Firing Iowa football head coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t the answer we should seek.
Iowa Football has faced mass amounts of scrutiny from former players, the media, and fans in the last week over racial disparities in the program. Former players have spoken out that African Americans were treated differently in the Iowa football program citing abusive behavior, specifically around the weight room.
Head strength coach Chris Doyle was placed on administrative leave for his perceived role in the “alienating” culture. And for one of the first times of the Kirk Ferentz era, Iowa is facing a cultural problem.
I should start by stating that this is my opinion: There is not one coach in the world I would rather have to lead Iowa in its charge for racial equality, than Kirk Ferentz.
Maybe that is misguided. Maybe I am worshipping a false idol and backing an old, stubborn coach that is unwilling to make the necessary off-field changes. But I don’t think so, and here is why:
Kirk Ferentz is the longest-tenured coach in the FBS. He has been the head coach of the Iowa Football team for the last 21 years. For reference, I turn 21 next April and am starting my junior year of college. The evolution of how humans live our lives, technology, and football that have changed in that time is unmeasurable.
My life as a college student is far more efficient. Technology has given us the ability to find any information in a matter of seconds from anywhere in the world. The University of Iowa, due to COVID-19, was forced to go to online instruction.
The entire campus of 33,000+ people was forced to learn, study, and take tests completely online. And for the most part, it was handled without missing a beat. Can you imagine telling someone that was even possible twenty years ago?
For reference, iPhone 1 came out in 2007, by then Kirk Ferentz had won an AP College Football Coach of the Year, two Big Ten Coach of the Years, and Iowa had won two Big Ten championships.
Since the release of the iPhone 1, he has added another two B1G Coach of the Year awards, a Big Ten West championship, and had the Hawkeyes literally inches away from a bid to the College Football Playoff. But the point being, things aren’t the same in 2020 as they were in 1999 when Kirk Ferentz took over.
And football has changed. The NFL and College Football have gone to more West Coast, pass-heavy, and spread style offenses. The game is flashier, teams are throwing the ball exponentially more. Teams are faster, defensive schemes are more complex, using analytics is becoming a necessity for football teams at any level.
So how does Kirk continue to not only survive, but thrive in the always-changing landscape of college football? Well, I’d say he’s probably had to make some changes.
Okay, so maybe the offensive scheming hasn’t changed as much as Hawkeye fans. Iowa is most definitely not a spread you out and throws the ball 40+ times a game kind of team, but we have seen some glimpses of Casino Kirk over the last few years.
The fake punt against Ohio State stands out, as well as a willingness to be more aggressive on fourth and shorts are the two things that come immediately to mind. But there have been more changes that.
For example, Iowa Football went 10-3 in 2003 while throwing the ball 24.7 times per game. In comparison, in last years’ 10-3 season, Iowa threw the ball 31.6 times per game. Sure, Iowa is still a run-first team but the offensive scheming has changed drastically over Kirk’s tenure.
Iowa before Kirk Ferentz and Iowa after Kirk Ferentz are two tremendously different paths. And Kirk for the most part has been But now it is time for Kirk to evolve again, and this one cuts deeper than punting from opponents territory on fourth and two.
This change isn’t as easy as telling the offense to run a quarterback sneak. The change is to It is time to give players a voice. It is time to allow players proper expression. It is time to change “the Iowa Way” to not cause racial tensions in the locker room, whether that be from coaches, players, or boosters.
Every player on the Iowa Hawkeyes football roster should be given equal opportunity, not based on where they’re from, how they choose to express themselves outside of the football complex, and especially not based on race.
These necessary changes have already begun.
Kirk Ferentz announced Iowa Football would start a “diverse” panel of former and current players where they could speak judgment-free on concerns of the program. Giving respected former players a place to air out concerns could have potentially stopped the injustices that have plagued the Iowa football program over the last week.
The “No Twitter” rule for the Iowa football program was abolished. Kirk has long been against social media claiming it is a distraction (it is), a way for players to get in trouble with fans or media (it is), and a potentially toxic environment for players after a bad game (it most definitely is). But, Kirk understands that the freedom of expression for his players and staff is of the utmost importance.
Do you see what he did there? He took an old strategy, evaluated it, saw that it was unjust to his players and he changed it.
Granted, Ferentz more than likely isn’t innocent or ignorant in the racial disparities that were happening in the weight room or around the world, nobody is. I would bet everyone in the program is guilty, at least in some way shape or form, to the injustices black players faced in the Iowa Football program. Whether these perpetrators intended their comments to be racially charged or not doesn’t matter.
Any and all racial disparity needs to be addressed sternly. For one of the first times in his tenure, Ferentz is facing scrutiny. As he should! It is his program and despite players acknowledging that “the weight room was Doyle’s house”, it was still happening under Kirk’s roof.
Kirk remained quiet for a few days, optimistically I am hoping Kirk was collecting stories, reading, and listening. And after taking in everything, I’d like to believe came out of it a new and better man. People calling for Ferentz to be fired are wrong, not because he is a perfect man or a perfect football coach, but because above all else Kirk loves his players.
No matter what background, skin color, or anything else. Former players of all diversities have spoken out over the years on how much Kirk has affected their lives in a positive fashion, he wouldn’t have been able to keep his job for 21 years if that wasn’t the case.
So it’s not time for Kirk to be fired.
Time for a change within the program? Yes.
Time for a change at head coach? No.
Kirk will receive flack for not changing his ways, but as you can see that is a (at least somewhat) falsehood. Kirk’s tenure at Iowa has changed him for the better, now it is time for him to change Iowa for the better.