OT: Iowa Could Have Fired Ferentz and Hired Herman and Broke Even Financially*

Submitted by alum96 on January 3rd, 2015 at 5:22 PM

Alternative Title - Kirk Ferentz is Not as Safe as Most Assume if Iowa is Truly Thinking Long Term

There was an interesting thread yesterday about Ferentz yesterday and his "bullet proof" contract disallowing for his dismissal.  Someone posted this story from Forbes on why Iowa CAN indeed fire Ferentz and while I don't agree 100% with the math, it's generally correct.  Indeed, the math will show Ferentz could have been fired (before Jan 31, 2015) and Tom Herman hired and Iowa would have actually saved money.* 

[Of course it is too late for Herman, I am just speaking of what Iowa could have done this past month if it was forward thinking]

It did not have to be Herman, it could be any number of coaches whose salary is $2Mish and Iowa would take a small annual loss v retaining Ferentz.  I offered Herman because (a) he was an Iowa State OC  so he knows the state and (b) he is a hot assistant that would instantly excite a fanbase deep in the throes of apathy in year 16 of Ferentz.

*I am using an asterisk because I am only comparing Ferentz buyout + cost savings of firing vs Herman salary.  The cost of assistant buyouts would be a short term (1-2 year) issue for Iowa but a coach of Herman's experience (which is not much) probably retains the entire Iowa defensive staff so buyouts would probably just be a few guys on the offensive side of the ball.


Let's look at the math of the Ferentz contract.

  • He is owed 5 more years (thru 2019)
  • His base go forward is flat at $2.07M a year
  • His supplemental income is flat at $1.48M a year
  • He is owed 75% of that total, paid monthly thru 2020 if fired
  • He has annual retention bonuses that must be paid if he is not fired by Feb 1 of any year - this year's is $525K per Rovell of ESPN
  • In total his retention bonuses - including the $525K he would be owed if he remains Iowa coach Feb 1, 2015 would be $3.15M per Forbes




Iowa owes Kirk 5 yrs x (2.07M + 1.48M)  = $17.75M on base contract + $3.15M in retention bonuses if retained as coach thru 2019.  That is $20.9M or ~ $4.18M a year.

If fired they owe Kirk 75% of the $17.75M = $13.31MThey save $7.59M:  $4.4M on his base contact and $3.15M in retention bonuses. 

In this scenario, they pay Kirk $2.66M a year to sit at home.  It does not reduce if he goes elsewhere.  That sucks.  But it's doable for Iowa.  It frees up $1.52M a year.

Tom Herman was hired at Houston for $1.35M a year, a new record for a Houston coach.  Kirk sits at home for $2.66M a year, you hire Herman for $1.35M a year = the annual cost to Iowa football for a HC is $4.01M a year combined.  Less than keeping Kirk thru life of contract.

If you don't want Herman there are a bevy of coaches in CFB making $2-$2.2M who are solid.  I am not saying you are getting THESE guys but these are examples of coaches you can hire at $2Mish - Cutcliffe, Whittingham, Golden, Kill, Shaw, Helfrich.  (This is what Hoke should have been paid grrr)  You could also hire a dud for $2M a year - see Illinois.  But the point is good coaches are available at these prices.

Hiring a $2M a year coach rather than a Herman type means you'd take a small annual loss on the Ferentz contract thru 2019 - a $2M coach costs you $4.66M a year in sum (Ferentz $2.66M + $2M new coach).  So you lose $400K a year vs retaining Ferentz.  That's a rounding error to Iowa athletics.  And you bring some excitement back to a stale program.  Kinnick has been below capacity all year except for the Iowa State game.  Sell 3000 more tickets at $50 a pop x 7 home games = $1M. 

* Iowa would take some short term hit on assistant coach buyouts I presume.  But again if you brought in Herman you probably retain that entire defensive staff - Iowa generally is known to be decent defensively, at least when they are not young.  Their staff made about $2.5M last year.  Who knows what the buyouts are - lets assume $750K to get rid of everyone.  It's a 1x cost and most new HC will retain PART of the staff at minimum.



I'd fire Ferentz today and go get Kyle Whittingham for $2.8M+.  He makes $2.2M at Utah and is 55 years old - you'll get a solid decade out of him.  He is in desperate straights at Utah, is in massive conflict with his tight wad AD, is a hell of a coach, fits Iowa's mold perfectly of tough minded defense and apparenty interviewed for Nebraska.  He has lost both his coordinators so he probably keeps the whole Iowa staff for 1 year until he asseses them so you don't take any buyout hits.  You take a modest hit financially but immediately have IMO the best coach in the Big 10 West.  (He or Kill)



Iowa is too poor you say?  No.  According to Forbes they are 11th in nation in athletic revenue.  In 2012 they finished 2nd to only Bama in profit at $30M.  That was an outlier - in 2 of the prior 3 years they had $14M in profit.  So let's assume $15-16M in profit; they can eat $500K-$1M for 5 years to right their football program. 

Iowa didn't beat a FBS team with a winning record this year; they have not been ranked in 4 years, they have been essentially .500 since the 2009 bowl win.  They are sub .500 in the Big 10 the last 5 years.  They now recruit worse than Wisconsin (50s for Iowa, 40s for Wisconsin).  Ferentz is a solid coach who did great things early to middle of his career at Iowa.  Like Fry he got stale late in his regime.  Time to get the new Ferentz/Fry.


But but but no one can win at Iowa!

Sure you can.  There is always a risk you don't do better than Ferentz of course - but there is an opportunity to do better as well.  Especially 2014 Ferentz v 2004 Ferentz.  People are winning at Wisconsin which has no serious advantage over Iowa.  They recruit a similar brand of player.  People are winning at MSU which has only slight advantages over Iowa.  Ferentz was taking Iowa itself to BCS bowls early in his career.  Heck they were in the Orange Bowl in 2009.  It can be done. Doesn't mean it is easy.  Good coaches with solid resources are doing great things across the landscape as parity reigns.  Iowa is a well off school in a very rich conference with loads of bowl and TV money to be shared annually.  And are in a division which is ripe for a 9 to 10 win Iowa.  Being a top 25 team is not an outlier at Iowa the past 35 years.

I don't know the politics of the Iowa athletic department but from a financial perspective the meme of Kirk Ferentz cannot be fired should go away.  He can be, and at this point should be - Iowa has too much on the line to be Iowa State's little brother.



January 3rd, 2015 at 6:39 PM ^

This. The problem would be getting the AD to see this and to appreciate this. I would imagine that someone in his department would have helped him on the numbers here, but there's been no movement. I can't imagine thay are just petrified they'll do worse... but maybe they are. 



January 3rd, 2015 at 5:37 PM ^

Excellent analysis and post. I'm surprised no one has grabbed Wittingham yet. Dude is a very good coach. I tend to think he would have been a better hire at Nebraska than Riley.


January 3rd, 2015 at 6:06 PM ^

While it's clear that firing Ferentz is a break even proposition financially, I have to believe that someone I'm Iowa is very familiar with these numbers. And yet they retain him.

It seems to make no sense to anyone, which is why I suspect that there is somehow more to the story than meets the eye.


January 3rd, 2015 at 7:20 PM ^

Ferentz has been there forever and, during most of his tenure, he has been considered a god.  Hell, it was big news back there when his daughter decided to attend UM.

It'll take a lot to get him out of there... but the seed has now been planted.  They're not quite there yet though. http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/sports/college/iowa/football-ric…


January 4th, 2015 at 2:07 AM ^

"That's about as good a month (of practice) as we've had since I've been here. For whatever reason, it did not show."

Yikes, it's contagious.  You isolate a coach enough and surround him with yes-men, and he starts to actually believe his own bullshit.

snarling wolverine

January 3rd, 2015 at 6:17 PM ^

Very interesting.  One issue though: if you do this, you've got to get that next hire right or else you'll be paying him not to coach anymore in addition to Ferentz, and then you're in pretty tight straits.




January 3rd, 2015 at 6:56 PM ^

It is very rare to fire a coach in 3 years - yes RichRod but again that is an outlier.  Generally you give a guy 4-5 years.  So new coach has 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.  And at a program like Iowa he is not under the same pressure he is at OSU, USC, Bama, UM.  So he gets a 5th year in all probability.  That takes you to 2019. 

You have a clean slate from there.

Whittingham is just about as much of a sure thing you can ask for right now.  And in 5 years he'd be a steal at $2.8M.  And he has little in the way of bargaining chips right now - there are no jobs open in CFB so unless Mora goes to the NFL and UCLA is interested in the "boring style" Whittingham wants he has no chips on his side of the table.  He is facing a year of coaching in Utah with 2 coordinators he has to hire who knows they have 1 year life spans - i.e.  he is not going to attract anyone to Utah.  His contract runs out in 2016 at Utah and next year could be a disaster for them with the writing on the wall.  Difficult for him to recruit to Utah as well now that the laundry is out in the open. 

Vacuous Truth

January 3rd, 2015 at 6:18 PM ^

is a Mormom, fwiw. Not sure if that would preclude him from leaving Utah. 

Solid post though, I had been under the impression Ferentz was untouchable but you changed my mind.

Vacuous Truth

January 3rd, 2015 at 7:43 PM ^


Utah has the highest proportion of Mormons, at 60% of the state. Next is Idaho (24%), Wyoming (9%) and Nevada (4-5%). 

No one is saying a Mormon coach wouldn't leave Utah or that region, but you could imagine being in a state where 60% of people belong to you religion, as opposed to <1% in Iowa, could be a reason to stay in Utah. Also, i'm willing to bet his religion may be part of the reason he is coaching in Utah now - his entire career he has coached in the state with the exception of 6 years in Idaho.



January 3rd, 2015 at 7:01 PM ^

I though Whittingham was a lifer at Utah until the past month.  His AD is being cheap, he lost his very well thought of 10 year DC to Andersen at Oregon State and he lost his OC to be a OL coach at A&M.  If you believe the smoke he threw his hat in for Nebraska.  His contract ends in 2016 - there are no extension talks, in fact the AD and Whittingham from sources are fighting.

Dude has to be frustrated - with Urban's help he built Utah from the ground up.  Now they have gone cheap on him despite going to the Pac 12 and sharing in the honey pot.

Read this story for details - Whittinghan can be had now.  If his AD treated him with respect I doubt it would be the case.


January 3rd, 2015 at 9:41 PM ^

Iowa City has a robust Mormon community. One of the major roads in town in Mormon Trek Boulevard, as it was on the way from Illinois to Utah. It is very close to a major temple in Nauvoo, Il. Many of our good friends from IC are Mormons.


January 3rd, 2015 at 6:24 PM ^

This is a good write up but I think you may have answered your own question- Iowa athletics is making boatloads of $$$$$$$ with the current arrangement- why rock the boat? Many like Kirk, many like regular winning records, many like stability.  Why gamble?


January 3rd, 2015 at 7:06 PM ^

Because you are going to start to reach the apathy you began to see in Hoke's 2014 season.  Just like Michigan's wait list disappeared and 113K became 103K, Iowa's 71K has become 66K and if this continues you could be in the 60Ks a year from now.   The goodwill of the 09 Orange Bowl is eroding. 

Suddenly that profit can drop very quickly.  Every 3K attendance loss is $1M. (I dont know if they do PSLs there).


January 3rd, 2015 at 6:25 PM ^


1983 Iowa coaching staff.  Literally, they could have chosen almost anyone on this staff and it would have come out ok. For those who don't know there's Kirk Ferentz, Bob Stoops, Barry Alverez, and Bill Snyder. That said, Kirk has done alright for himself, but he's probably hit his ceiling.  It is Iowa after all. 




January 3rd, 2015 at 7:04 PM ^

Yep an amazing staff.  A very unappreciated part of being a head coach is an eye for coaching talent.  You still need to be organized, set a tone, recruit, deal with boosters, et al but identifying talent in the coaching ranks is important.  More so for programs that just cannot "buy coaches" like the top 15 programs can.


January 4th, 2015 at 2:52 AM ^

Tim Drevno, Scott Shafer, Willie Taggert, David Shaw, DJ Durkin and Greg Roman were all coaching under Jim Harbaugh in 2008. That's an impressive list when you consider 4 of the 6 were the head coach for at least one game for a Power 5 school, and Drevno and Roman were key assistants on a team that came within 1 play of winning the Super Bowl.


January 3rd, 2015 at 8:53 PM ^

I grew up in Ann Arbor, attended U-M as an undergrad, and have lived in Iowa City for over 20 years. I saw the stale end of the Hayden Fry era first hand and then in 1999 witnessed the uproar when then AD Bob Bowlsby (current Big 12 commish) hired Kirk Ferentz instead of going after Bob Stoops (player and GA under Fry) like we just did with Jim Harbaugh. (It later became apparent that Stoops never wanted to be the HC at Iowa).

FWIW I had never even heard of Ferentz, who had also been on Fry's staff and was a respected OL coach with the Baltimore Ravens when he returned to Iowa City. As is well known, Ferentz did a magnificent job taking the empty cupboard left by Fry at the end of his career and building it into a Big 10 champ in 2002. He kept the momentum going for another two seasons but then flattened out until reaching the Orange Bowl in 2009 (and beating Georgia Tech). As the above post indicates he got a big extension after that and has underachieved (in a relative sense) since that time.

While the math may support firing Ferentz and moving on, and I as a close observer (but faithful Michigan fan) would certainly support, here's the local skinny on why it's unlikely:

1. Iowa may have some $$$ to spend because of the B1G Network revenue but they do NOT have a strong winning tradition. Fry was the original miracle worker here and prior to his hiring in 1979 they were doormats forever. Despite the view from outside which may suggest they can do better than 8-4 (on average) every year, Hawkeye fans don't necessarily see it that way. They are an old (age wise) and loyal fanbase that remembers the bad days very clearly. What to a Michigan fan may look like a stale and outdated program is perceived here as stable, competitive (again, relatively) program that "knows who they are" (e.g. zone running team with solid defense) and doesn't cheat.

2. Iowa is a conservative and rural state with by far the smallest population in the B1G (except for Nebraska which has a much more successful tradition in football). The idea of paying Ferentz (or anybody else) to "go away" just doesn't fit with the culture here. Their view of Nebraska firing Bo Pelini, despite the obvious anger issues and animosity, is that Cornhusker fans are crazy and have lost perspective on the reality of what "good enough" is.

3. Steve Alford was hired in the same year as Kirk Ferentz and he lasted 8 seasons despite a B1G record that was well under .500 and being a well-known jerkwad of the first degree. After he was finally forced out by the current AD Gary Barta, then national coach of the year Todd Lickliter from Butler (preceded Brad Stevens) was brought in. He lasted 3 seasons and was an absolute disaster of a misfit. Barta had no real choice but to pay him to go away because Carver Hawkeye Arena was sitting close to half empty--and had been since the last 2-3 seasons of the Alford era--and fans were in an uproar. Current basketball coach Fran McCaffrey is doing much better, but I suspect Barta is exceedingly gun-shy about a possible repeat experience with hiring the wrong guy to replace the highly respected Ferentz.

There are probably other reasons as well but I'll leave it there for now, other than a personal opinion as a lifelong football fan. I like Kirk Ferentz a lot as a human and respect the hell out of what he's done here in re-establishing the winning culture of Hayden Fry. After yesterday's total annihilation by a young Tennessee squad, however, there is NO DOUBT that the program is out of date with little hope of change in the near future. It's time for Kirk Ferentz to ride off into the sunset--or be encouraged to do so by his boss--but I'd be stunned if it happened anytime soon.


January 4th, 2015 at 1:43 AM ^

Bowlsby wanted/had promised to do another interview (Ferentz) after Stoops'. Bob told them either give me the job now or I'm going to Oklahoma and so they let him go and kept the promise to KF to interview him.  Bit of an ego issue for Stoops (as we now know full and well).

I actually think it worked out the best for both parties fit-wise.


January 4th, 2015 at 8:32 AM ^

I realize I am in a distinct minority here, but I think Ferentz is a very good coach and that Iowa ought to keep him. I reviewed his record and he's finished above .500 in six out of the past seven seasons. He's only had two losing records in the past fourteen seasons (and went 6-6 in 2007). It's true that he hasn't reached double-digit wins since 2009, but he's done it before and could do it again. Moreover, Iowa is not a program that regularly pulls in top-30 recruiting classes, so I don't think it's realistic to expect Iowa to be winning 9+ games with regularity. I suppose you could blame Ferentz for not recruiting better, but it's a low-population state with cold weather and farms--maybe players just don't want to go there (similarly, it's not as though other schools from that region--Iowa State, Kansas, or even Nebraska or Wisconsin--have set the recruiting world on fire). If you're Iowa, maybe a guy who consistently gets you to 7-8 wins and a bowl trip, with an occasional 11-2 or 4-8, is satisfactory. Even if you could do a little better, the difference between Ferentz's performance and Iowa's realistic ceiling is pretty marginal--and if you do make a change, you risk falling to the level of a Purdue or Illinois.

Get Jim Harbaugh

January 5th, 2015 at 9:16 AM ^

Iowa needs to move on if they want to become a better program. Kirk had just a couple of good seasons (Drew Tate years) and a small amount of decent seasons since he has been there. I know it is tough to convince the top high school athletes to come to Iowa, but come on, they can do better than Kirk.

the Bray

January 5th, 2015 at 12:21 PM ^

Could further try and minimize cost of firing Ferentz by offering a buy out.  $2.66 million a year for 5 years?  How about $5 million now, to quit and $5 million two years from now.  Or something similar.

Now - Ferentz doesn't have to agree to that - but maybe he would.


January 5th, 2015 at 2:47 PM ^

Great analysis.  I don't think Herman's agent would accept $1.35M/yr offer at a Big Ten school.  No doubt the market rate would be closer to the $2M mark you mentioned.