If at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards.
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said he’s had ongoing conversations with offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz on what the expectations will be this season. Less than a week later, those expectations were put in writing.
Here’s the press release:
Iowa Announces Brian Ferentz Contract Amendments
IOWA CITY, Iowa – – University of Iowa offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brian Ferentz has signed an amended contract for the 2023 season, with financial incentives based on Designated Performance Objectives. The contract amendments were announced Monday by Gary Barta, Henry B. and Patricia B. Tippie Director of Athletics Chair.
The contract amendments include a salary of $850,000, effective Feb. 1, 2023. The Designated Performance Objectives for the 2023 season include an average of at least 25 points per game and a minimum of seven wins, including regular season and a possible bowl game.
If Designated Performance Objectives are met, the contract will return to the prior two-year rolling agreement terms, along with a one-time lump sum bonus and base salary adjustment.
And the attachment outlining the terms.
Let’s break this down, piece by piece:
Winning seven games is no great accomplishment. How do I know this? The winningest coach in Iowa football stated that last week:
“It’s not much fun certainly, to win eight games,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s no easy trick when you score 17.8 a game. 17 is not the standard. Eight is not the standard.”
But, we know Hawkeye football is no stranger to an obvious contradiction. Here’s another:
“The idea is to be a championship-level team.” Ferentz said in his national signing day presser.
Nope. 6-6 with a bowl win would be just fine, according to Iowa’s athletic director. I’m sure I could pull off the hat trick of Kirk disavowing himself, but let’s turn our attention to the man who set these odd metrics: AD Gary Barta, and a statement he made on national signing day.
“His [Brian’s] first four years (2017-20) — and I don’t know if this gets lost in the narrative,” Barta said. “The first four years that Brian was the offensive coordinator, the average was much higher — it was actually higher than Kirk’s average over his 24-year period.”
Barta’s correct: Iowa’s offense under Kirk’s son on a PPG basis is above Ferentz’ average as a head coach (29.2 from 2017-20, Kirk’s average is 26.3). However, this isn’t necessarily something to brag about.
Iowa’s most successful season with Brian at the helm of the offense, when the Hawkeyes scored 31.8 points per game (nearly double their average in 2022), the offense finished 88th in yards per game. The worst was 2017, when Iowa scored 28.2 per game and finished 117th in yardage.
Kirk Ferentz is an excellent head coach who deserves an enormous amount of credit for his impact on the Iowa football program. 26.3 points per game is nothing to write home about. For reference, that’s the same average Wisconsin had last year, the same Badger team that fired their head coach mid-season.
So, if exceeding Kirk’s average is satisfactory — isn’t failing to subpar? Last time I checked, 25 is less than 26. As putrid as it may be, shouldn’t 29 be the standard if that’s considered a sufficient performance?
Here’s why it’s not:
On national signing day, Kirk Ferentz shared a statistic with the assembled media in the form of a question: “When we score 24 points, coincidentally, do you want to venture a guess at our
record the last seven, eight years?” Ferentz asked.
“It’s 55-3, which I think everybody would take that, but nobody likes the 24.”
That’s where this statistic comes into play. Scoring 24. Here’s the flaw with that assessment: This goal can be reached by scoring a LOT more than 24 against the Hawkeyes’ underwhelming non-conference schedule.
I’m talking about scoring 62 against North Texas in 2015. Or 48 against Middle Tennessee State in 2019. Perhaps scoring 40 points in the Cy-Hawk game, which they’ve done twice in that eight-year span, would balloon that statistic. You don’t think the Hawkeyes can run up the score against Utah State and Western Michigan at HOME in 2023?
I’ll ask our audience this question: How many points per game have the Hawkeyes scored against ranked opponents since 2015? 20.7, with a 12-16 record. Now, that isn’t an alarming number, being that it’s only six points below the team’s average over that timespan. But, that is EXACTLY why the low benchmark is egregious to begin with.
Besides, isn’t this an OFFENSIVE goal?
The Hawkeyes defense accounted for 20% of the team’s points in 2022. If Gary Barta REALLY wanted to hold Brian’s feet to the fire, wouldn’t a goal predicated on offensive points instead of total points be a more appropriate benchmark?
Or, if winning is truly the above-all-else metric for success, how about winning eight games? Or 10 games exempt from a bowl opportunity, a barometer? After all, that’s short of the goal anyway, according to Kirk.
85 teams averaged 25 points per game last year, and 82 qualify for a bowl game. Do these sound like “championship” level standards?
Finally, let’s address what happens when Brian Ferentz likely reaches both metrics:
Even though his salary is docked $50,000 in 2023, he will make it all back and-then-some in the form of a $112,500 bonus. On TOP of this, he will receive a $25,000 pay raise on a rolling two-year contract extension. If the team doesn’t win seven games and average 25 points per game, his contract will be terminated.
But, what does this really mean? Kirk said himself that he doesn’t fire coordinators:
“I worked for a guy for nine years who there was never a coordinator fired here during my nine years with Coach Fry, and I don’t think the next 11, or two and eight I guess it would be, I’m not planning on doing it. I haven’t done it.”
Maybe it does mean Brian would be banished to the Patriots, or to Nebraska, as Hawkeye fans would like to imagine.
This contract is going to embellish what’s already a national nepotism punchline. This goes without saying but ANY other coordinator in ANY other program would be fired. While Gary Barta may be just trying to show the fanbase that he cares, it just looks like he’s trying to keep his head coach happy.
My take is this: Gary Barta admitted on national signing day that he doesn’t want to “micro-manage” Kirk Ferentz’ operation. He’s the head honcho, but he’s also not going to step on Kirk’s toes. And whether Hawkeye fans want to admit it or not, Kirk Ferentz is the most powerful person in the Iowa football program, and the highest paid too.
It’s Kirk’s offense, Kirk’s staff and Kirk’s standards. Gary Barta’s not going to fire the head coach’s son, because he’s not even the one who hired him in the first place. We all should cut him some slack with that in mind, but here’s where I push back:
Addendums could’ve been made private. It clearly defines to fans and media alike what expectations are, but it’s backfired into a narrative that will be ridiculed for years, not months. It’s an unnecessary distraction that has casted a shadow over the players, coaches and the program.
So, start the countdown at 325. Every win is a victory closer to a pay raise. This is what I’ll call a 25/7 affair, I wouldn’t put it past angry Hawkeyes fans to break the Space-Time Continuum to purvey an extra hour in the day to gripe over this.
After all, somebody already generated a Brian Ferentz Points Tracker website.
The day of the news release, a Hawkeye fan account created this unique — and hilarious — photoshop. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words.
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