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At ease in Iowa City: Coach Kirk Ferentz remains intent on keeping Iowa a national power

Photo courtesy of MCT

Few coaches in college football have done more with less than Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz.

Since becoming coach in 1999, Ferentz has won 88 games, five bowl games and two Big Ten championships with the Hawkeyes. A three-time winner of the Big Ten Coach of the Year award, Ferentz has made Iowa a perennial conference title contender despite lagging behind other major programs in recruiting and other resources.

But with Iowa at 7-3, 2010 has been a disappointing season for the defending Orange Bowl champions, who many expected to contend for the National Championship.

Coming off a 21-17 defeat against Northwestern, Ferentz isn’t concerned about others’ expectations as he prepares his team for Ohio State on Saturday.

“We’ve never worried too much about people’s expectations,” Ferentz said. “We just try to maximize every opportunity that we have and then we go from there.”

After his tenure at Iowa began with a 4-19 record, Ferentz rebounded by guiding the Hawkeyes to six consecutive bowl games and winning two conference championships during that period. That success, along with prior experience as an assistant coach for the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, made him a hot commodity in coaching circles, and many assumed he would leave Iowa for a job in the NFL.

“Early they were linking me to the unemployment line, and then some NFL stuff later,” Ferentz said during a telephone conference this week. “That’s part of college football.”

Although Ferentz often hears his name linked to possible coaching jobs in the NFL, he said he is bewildered by the speculation about his future.

“I think the only logical reason for that is: I’ve got experience coaching in the NFL, and some of the people that I’ve worked with have done very well,” Ferentz said. “I’ve never given any indication that I had any intentions of leaving Iowa.”

Iowa has made it difficult for Ferentz to consider leaving by giving him an annual salary of more than $3.6 million. His contract doesn’t expire until 2020.

At Iowa, Ferentz has built much of his reputation on developing his players for the NFL. Dallas Clark, Aaron Kampman and Bob Sanders are among the many NFL standouts to have played for Ferentz at Iowa.

“We’ve got a great group of guys that work with our players,” Ferentz said. “We do all we can to try and support them from the day they walk in until the day they leave and give them a chance to maximize all their capabilities.”

What makes the success of his players even more remarkable is that Ferentz has rarely been able to bring blue chip prospects to Iowa. According to Rivals.com, Ferentz has never had a recruiting class ranked better than 11th in the nation. His second-highest ranked class was No. 28.

“Our biggest challenge is our state population,” Ferentz said. “The high school football here is tremendous, but we only have 3 million people in our entire state.”

“Between 80 and 90 percent of the time we’re recruiting in someone else’s state, which makes it a challenge,” he said.

A win against the Buckeyes and coach Jim Tressel, who has a 4-1 record against Ferentz, would atone for many of Iowa’s shortcomings in the 2010 season. Tressel expects a stiff challenge from Ferentz’s team, which lost by a field goal in overtime last November in Columbus.

“All summer long and all fall long, people have circled this game,” Tressel said. “We know what this game is all about.”

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