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Overpaid Kirk Ferentz Gets Fired and…It’s a Bigger Waste? What About Bo Pelini?

“Kirk Ferentz is overpaid!” I’ve heard this blurted out so many times, the persistence is to the point where I feel like I have to support Ferentz. This year however, there’s some justification for Hawkeye outrage, with home embarrassments by Central Michigan and Penn State, and, if they loose at Indiana on Saturday, Iowa faces the likelihood that they won’t make the postseason for only the second time since 2001. On the flip side, Iowa isn’t all that much different than in years past when they’ve struggled. Considering the changes on Ferentz’s staff and how many freshmen are playing, 4-4 is what Iowa is.

For as many complaints as there are about Ferentz’s annual salary, Iowa fans and media are quick to justify the lavish expense. We’re in the middle of nowhere Iowa, we have to pay more to keep Ferentz from going to the NFL. But Ferentz’s current contract, not his annual salary, deserves the most criticism. Ferentz had already been criticized for making too much when he was being paid more than $10 million to go 32-19 between 2006 and 2009 (and those were his good years). Iowa then signed him an ten year contract in 2009 after going to 11-2. In light of how Charlie Weis’ ten year contract kept Notre Dame from firing him in 2008 (Weis will still be receiving checks from South Bend through 2015), giving any coach a contract longer than seven years is asking for trouble, unless it’s at a school like Oklahoma or Texas who easily out-recruit their rivals. Overpaying a coach is only worth it if the school can get out of the contract when it needs to.

(Update: After publishing this piece, I went back and lookead at the scores from Iowa’s 2009 season. The only win against a ranked team was at Penn State by 11. They beat Northern Iowa and Arkansas State by a combined 4 points and edged a 5-7 Michigan team at home by 2. You get what you pay for, Hawkeyes.)

But let’s play around with a scenario. With his contract the way it is, Ferentz will more than likely stay at Iowa through the 2017 season (gulp), giving him nineteen season at Iowa. Hypothetical scenario: Ferentz had bottomed out in 2006 and 2007, won a total of eight game combined, and was fired. Let’s also assume that Iowa had to buyout one other football coach between 2008 and 2017, not unreasonable. Suppose Ferentz’s buyout would have cost Iowa $5 million ($3 million was what Nebraska had to pay Bill Callahan in ’07, and his contract wasn’t as good as Ferentz’s at that time), and the other coaching buyout was $4 million. $9 million just to make two coaches go away? Of course, Iowa would have paid a new coach much less than it pays Ferentz now, but still, it is considerable. If you factor in the damage to ticket sales and attendance that would come with a bad hire, the damage for such action would raise that number from just that figure, plus the damage to the football program’s continuity.

Let’s not forget one crucial factor in this debate: college coaches are already underpaid in light of the revenue they bring in. Iowa’s football revenue in tickets (about $34 million, from seven games and tickets priced at $70 each) and TV revenue ($25 million, reasonable assumption given the Big 10’s packages) is probably around $60 million. Ferentz doesn’t even make 10 percent of that.

Nebraska fans, you could be facing this issue in the near future as well. Bo Pelini looks like he may just win the Big 10 this year and command an extension himself. Like Ferentz, Pelini has NFL experience, and there are always his ties to LSU that keep Husker nation on edge. Giving him a ten year-contract would be different given his age, but NU shouldn’t go down that road. If he finishes 11-2, negotiations should start at six years, $3 million per, and be willing to go as high as $3.5 million over seven years. An eighth year wouldn’t be a killer, but should be avoided.

What the Ferentz debate is really all about is if it’s worth it to keep a coach if you’re going to bowl games every year, which Iowa has every year but one since 2001. (Even in 2007, the Hawkeyes were bowl eligible.) Oregon State stuck by Mike Riley after he had two loosing season in a row and now they are winning again. On the other hand, Auburn canned ten year-coach Tommy Tuberville after one 5-7 and got the highs and lows of Gene Chizik. The question is this: do you want bowl games every year, or do you risk the big hire?

(A Companion Piece)

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