Until this morning, Kirk Ferentz, college football's most cromulent head coach, was tethered to perhaps the game's most ill-advised contract. (Shoutout Kevin Sumlin and every USC coach this decade for making the qualifier necessary). In September 2010, Ferentz inked a 10-year deal that paid him just over $4 million annually through 2020, when he'll be 66 years old. They did this despite Ferentz averaging less than eight wins over the previous five seasons, although the Hawkeyes were fresh off an 11-2 season culminating in an Orange Bowl win.
The ensuring five years were a disaster, with a 34-30 record, one bowl win in four tries. But the Hawkeyes rebounded in a massive way in 2015, soldiering to a 12-0 start before losing a squeaker to Michigan State in the Big 10 Title game and getting curb stomped by Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Pretty much nothing supported the Hawkeyes being that good, but still, things were indisputably on the upswing after Ferentz more or less copped to hitting the snooze button for a while. A steady place in the top 35 programs in the country certainly would not justify Ferentz making top-15 head coach money, but there was always going to be an up-charge to stay put versus moving higher up in the CFB food chain or testing the pro waters. String together a couple more double-digit win seasons and Ferentz would return a good portion of the initial investment. That's not bad, as far as previously sunk costs go.
And then Iowa gave him another raise.
You read that correctly. After one great season and five mediocre-to-bad ones over the life of the deal—despite not winning a bowl game since 2010—Iowa has decided to pay Ferenz even more money for even more of his golden years. The same head coach who has averaged 7.5 wins per season over his 17 years in Iowa City will now take home $4.5 million through 2026, when he'll be 71 years old.
Somehow, we've yet to arrive at the best part. Here's the coup de grace, courtesy of Football Scoop:
In Ferentz' existing contract, if the University were to terminate his contract without cause they would pay him 75% of the remaining base due over the life of his contract. So, with an annual salary of $4.5 million for the next ten years ($45 million base), if Ferentz were to be terminated without cause sometime soon, the University would be on the hook for over $30 million.
This is legitimately dumbfounding, insofar as there's no discernible reason to do this aside from athletic director Gary Barta's long-held position of wanting Ferentz to retire a Hawkeye. No other school would write Ferentz a check large enough to trump the sweetheart deal he already had, and it stands to reason that the second-most tenured coach at a single school would need something well above "large" to start over elsewhere. Stability in coaching is an even more valuable commodity than cash; Ferentz has it, and turned down myriad offers over the years to sacrifice it. There was no urgency to be found, nor leverage, yet Iowa reacted as though they were competing against all other 127 schools in FBS, furiously bidding against itself to ward off even a curious sniff from some unknown party at some unknown time.
Like all of its moves with Ferentz, it reeks of insecurity, which makes some modicum of sense: Ferentz has engineered five of the eight double-digit winning seasons in school history. But the endgame is a school so petrified of backsliding into irrelevance ithat it would rather chain itself to him at nearly any cost than consider the prospect of someone else overlaying on what he built.
All edifices crumble sometime but even in his prime, Ferentz was rickety as often as sturdy. Who knows how it will look in his 70's, without any financial incentive to achieve any more than he feels like doing? There's no answering that question, of course. There's just even less of an explanation for why Iowa bid against itself to try and find out.