By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz earned a $500,000 bonus for leading the Iowa football team to eight victories this season, thanks to an incentive clause in his contract.
Reports of this bonus began to surface as Miguel Recinos lined up to kick what proved to be the game-winning field goal against Nebraska in the regular-season finale on Nov. 23 at Kinnick Stadium.
His 41-yard field goal secured an eighth win for Iowa and that caused one of the many bonuses in Ferentz’s contract to be paid.
Some reported the bonus on social media strictly to inform, while others did it to poke fun or to ridicule Iowa for paying what they say is an outrageous amount for accepting mediocrity.
You’ll never get me to believe that an 8-4 record is anywhere close to being mediocre, especially at Iowa. But I also understand why some fans aren’t thrilled about rewarding a head coach for winning eight games with a half million dollars.
It still is possible to have the utmost respect for Kirk Ferentz as a person, and as a head coach, without being a fan of his contract.
And that's where I stand.
Under Ferentz’s contract, winning at least eight games in any season triggers the $500,000 payment. It is one of the largest lump-sum bonuses available to a public-school coach for an achievement other than winning a championship.
Ferentz also gets $100,000 for making a bowl game and he added another year of 100 percent compensation if he is fired without cause just for winning seven games this season.
Iowa will face Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day in Tampa with a chance to win nine games.
I’ve thought for years that Ferentz’s contract was too one-sided to his advantage, from the amount of guaranteed years to the expensive buyouts.
But never have I blamed Ferentz for taking whatever his agent has convinced Iowa to pay.
I would prefer that it take 10 victories for a $500,000 bonus to kick in, but would certainly choose eight if it were offered to me.
Major college football is big business with enormous salaries being paid to head coaches and Ferentz is just getting what he can out of it, as anybody would do in his position.
Ferentz also has been extremely loyal to the University of Iowa and generous with his money, as he and his wife, Mary, recently donated $1 million to the UI Stead Children’s Hospital.
So there is no right or wrong in the Kirk Ferentz contract debate. You’re either okay with his contract, or you’re not.
There was a time when the 63-year old Ferentz ranked among the highest paid college head football coaches in the country, but those days are long gone.
Ferentz is now the 17th highest paid coach at $4.7 million annually in guaranteed compensation, according to data reported by USA Today, and the sixth highest in the Big Ten.
Nebraska’s Scott Frost and Illinois’ Lovie Smith are both ranked ahead of Ferentz at 10th and 13th, respectively, with each being paid $5 million annually in guaranteed compensation.
Nebraska and Illinois both finished 4-8 this season, so it’s fair to say that Iowa got more for its buck with Ferentz, who is college football's longest-tenured head coach.
Ferentz’s buyout currently stands at approximately $22 million, which is too high in my opinion, but also a sign of the times.
Buyouts and years on a contract are two areas where college athletic directors are just getting shredded during negotiations.
Because how else do you explain that 12 of the 30 highest paid college head football coaches have buyouts worth more than $20 million and five have buyouts worth more than $30 million?
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher has the most expensive buyout at approximately $68 million, followed by Ohio State’s Urban Meyer at approximately $38 million.
Alabama’s Nick Saban is the highest paid coach at $8.3 million annually, but his buyout is only worth $33.6 million, which is a bargain compared to Fisher’s ridiculous buyout.
A buyout is intended to make it more difficult for somebody to hire your coach. It would make sense for a highly successful head coach to have a bigger buyout, and even more so if that coach is young or middle-aged and intrigued by other jobs.
It seems with Ferentz’s buyout that he is being rewarded for his service and loyalty more than out of fear that he might leave Iowa.
Don’t get me wrong, Ferentz could easily land a head coaching job in the NFL, or even at another college, because he is highly respected, in good health and a proven winner.
But it seems that Ferentz would have left by now if he truly wanted to be an NFL head coach. And the fact that Ferentz's son, Brian Ferentz, is Iowa's offensive coordinator also would seem to indicate that Kirk Ferentz is going nowhere.
Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta apparently still doesn’t want to take that chance judging from the amount of Ferentz’s buyout.
I don’t want speak for Ferentz, but I’m guessing that he feels his contract is justified because he has poured his heart and soul into being the Iowa head coach, while sustaining a level of success that is respectable and admirable, and done so while running a clean program and graduating his players at a high rate.
It is hard to argue with any of those points because there haven’t been any major slumps since Ferentz’s initial rebuild nearly 20 years ago, and because his players do graduate at a high rate compared to other programs.
I stopped questioning Ferentz’s contract a long time ago because what’s the point?
It would be different if Ferentz were being paid the same as Nick Saban or Urban Meyer or Dabo Swinney, but he isn't.
Saban makes nearly double what Ferentz makes, while Meyer makes about $3 million more than Ferents does on an annual basis.
And that’s how it should be because Saban and Meyer both have been more successful than Ferentz and because they coach for two of the most storied programs in the history of college football, although, Meyer has announced that he will step down after this season.
Scott Frost earns more than Ferentz despite having won 147 fewer games as a Big Ten head coach.
Nebraska had to reach deep in its pockets in order to get the home-state hero to return because Frost was a hot commodity coming off his quick rebuild at Central Florida. He is also entering the prime of his coaching career, which helps to explain why his buyout is in excess of $25 million.
Scott Frost loves his alma mater, but his love now comes at a steep price.