By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – I will forever be grateful for an act of kindness by Brian Ferentz.
Because without his support, I might not have had the opportunity to write this column.
After I had become a casualty in the on-going collapse of newspapers in 2014, my future was uncertain.
I had few skills beyond covering the Hawkeyes and being able to blab on the radio and name the members of multiple classic rock bands.
I also had no desire to seek further employment in the newspaper industry, because frankly, my final two years working for the Iowa City Press-Citizen were miserable as numerous co-workers lost their jobs, nor did I want to leave Iowa City, so my options were limited.
Fortunately, I was encouraged to launch my own Hawkeye website by some people in Iowa City that were a lot more important than me.
We launched in 2015, but then soon suffered a significant setback when the Iowa Sports Information Department denied our requests for game credentials for football and men’s basketball.
It came as a surprise because I figured over 20 years of covering the Hawkeyes for the hometown newspaper in Iowa City, and the willingness to build my own website would be enough to earn credentials.
We announced on Twitter, which is now called X, that our credential request had been denied and were hoping that going public would help our cause.
And it did, almost immediately.
In less than two hours, the Iowa Sports Information Department had granted us credentials.
I was soon told that a tweet by Brian Ferentz in which he disagreed with the decision to deny our credentials had played a key role in reversing the decision.
I can’t say that with certainty because no explanation has ever been given, but it hardly seems a coincidence that the decision was reversed shortly after Brian Ferentz had voiced his support.
And for that, I will forever be grateful.
Hawk Fanatic, thanks in part to Brian Ferentz, is thriving right now as one of few, and maybe the only Hawkeye website, that provides free content, that relies solely on local advertising, and that receives press credentials.
Brian Ferentz gave me a chance to keep covering the Hawkeye beat, but now that role has put me in a difficult situation with him having been fired as the Iowa offensive coordinator.
To me, the firing was justified based on how poorly the offense has performed since the start of the 2022 season.
But the reason I’m able to say that on a Hawkeye website is because of the kindness and support from the person that I now believe deserves to be fired.
That’s a tough juggling act; being true to your job at the expense of the person who might have helped save your job.
I certainly had my doubts when Kirk Ferentz promoted Brian Ferentz to offensive coordinator in 2017 because I didn’t think Brian was ready or qualified.
It seemed obvious that Kirk Ferentz was grooming his son to be his successor, and it reeked of nepotism.
But it would ultimately come down to job performance, and for a while, Brian Ferentz met the challenge.
The offense held its own from 2017 to 2019 as Nate Stanley threw for over 8,000 yards during that time.
Iowa crushed Ohio State 55-24 in 2017 with Stanley throwing five touchdown passes, while the 2019 season ended with a 49-24 victory over USC in the Holiday Bowl.
Brian Ferentz had a masterful game plan for USC as his play calling kept the USC defenders confused and off balance.
I remember watching Brian Ferentz walk off the field after the Holiday Bowl in San Diego and thinking that he was on top of the world and moving closer to being the next Iowa head coach.
But then came a global pandemic, and a new starter at quarterback and the offense hasn’t been the same since.
Spencer Petras never came close to matching Stanley’s performance level as the starter from 2020 to 2002, and Petras’s backup, Alex Padilla, was no better, and was arguably worse.
Iowa still finished 6-2 in the Covid-shortened 2020 season, and 10-4 in 2021, winning the Big Ten West Division.
The offense was far from spectacular in those two seasons, but it wasn’t historically bad from a statistical standpoint as has been the case since the start of the 2022 season.
The Iowa offense has become a punchline and a laughingstock because of how poorly it has performed. There have been times when just completing a pass to a wide receiver has seemed as difficult as climbing Mount Everest backwards.
Against elite competition, the offense has been borderline dysfunctional.
And while injuries to key players have certainly been a factor this season as Kirk Ferentz likes to point out, the problems go way beyond the injury report.
Brian Ferentz could be a victim of timing and circumstance since he is the third offensive coordinator to struggle under his father.
Ken O’Keefe held the job from 1999 to 2011, and though he had his share of good moments, some fans were glad that he chose to leave for a job in the NFL.
Greg Davis held the job from 2012 to 2016, but he never won over the fans despite Iowa setting a school record with 12 wins in 2015.
Iowa has a history of running horizonal and underneath passing routes under Kirk Ferentz, but much to the dismay of fans, it reached a new level with Davis.
So, when Kirk Ferentz promoted his son to offensive coordinator, there was hope that Brian Ferentz would convince his father to make some changes with style and approach.
Brian Ferentz has a gift for gab, and unlike his father, Brian Ferentz often speaks without a filter.
It wasn’t that long ago when Brian Ferentz was a fan and media favorite because of his outspokenness. Brian Ferentz’s personality was a refreshing change from his father, who is usually very guarded when speaking publicly.
However, Brian Ferentz’s personality also caused problems for himself, and for his father, like against Minnesota in 2017 when Brian unleased a profanity-laced tirade against a replay official in the Kinnick Stadium press box.
It was s horrible look for Hawkeye football, and it was unacceptable behavior as Kirk Ferentz would say shortly after it happened.
I wrote a column saying that what Brian Ferentz did was unacceptable, but it wasn’t easy because this was the same guy that had stood up for me just two years earlier.
But I had to be true my profession, and that means being genuine and honest about how you really feel when writing a column.
To say that I was surprised by the decision to fire Brian Ferentz in season would be an understatement.
I was stunned, especially since it was made by an interim athletic director.
Iowa Interim Athletic Director Beth Goetz apparently had seen enough and decided to take action.
Her decision was met with some resistance, but mostly because it was announced in season.
It seems highly unlikely that Kirk Ferentz would’ve fired Brian Ferentz after the season, so maybe that’s why Goetz did it for him.
Whatever the case, Kirk Ferentz is now searching for somebody to replace his son, and that can’t be easy as a father.
Kirk Ferentz said this past Monday that he expects Brian Ferentz to coach against Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl. But Kirk Ferentz also said he would encourage his son to move on if he were offered a job before the bowl game.
With everything that has happened on offense since the start of the 2022 season, it’s easy to forget, or to overlook that Brian Ferentz excelled as a position coach.
A team could do a lot worse than hiring Brian Ferentz as a position coach.
He has grown up around the game and has a wealth of knowledge and experience.
It just didn’t work out for him as the Iowa offensive coordinator.
My hope is that Brian Ferentz sort of reinvents himself, and maybe stepping out from his father’s vast shadow, will help him do that.
Part of me feels sorry for Brian Ferentz because it’s tough watching somebody that did me a huge favor struggle and be ridiculed. Just imagine what his wife and kids have had to endure during this brutal stretch.
But on the other hand, Brian Ferentz also has benefitted greatly from being Kirk Ferentz’s son.
He climbed the coaching ladder faster than most assistant coaches, but that rapid ascent would ultimately expose his flaws and cost him his job at his beloved alma mater.
And for me, that brings mixed emotions.