Following the 2004 football season, Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes were on top of the world.
It is true there had been no recent national championships, but given Iowa's record over the previous three years—31-7, which was eighth in the country—and a strong group of returning starters in 2005, things looked promising.
Unfortunately, 2005-2007 didn't go so well. The Hawks went 19-18, which was tied for 59th in the country.
Heading into 2008, Kirk Ferentz's seat was getting warm. Not only had Iowa failed to do well on the field, but the Hawks were beset with a slew of legal issues (via Black Heart Gold Pants).
Then the 2008 team had a 9-4 run, which was followed by the improbable 11-win, Orange Bowl-winning 2009 season. The Hawks had a ton of starters returning in 2010, and once again, things looked promising.
However, the 2010 team lost its "will to win" (via The Daily Iowan), and between 2010-2011, mediocre would aptly describe Iowa football. The Hawks have gone 15-11 over the last two seasons, despite having 12 players—two in the first round—taken in the NFL draft over that stretch.
Though some diehard fans argue to the contrary, it is considerably more difficult to consistently field winning teams at Iowa than it is at Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Florida or Texas. As Maize n' Brew's Zach Travis pointed out, in comparison to states like Ohio or California, Iowa's "talent pool is small." I might even go so far as to say in comparison to Ohio, Iowa's talent pool is minuscule.
Nevertheless, Iowa fans wouldn't complain about losses to powerhouses like Oklahoma or Ohio State. The issues concern back-to-back losses to a hapless Minnesota program, or a 2011 loss to Iowa State, in which the Hawkeye defense allowed ISU quarterback Steele Jantz to look like the second coming of John Elway.
As Cedar Rapids Gazette's Mike Hlas pointed out, Iowa has nine losses as double-digit favorites since 2006, which is second-worst of all Big Ten teams. And as Iowa fans remember each of those losses vividly, they also remember how uninspired and apathetic the Hawks looked. They also remember how Ferentz was repeatedly out-coached by his opponent.
Despite this, it is inaccurate to say that Ferentz, the fourth-longest tenured coach in FBS football, is on a hot seat. Nevertheless, Hawkeye fans are getting listless.
Given that Ferentz produces NFL talent at an unprecedented rate (via Black Heart Gold Pants), the problem obviously lies with the Xs and Os. One would then think that the underproduction of such talent would have led to a staff shakeup, which it has in a way.
Ferentz didn't fire anybody, but beloved defensive coordinator Norm Parker retired at the end of last season, while not-so-beloved offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe opted to try his luck in the pros as the Miami Dolphins' wide receiver coach. Also, defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski left Iowa for the same job at Nebraska.
The end result is longtime Iowa defensive backs coach Phil Parker was promoted to DC, longtime Texas OC Greg Davis was hired as the Hawks new quarterbacks coach and OC, longtime Iowa offensive line coach Reese Morgan was moved to the defensive line, New England Patriots tight ends coach Brian Ferentz was hired as the O-line coach and Hawkeye administrative assistant LeVar Woods was promoted to linebacker coach.
It's a lot to swallow, but the bottom line is there is change in Iowa City. Not only that, there is excitement, exuberance and even some youth on the coaching staff (via The Gazette).
And given the disappointments of the last two seasons, change is a good thing.
2011 Record: 7-6
2011 Conference Record: 4-4
2011 Home/Away/Neutral Record: 6-1/1-4/0-1
2011 Record vs. Ranked Teams: 1-3
Record Last Five Seasons: 41-23 (28th-winningest FBS program over that period of time)
Conference Record Last Five Seasons: 23-17
Home/Away/Neutral Record Last Five Seasons: 27-7/10-15/4-1
Record vs. Ranked Teams Last Five Seasons: 8-8
Best Record Last Five Seasons: 11-2 (2009)
Worst Record Last Five Seasons: 6-6 (2007)
Number of Coaches Last 10 Seasons: One
As Iowa fans well know, Kirk Ferentz grew up in Pittsburgh, where he learned his trade watching Penn State's Joe Paterno and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Chuck Noll.
Ferentz went on to play collegiate football at the University of Connecticut, after which he worked as a defensive coordinator and English Lit teacher at Worcester Academy. The head coach at Worcester, by the way, was a young man named Ken O'Keefe.
Ferentz moved back home and worked as a Pitt grad assistant under Jackie Sherrill.
In 1981, Ferentz interviewed for and accepted the job of O-line coach at Iowa under Hayden Fry. He spent nine seasons in Iowa City, and 11 of his charges went on to play in the NFL.
In 1990, he became head coach at the University of Maine. His Black Bears didn't do so well, compiling a 12-21 record in his three years in Orono.
In 1993, he moved on to the NFL where he was the offensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns under Bill Belichick. He followed the franchise to Baltimore and remained with it until 1998.
On December 2, 1998, Ferentz was hired to replace Hayden Fry as Iowa's head coach.
His Hawks struggled the first two years, compiling a 4-19 record. However, in 2001, Iowa broke through with a 7-5 record, and following a unprecedented 11-2 2002 campaign, Ferentz has been firmly entrenched as the Hawkeyes' head man.
In 13 years, he has earned a 96-66 record. His conference record is 57-47. He has shared two conference championships—2002 and 2004—been to two BCS bowls and compiled a 6-4 bowl record.
Coming next Monday, an overview and breakdown of Iowa's offense.
Full disclosure: Unlike the rest of this series, which takes an in-depth look at each Big Ten team, I am an Iowa fan. I hope that has not colored the way I looked at the Hawks or any of their opponents. I pride myself on being unbiased, but one who is biased is generally unaware of his active prejudices.