By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – A few years ago, Kirk Ferentz was asked how he would spend a one-year sabbatical away from his job as the Iowa football coach.
Ferentz said he would probably spend the year touring the country and watching other college and professional football teams conduct their practices.
I remember thinking, ‘wow, Kirk’s whole life revolves around football.”
The fact that Ferentz would want to spend a year away from his job with his days still consumed by football says a lot about him as a person.
Because it seems pretty obvious that outside of his family, football is what matters the most to the 66-year old Ferentz, and it’s not even close.
His life is consumed by the game, and his family is so embedded in that lifestyle to where it’s easy to understand why Ferentz still wants to coach into his 70s.
Iowa announced an extension to Ferentz’s contract on Friday that will run through the 2029 season.
Ferentz will be 74-years old when the contract expires, and he will have spent 40 years as a member of the Iowa coaching staff, including 31 years as head coach, if he coaches through the contract.
News of the extension, which will pay Ferentz $7 million annually, not surprisingly drew a mixed reaction from Iowa fans.
Some were pleased to know that Ferentz has no plans to retire anytime soon, while others were concerned that Ferentz is only sticking around for personal gain, and to create a scenario in which his son, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, will ultimately succeed him as head coach.
Kirk Ferentz never has said publicly that he wants his son to replace him as head coach, but it’s reasonable to think that he might want that to happen, and it would make no sense for him to say it publicly, especially with the Iowa offense the weak link to the team right now.
The Iowa offense would have to show significant improvement under Brian Ferentz for him to have a realistic shot at succeeding his father, or so it would seem.
Kirk Ferentz now has eight years remaining on his contract, and that will provide plenty of time for Brian Ferentz to fix the offense.
The extension will also help to withstand the negative recruiting in which other schools try to scare recruits about Kirk Ferentz’s age and about the likelihood of him retiring before they would finish playing at Iowa.
And while trying to pave the way for his son to succeed him as head coach might have been one of the motivating factors behind this latest extension for Kirk Ferentz, the biggest factor would seem to be that Kirk Ferentz doesn’t really have anything to retire to.
His life revolves around family and football, and his job makes it easy for Ferentz to enjoy both.
In addition to his son being his offensive coordinator, his son in law, Tyler Barnes, is also his recruiting director.
Some have accused Kirk Ferentz of nepotism, but this setup couldn’t have happened without the University of Iowa’s approval.
The timing of the extension makes sense with Iowa having won the Big Ten West Division and 10 games overall this past season. Iowa has won 10 games in two of the last three seasons.
The eight years on the new contract seems a little excessive, but that’s been a theme throughout Ferentz’s 23-year reign, especially since Gary Barta became the Iowa athletic director in 2006.
Barta seems to negotiate with the belief that Ferentz is looking to leave and already has one foot out the door, so it’s necessary to do whatever it takes to convince Ferentz to stay.
Ferentz also has vowed to fix the problems that caused the racial unrest during the summer of 2020, and this extension will certainly give him more time do that because a culture doesn’t change in just a year or two.
But again, the biggest motivator for this latest extension would seem to be that Kirk Ferentz has no interest in retiring because he still loves the daily grind of being a head coach and almost everything that comes with it.
The money is pretty good, too.
He also must have the blessing and support of his wife, Mary.
For some, especially those who love their job and are paid handsomely, the thought of retiring can be a scary and depressing.
Maybe coaching helps Kirk Ferentz stay young in ways besides his age.
It gives him a purpose and goals to achieve on a daily basis, whereas that wouldn’t be the case if he retired.
Ferentz isn’t an avid golfer, nor does he appear to have many hobbies or a desire to get into broadcasting as many coaches do after they retire.
It also seems that if Ferentz wanted to leave Iowa for a different coaching opportunity that he would’ve left by now because he’s had chances to leave, both in college and in the NFL.
Ferentz has dedicated most of his life to coaching football, and has taken his family along for the ride with great rewards and no resistance.
He also has won enough games to justify staying in coaching for this long as Iowa has a 63-25 record since the start of the 2015 season.
Kirk Ferentz is a football coach and a family man and he doesn’t seem interested in the slightest in seeing what life would be like without football. The thought might even scare him a little bit.
That’s what this latest extension seems to be saying more than anything else.