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Outback Bowl: How Kirk Ferentz became an Iowa institution

CAPTION: (01/02/06 Tampa, FL) Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz yells at the officiating crew after they failed to call a penalty which Ferentz thougt Florida committed.  Staff photo-James Borchuck
STORY SUMMARY: Outback Bowl--University of Florida vs Iowa (Times photo by James Borchuck)
CAPTION: (01/02/06 Tampa, FL) Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz yells at the officiating crew after they failed to call a penalty which Ferentz thougt Florida committed. Staff photo-James Borchuck STORY SUMMARY: Outback Bowl--University of Florida vs Iowa (Times photo by James Borchuck)
Published Dec. 29, 2016

TAMPA — We live in an age where football coaches jump to bigger, better jobs or get pushed from cliffs.

Then there's Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.

He is the Man Who Wouldn't Leave. He is the Man Who Hasn't Been Asked to Leave.

Ferentz and Iowa meet Florida in the Outback Bowl on Monday. The Florida coach is Jim McElwain, who has been in Gainesville for two seasons. Think he'll last 18?

Nobody stays anymore.

Kirk Ferentz does.

Along with his friend and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops (they go back to their assistant days at Iowa), the 61-year-old Ferentz is the longest tenured coach in Division I-A. He was hired on Dec. 31, 1998.

Happy New Deal!

Ferentz might very well lead the world in contract extensions. He received another one early this season, through 2026, with a bump to $4.5 million annually after going 12-0 and climbing the rankings in the 2015 regular season. We might walk on Mars before Ferentz leaves Iowa.

Job offers have come and gone.

"I never had a compelling reason to leave," Ferentz said.

He stays.

It's what he does.

To outsiders, Ferentz cuts no spectacular coaching swath. He has taken Iowa to only one Rose Bowl, last season, when his Hawkeyes were crushed by Stanford. Iowa is 135-91 under Ferentz. There was last season's 12-2 finish, but this year is typical: 8-4, a few bumps, but an upset of No. 2 Michigan. Kirk Ferentz is steady, sturdy. It all works for his employer and adopted state.

The Associated Press

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz will coach in his fifth Outback Bowl on Monday, Jan. 2 when the Hawkeyes play the Florida Gators at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

The Associated Press

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz will coach in his fifth Outback Bowl on Monday, Jan. 2 when the Hawkeyes play the Florida Gators at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

"The Iowa Hawkeyes have had two head coaches in 38 years," Ferentz said. "I work in a state and a university that's really unique and special. Iowans are great, great people and they're not as reactionary as maybe the rest of the country. They allow you to do your job. They allowed Coach (Hayden) Fry to work. He was there 20 years. This is 18 for me."

"At one time, (longevity) was the norm," said McElwain, who has worked for seven schools in the past 18 seasons. "Now, it totally doesn't happen. (Kirk Ferentz) is a special guy. What they've done there, what he built, it's pretty fantastic."

Ferentz and his wife have raised a family in Iowa City. All five of their children attended the same high school. Ferentz goes and gets his coffee every morning. He blends in.

"Some people are smart enough to figure out you have a good job — and smart enough to hang onto it," Ferentz said.

Ferentz was a graduate assistant at Pitt when he was hired by Fry as an offensive line coach in 1980. Ferentz looked on a map to find Iowa.

He spent nine years as a Hawkeyes assistant. Ferentz became a head coach at Maine, then went to the NFL and the Cleveland Browns, who became the Baltimore Ravens. Ferentz worked for someone named Bill Belichick in Cleveland. Another co-worker: Nick Saban.

The Associated Press

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is tied with Oklahoma's Bob Stoops for the distinction of being college football's longest serving coaches. Hired within days of each other in 1998, both have 17 seasons.

The Associated Press

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is tied with Oklahoma's Bob Stoops for the distinction of being college football's longest serving coaches. Hired within days of each other in 1998, both have 17 seasons.

Then Iowa called again. Ferentz has never looked back.

That's not to say it's always been a field of dreams. Iowa went 4-19 in Ferentz's first two seasons.

"We were testing everybody's patience," he said. "There aren't a lot of places where they'd allow you to do that, and they did. I think the people behind the scenes saw the growth, saw the progress. When we were 4-8 in 2012, the people who really counted were so strong. To find that anywhere else in the country … I'm sure there are others, but not many."

He added, "Everybody wants someone's head on a platter. That doesn't always fix the problem."

So, no more "Fire Ferentz" Web sites?

"Oh, yeah," Ferentz said with a smile. "Recently. Probably five weeks ago. You kidding me? I never look at that, but I'm sure someone's mad about how I tied my shoes today."

Just two head coaches in 38 seasons. Just three athletic directors since 1970.

"And Governor Branstad is the longest serving governor in history," Ferentz said.

It's true. But Iowa governor Terry Branstad has accepted President-elect Trump's nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to China.

Ferentz smiled.

"Let's make the announcement right now: I am not going to China."

He isn't going anywhere.

It's what he does.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

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