s had other “bumps” along the way, on the field and off — including this past summer when several Black current and former players accused the program, and Ferentz himself, of racial disparity.

It hasn’t always been easy, but he’s taken on all challenges with the same demeanor — admitting mistakes, making adjustments and coming out on top.

Kind of like Saturday’s game, which, by the way, snapped a six-game skid to the Nittany Lions and gave the hosts an 0-5 record for the first time in program history.

The Hawkeyes (3-2), winners of three straight games, seemed well on their way to a hard-to-believe easy win when Sean Clifford replaced Will Levis at quarterback and, on his first two plays, threw touchdown passes of 28 and 68 yards, cutting Iowa’s 31-7 lead to a two-possession game heading into the fourth quarter.

Iowa settled down, endured the bumps and prevailed. Kind of like Ferentz.

“Talk about a hard place to win,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said in the locker room after Saturday’s win. “Kirk tells a story about one of the first wins he had was right here and that’s when this program started to turn the corner ...”

Barta then raised the “game ball” and presented it to Ferentz as his players stood and cheered.

“It was a really fun environment,” wide receiver Brandon Smith said of the celebration.

“They wouldn’t want to be playing for anybody else,” linebacker Nick Niemann said after collecting a team-high 17 tackles.

“That’s an amazing achievement for anybody,” defensive lineman Zach VanValkenburg said.

Smith was asked if Ferentz danced with the players to celebrate, like some coaches have been known to do.

“He didn’t do a dance,” Smith said with a laugh. “It was fun. (But) I haven’t seen his dance moves quite yet.”

Typical Ferentz. Consistent Ferentz.

For the record, Hayes compiled a 152-37-7 record at Ohio State from 1951 through 1978. His record appears to be untouchable. Schembechler went 143-24-3 at Michigan from 1969 to ’89. That, too, seems far out of reach.

Stagg, a member of the college football and basketball hall of fames, went 115-37-7 at Chicago from 1886 to 1932. That’s reachable, assuming Ferentz — 100-77 in 22 seasons — is back next year and beyond.

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“It’s been, for the most part, pretty darn good,” he said on BTN about his run at Iowa. “And it gets better every year.”

Getting that milestone win in Pennsylvania was pretty special, too.

Ferentz was born in Michigan, but grew up in Pennsylvania “watching Penn State football.” His first Big Ten win was 21-16 over Michigan State in 2000. His second was 26-23 at Penn State.

“Winning here is special,” he said in the Zoom conference after the game.

Then, as Ferentz is wont to do, he took the spotlight off himself.

“Things like this don’t happen by accident,” he said, mentioning all the players, the assistant coaches and a supportive administration for the success he, or rather, the program has had over his tenure.

Typical.

Comments: (319) 398-8416; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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