Badger Football Hire a Lesson for Iowa?
Some of you won’t care for this thought, but perhaps it merits some consideration:
Can Iowa learn anything from the Wisconsin coaching search and the man they have now hired (or will, barring a last minute change of heart), former Utah State coach Gary Andersen? When I say ‘can Iowa learn’ I am not necessarily talking about Athletic Director Gary Barta; I am thinking more about the fans who are so discontented with Kirk Ferentz right now that you’d like to see Iowa go in a different direction, thinking that the Iowa program can do better.
Do better than the second winningest coach in school history, one who led Iowa to back to back to back top ten finishes, who has had two teams win a school best 11 games, winner of an Orange Bowl, two Outback Bowls, a Capital One Bowl along with an Alamo and Insight Bowl for good measure.
Yes, I know Iowa is 11-14 over the past two seasons including a 4-8 campaign in 2012. I realize that the 2010 8-5 record will always be seen as a disappointment based on how much talent that team had and the fact that they either led or were tied in the fourth quarter of each of those five losses and all came by a touchdown or less.
Iowa is coming off its most successful decade in school history (with Ferentz at the helm), their facilities are nearly on par with the major college football programs in the nation (all that’s left is the office space and new weight room coming in the second phase of the indoor facility, which will be completed by August of 2014) and they have shown a financial commitment in salary for their head coach which is among the biggest in the sport.
So what’s the lesson in the Wisconsin hire?
For one, Gary Andersen wasn’t on the short list for any Badger fan or writer I know. They had their sights set higher than the 48 year old head coach from Utah State. Had the Badgers not played Utah State earlier in this year they might not have even known there was a Utah State.
They were turned down by Miami’s Al Golden and Barry Alvarez and Pitt coach Paul Chryst felt it wouldn’t be right for Chryst to return to his native Madison after being the Pitt head coach for just one season, a job Alvarez helped Chryst procure. Oregon State’s Mike Riley is believed to have been considered for the job but he stayed put.
The ESPN story linked above says that Andersen was Alvarez’s top choice. That’s what they all say, or try to say with a straight face.
Andersen has been Utah State’s head coach for four years where they have run a spread offense. Utah State is 26-24 during his four years including this past season’s 11-2 record including a 41-15 win over Toledo in last week’s Potato Bowl. Prior to the Utah State job he was head coach at Southern Utah for one year in 2003. Other than that he had been an assistant at several schools we know little or nothing about and he has never spent time on the staff at a BCS conference…or in the MAC for that matter.
Utah State nearly beat Wisconsin this year, missing a 37-yard field goal late in the game after a horrible offensive pass interference call had pushed them back.
Gary Andersen may turn out to be a great hire and a great coach. Kirk Ferentz was not Iowa’s first choice back in 1999 when he was hired. He certainly wasn’t the first choice of the fan’s; they wanted Bob Stoops and likely could have had him were it not for Iowa having a search committee and telling Stoops that they had committed to interviewing other candidates before making a decision. I believe Bob Bowlsby was seriously considering Terry Allen after that but thankfully boosters got wind of that and let it be known that would not be an acceptable hire.
You just never know how these things will work out in the end but ‘Utah State Coach Gary Andersen’ isn’t the ‘caliber’ of coach Wisconsin fans believed they would be hiring when their job came open.
Should Iowa fans expect top flight candidates to line up outside their door whenever they have a head coaching vacancy? Let me rephrase that; should Iowa fans REALISTICALLY expect top flight candidates to line up outside their door whenever they have a head coaching vacancy? What does Iowa have that Wisconsin doesn’t have right now?
The Badgers are making their third straight trip to the Rose Bowl, a place Iowa hasn’t been since January 1st, 1991. The Badgers have won three straight league titles and the only two Big Ten championship games. This is Wisconsin’s sixth Big Ten title since Barry Alvarez took over back in the early 1990′s; Iowa has won three Big Ten titles during that time.
Madison is a great city, as is Iowa City. The fan support in Madison is great, just as it is at Iowa; both schools are among the top 10 or 15 bowl draws related to fan support. Wisconsin’s facilities are not where Iowa’s facilities are right now but changes are on the way.
The biggest advantage Iowa has in its quiver over Wisconsin, one that isn’t at least debatable, is what it has paid its head football coach.
When Kirk Ferentz became one of the highest paid head coaches in the sport, I recall writing a column as to why that was very good for the future of Iowa football. The primary reasons were: a) Kirk Ferentz was a guy you wanted to keep around and b) the next time Iowa found itself looking for a coach, that level of financial commitment would help them overcome some inherent obstacles.
When the day comes for Iowa to hire a new football coach, do you think they are going to pay that new guy the $3.8 million per year they are paying Kirk Ferentz? I don’t, unless Iowa hires a huge and established name away from a power program. The only person I could see doing something like that would be Bob Stoops, but I don’t think that will happen. If a coach is doing well at a power program, he will have recruiting advantages in place at that program that Iowa simply does not and will not have. Why leave for a tougher job that might pay a few hundred thousand more dollars per year?
What is more likely for Iowa is what Wisconsin just went through…a process where you bump your head chasing after a few known names and coming up with someone from a lesser level.
For those of you screaming that it’s time for Iowa to make a change (and I am not one of you), do you want to trade in what you know, what has been a pretty darned good thing for Iowa for the majority of the last 14 years, for what you don’t know behind door number two?
This isn’t ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ here. You don’t go home with a Popeil Whizzinator and the Let’s Make a Deal board game if you choose poorly.
Wisconsin, like Iowa, is one bad hire away from a steep drop off. I realize the 4-8 season Iowa just went through is pretty bad and worse than what the Iowa program should have to suffer through in year 14 of the Kirk Ferentz era. The Hawkeyes have a lot to show to their fanbase next year as it relates to offensive
execution philosophy next season. Attacking vertically in the passing game would be a good start. Another 4-8 type season where the offense is as bad as it was in 2012 will find more fans on or over the ledge than we are seeing right now.
I do feel things can get worse for Iowa, where a 4-8 season isn’t a rarity. I don’t think we’ll see that again from a Ferentz-led Iowa team. I think he has one more ‘run’ in him before he grunts off into that good night.
But when that day comes, or if you want that day to come sooner rather than later, just remember this Wisconsin coaching search and the guy they ended up with; he wasn’t on any Badger fan’s radar two weeks ago when Bret Bielema decided to leave Madison for Arkansas.
That could be you.