Kirk Ferentz, while fielding questions about the “downward trend” of the conference at Big Ten media day in July, couldn’t help but think back to a similar scene in 2002.
“What's wrong with the Big Ten?” Iowa’s head coach said reporters asked him ten years ago.
The Big Ten conference had just one team in the preseason top 10 that season. Yet, it finished the season with three of them, including a national champion Ohio State squad.
Similar to 2002, the Big Ten this season did not have much of a presence in the preseason top 10. And its subpar performance through the first half of the season has done little to counteract the conference’s reputation to the country.
But, as the longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten, Ferentz said he has learned there is almost no point in trying to gauge the conference’s talent pool at this point in the season.
Often asked about the implications of the conference’s negative perception, the coach said this is hardly a new trend.
“People always talk about that,” Ferentz said.
“[But] things are cyclical in football. That's something everyone can worry about who has time to worry about it right now.”
Ferentz said he has learned, instead, to solely focus on what he can do to better his football team on a weekly basis — something he’s become very familiar with during his 14-year career at the helm in Iowa City.
The 57-year old has recorded an 89-44 record since 2002.
However, his teams didn’t always bring a positive light to the Big Ten. In his first two seasons, Ferentz’s teams went 4-19.
At Big Ten media day, the coach said it would be “kind” to say he started his career at Iowa with a few “tough seasons”.
“We got off to a less-than-stellar start,” he said. “But I never really thought much about it, and I still don't.”
The well-known 2002 season was a turning point for Ferentz, who won the Walter Camp Football Foundation’s coach of the year award. His 11-2 season included a 42-35 overtime victory against the Nittany Lions.
Ferentz, who spent his high school years in suburban Pittsburgh, said it will be peculiar not seeing Paterno’s familiar face roaming the sideline.
However, in an age where half of the Big Ten’s coaches are in either their first or second seasons, the coach said seeing a new face in itself is nothing new.
“In coaching, faces change pretty frequently, so that part's not really different,” Ferentz said.
Bill O’Brien said he admires his opponent’s extensive career and has actually gotten a chance to see him coach first-hand while scouting for the New England Patriots.
Penn State’s coach said Ferentz has done an excellent job making the most out of his time with the Hawkeyes.
“In my opinion, he should be at Iowa for however long he wants to be there,” O’Brien said. “He's done a great job there, and he deserves to be there for a long time.”
Meanwhile, the Lions are left with the task of facing a well-coached Iowa team in their first night game of the season.
Running backs coach Charles London said Ferentz’s background will only make the hectic environment at Iowa that much more difficult to compete against.
“He's been through these Big Ten battles, and he's done a great job with his team,” London said.
“They're going to be ready to play, and I'm sure his experience will play into the outcome of the game.”