It seems pretty cut-and-dried that in a highly competitive field like college football, the one overriding impetus for all coaches is to win by any means necessary. Sure, there are rules handed down by the NCAA to corral some of that behavior, which gives us a nice framework within which the coaches can operate, but their motivation remains the same: win, win, win.
That philosophy informs every move these coaches make, including—one would think—the hiring of their assistants. You hire what you believe to be the best, most qualified staff possible and go from there. On the flip side, then, to eschew qualifications for other personal concerns seems almost antithetical to the win-at-all-costs mentality, and that doesn't seem like a great way to keep a good record.
All of which is to say, Kirk Ferentz should probably chill out on this whole "hiring the family" business.
Ferentz named his son (and former Hawkeye center) Brian Ferentz the offensive line coach prior to the 2012 season, and while Brian had the qualification of having been a member of the New England Patriots coaching staff, it still raised some eyebrows in Iowa City. Eventually, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta issued a less-than-plausible statement saying that he, not Kirk, had pursued and hired Brian. The credulity, it is strained.
Iowa's offensive line struggled in 2012, but largely due to injury (which you can't really lay at a coach's feet), so it's way too soon to start drawing conclusions about that hire. Plus, Kirk Ferentz won't be firing his son anytime soon. Did we say Kirk Ferentz? We meant Gary Barta. What a typo that was.
Fresh off that hiring, Ferentz decided to go "future family" up in here, and hired an administrative assistant who just so happens to be engaged to his daughter. He saw no problem with this. Here's more from The Gazette:
Tyler J. Barnes, 27, was hired in January 2012 as a temporary administrative assistant with a one-year appointment and an annual salary of $32,000, according to documents The Gazette obtained through an Open Records request.
About six months into the job, Barnes got engaged to Joanne Ferentz, a 25-year-old Iowa City elementary school teacher. The couple is expected to marry July 6, according to an online wedding registry.
No conflict-of-interest review was done for Barnes, even after his engagement. Ferentz said he didn’t think he needed to tell Athletics Director Gary Barta about the change in Barnes’s personal status.
“I didn’t see any reason to,” Ferentz told The Gazette.
Wait for it... waaaaait for it...
“If he’s reporting within football operations and the reporting line goes to the head coach and he’s becoming the son-in-law of the head coach, that becomes a conflict,” said Sue Buckley, UI vice president for human resources.
Barta said he didn’t know Barnes and Joanne Ferentz were engaged until The Gazette asked about it.
Yep. Now, Barta and Ferentz both agree that this is a case of Ferentz not thinking it was a big deal more than some covert type of thing, and that is completely plausible. Does Ferentz seem like the kind of guy who would let the guy who's marrying his daughter stick around and get some ho-hum job in the program if he wanted it? Sure. Would it cross his mind that could potentially be inappropriate? Probably not.
But there's more to inappropriate hiring practices than just intent. Saying "it hadn't occurred to me" isn't a get-out-of-university-review-free card. The school still needs to figure out whether Barnes should be in that role.
The one thing working in Barnes' favor is that he's been involved with the program in various low-level assistant jobs for a while now. This will be his fifth year at Iowa, according to the Iowa staff page (his official bio says fourth, but that's as of the 2012 season). And sure enough, he's now going to report to a member of the sports information department to avoid any conflict of interest. So his job's probably safe.
But look. That's two very recent hiring decisions by Ferentz that have prompted the university's attention and forced extraordinary supervising decisions to avoid a conflict of interest. The school can't keep doing this just to keep its head coach happy—especially when the football team's trotting out there and losing to the likes of Central Michigan and Indiana.