Iowa football: Kirk Ferentz versus Hayden Fry, who’s the best?

15 Nov 1997: Head coach Hayden Fry of the University of Iowa during the Hawkeyes 15-14 loss to Northwestern at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.
15 Nov 1997: Head coach Hayden Fry of the University of Iowa during the Hawkeyes 15-14 loss to Northwestern at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. /

The Iowa football program has been fortunate to have two coaches in the past 40 years and to inspire spirited debate, we decided to look at who’s better.

What we’ve seen as Iowa football fans the past 41 years is incredibly rare. We’ve been absolutely blessed to have seen two great leaders run the program successfully and with morality since 1979, but who is better?

It honestly depends on who you ask, so let’s look at it by the numbers.

Hayden Fry spent 20 years at the helm while Kirk Ferentz has spent 21 years (and counting) and with an extra season of running the Iowa football team, Kirk has 9 more wins than Hayden (152 to 143).

Yet, total win numbers don’t provide a complete picture as Fry’s winning percentage is .613, .12 better than Kirk’s .601 winning percentage.

When we look at bowl game winning percentage, that too gets a bit murky. Hayden Fry-led Iowa football teams went 6-7-1 in 14 bowl appearances while Kirk Ferentz-lead Iowa football teams have gone an even an 8-8. But comparing bowl records is a bit like comparing granny smith apples to red delicious apples. Bowls are bowls, but the era is much different. There aren’t nearly as many bowl games now as there were back then and Hayden Fry still managed to take the Hawks to three Rose Bowls.

Kirk Ferentz, on the other hand, has led Iowa to just one Rose Bowl but a total of three major bowls (2003 Orange, 2010 Orange, 2016 Rose). Fry went winless and Ferentz has gone 1-2.

From a top-25 ranking perspective, the Hawks finished the season ranked in the top-25 10 times in Hayden Fry’s 20 seasons and they have finished the season ranked in the top-25 7 times in Kirk Ferentz’s 21 seasons.

The last metric to look at is each of their records against common rivals (Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa State), but as you’ll see, even this isn’t a good way of comparing the two.

Kirk Ferentz’s record versus rivals:

Minnesota: 14-6

Wisconsin: 7-11

Iowa State: 11-9

Hayden Fry’s record versus rivals:

Minnesota: 11-9

Wisconsin: 15-2-1

Iowa State: 16-4

The context that’s important to keep in mind is Minnesota has actually been better the last two decades than they were during the Hayden Fry era while Wisconsin has definitely flipped the script from the 80s and 90s where they were putrid at best. Iowa State has been consistently average the entire time.

So let’s break it down:

Wins: Kirk

Winning percentage: Hayden

Top-25 rankings: Hayden

Bowl-winning percentage: Kirk

Rivalry games: Hayden

It’s basically a tie, but if I had to pick one, it would be Hayden Fry. While the metrics basically make this comparison even, the edge goes to Hayden who has quite the incredible coaching tree, which includes Kirk Ferentz.

Next. Three potential Iowa games for ESPN College GameDay. dark

That being said, a College Football Playoff appearance or really just a few more seasons with 9 or more wins before Kirk retires might just be enough to cement his legacy as the great Iowa football head coach of all time.