By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – As much as it hurts right now with the Iowa football team mired in a three-game losing streak, this is life under Kirk Ferentz.
Iowa is on course to win anywhere from six to nine games for the 12th time in 20 seasons under Ferentz and for the 11th time since the 2005 season.
Ferentz averages between seven and eight victories per season as the Iowa head coach, as did his legendary predecessor, Hayden Fry.
Iowa has as good a chance to win 10 or 11 games in a season as it does to lose six to eight games in a season because they both happen with about the same frequency. Iowa has won at least 10 games in five seasons under Ferentz, and lost at least six games in seven seasons.
The current Iowa team, which plays at Illinois on Saturday, could finish as low as 6-7 or as high as 9-4 depending on what happens in the bowl game.
Ferentz was asked after the loss to Northwestern where his team goes from here in the wake of three consecutive losses, and his answer was vintage Kirk Ferentz.
“Back to work,” Ferentz said. “Same place we went last week. There’s no panacea, there’s no magic formula.
“It’s a matter of we have to stay together, keep working hard and we have to find a way to improve and improve quicker.”
This season is sort of par for the course under Ferentz. It just seems worse because of being a prisoner of the moment and because of the surrounding circumstances, namely Wisconsin’s rare brush with mediocrity.
The Badgers are 6-4 and fading fast due to a number of factors, including injuries and poor quarterback play. Iowa has blown an opportunity to seize a rare moment when Wisconsin is down.
The fans who are clamoring for significant changes in the wake of Iowa’s three-game losing streak certainly have the right to do so, but don’t get your hopes up.
Kirk Ferentz doesn’t deserve to be fired, nor do any of his assistant coaches for that matter. It’s silly to even consider that right now. But there is no denying that Ferentz fatigue is a problem that continues to fester with some fans, who then lash out during times like the present by saying Iowa is too willing to accept being average.
It seems more a case that Iowa is willing to let a head coach who does everything right except win at an elite level, and who has been very loyal, have some wide margin for error because they feel Ferentz has earned it.
Iowa athletic Director Gary Barta has frustrated some fans by signing Ferentz to back-to-back 10-year contracts with lucrative buyouts, the feeling being that it gives Ferentz too much leverage.
And those frustrations always surface during tough times like now.
Since finishing undefeated in the Big Ten in 2015, Iowa is just 13-12 in conference games, including 7-9 since the start of last season.
Iowa is 1-6 in the last seven games decided by a touchdown or less, and has a three-game losing streak against both Wisconsin and Northwestern and a two-game losing streak against Purdue.
Iowa also has lost 18 games in the month of November dating back to the 2010 season, which is an average of two per month, and hasn't won a Big Ten title since 2004.
Combine those numbers with the 63-year old Ferentz being in his 20th season as head coach and you have an environment in which Ferentz fatigue builds.
Fair or not, the only cure for Ferentz fatigue is to win more than seven or eight games in a season.
It appeared that Iowa was well on its way to doing that less than a month ago when it had a 6-1 overall record.
But now the season is spiraling in the wrong direction and the naysayers are saying I told you so, which is easy to do with hindsight.
This is hardly the first time that a once-promising season has unraveled under Ferentz.
His 2006 squad won five of its first six games, but then lost six of its final seven games to finish 6-7.
Iowa was also 5-1 in 2010 and 2014, but finished those seasons with records of 8-5 and 7-6, respectively.
Ferentz has coached at Iowa for so long that whenever his team suffers through a rough stretch, some use his longevity against him.
It still seems too early to bury the current Iowa team because rarely is the situation as bad or as good as it seems under Ferentz.
Iowa wasn’t as good as we thought a month ago, and is probably not as bad as many think it is now.
The current circumstances are similar to last season after Iowa had lost back-to-back games to Wisconsin and Purdue in November.
The gloom-and-doomers were out in full force after the Purdue loss in 2017, but then Iowa pounded Nebraska 56-14 in the regular-season finale and defeated Boston College 27-20 in the Pinstripe Bowl to stop the bleeding.
In the span of just four games, the 2017 season from a perception standpoint went from being a disaster to a positive springboard to this season.
Ferentz has a knack for stopping the bleeding before it becomes a festering wound.
Frustration was starting to build when Iowa combined to finish 12-13 overall in 2006 and 2007, but then Ferentz responded with back-to-back seasons of 9-4 and 11-2.
Iowa also combined to finish 26-25 over four seasons from 2011 to 2014, and to say that some fans were restless would be an understatement.
But once again, Ferentz responded by leading Iowa to a 12-2 record in 2015.
Ferentz seems to refuel with job security every three or four seasons.
But even if Iowa wins out to finish 9-4, this season will be remembered mostly for what it could have been because the damage already is done.
This season is proving to be yet another typical season under Kirk Ferentz.
That isn't meant as criticism or as praise. A lot of schools would love to have Iowa's track record under Ferentz, while others would expect more than seven or eight wins.
Every season under Ferentz has been unique, but the final results often are similar.