For Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, improvement begins in the trenches with the offensive and defensive lines. After consulting Ferentz’s credentials, it is easy to see why.
Before becoming the Hawkeyes’ head coach, Ferentz worked as offensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens organization from 1993 to 1998, working with All-Pro lineman Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown. Before that, he worked as offensive line coach under Iowa legend Hayden Fry from 1981 to 1989.
Ferentz had an immediate impact with the Hawkeyes, who went to their first Rose Bowl since 1958 in Ferentz’s first season as an assistant.
“I don’t think you can win consistently at any level – high school, college or the NFL – without good line play on both sides,” Ferentz said. “We were a little deficient in that era when I got here. I think that anybody going into any new situation you just try to improve your weaknesses and try play to your strengths, and I think we have done that like anybody would. But the biggest thing is that we didn’t look for any Band-Aid approach to improve our football team.”
In Ferentz’s first season as head coach, the Hawkeyes were abysmal. They finished dead last in the Big Ten and did not win a conference game. But Iowa rapidly improved under Ferentz’s guidance by winning three Big Ten games in 2000 and four last season to finish fourth in the Big Ten at 4-4 and 7-5 overall. The Hawkeyes also ended their four-season bowl game drought with a 19-16 win over Texas Tech in the 2001 Alamo Bowl.
“He has done a great job,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I thought two years ago, when we were getting ready to play him and I looked at what he did what that team, I could not believe it was the same team I had seen the year before. Last year going into the season, I felt they would be the most improved team. They are a program that is where they want to be and he has done a tremendous job.”
Now in his fourth season as head coach, Ferentz has his Hawkeyes seeking an end to another drought: The team’s 10-year span without a Big Ten title.
Last season, Iowa led the Big Ten in scoring offense and was third in scoring defense. This season, the Hawkeyes are again on top of the Big Ten in scoring offense, averaging 38.3 points per game. A big part of that has been the play of the offensive line, which gives plenty of protection Iowa’s talented quaterback Brad Banks and running back Fred Russell.
“Well, I know that their offensive line is tremendous,” Michigan defensive lineman Grant Bowman said. “They’re really big and physical, I can remember from playing them last year. They are probably as good as any front in the Big Ten, and I haven’t been able to watch a lot of film on them yet.”
The play of the lines is nothing new according to Ferentz, who pointed to the rich history and work ethic of Iowa players.
“The players have a tradition of playing hard and playing tough, and I just think that is a traditional thing here at our place,” Ferentz said.
Should Iowa’s lines continue to improve, Ferentz will be able to put another credential on his resume – Big Ten champion.