“Kirk, you need to take out the trash. It's Thursday afternoon,” Mary Ferentz barks.
[Insert KF snort]
Like the rest of the world, the Ferentzes have been quarantining. And like any quarantining couple, there can be a bit too much togetherness (just ask my girlfriend). For Kirk — who will be entering his 22nd year as head Hawkeye, these past couple months have likely provided a glimpse of post-retirement life. To that point, Ferentz commented that he has watched more TV during the coronavirus shutdown than in the past 15 years combined. No word on whether Kirk has powered through Tiger King yet (for the record, he strikes me as more of a Mad Men guy).
As Kirk channel surfs Netflix or, perhaps, tells Mary to take out the damn trash, you wonder how the quarantine will shape his coaching future. Is this self-imposed quarantine rejuvenating — a much-needed respite after 40 years of grinding out football season after football season? Or does this two month and change sabbatical inch Kirk ever close to retirement? While there are significantly more pressing issues than KF’s coaching future (for starters, the 87,000 Americans who have died from coronavirus), I wonder how Kirk would respond to this retirement trial balloon. Mind you, spring 1980 was his last football-free spring — that’s 39 years of coaching base blocks and grunting out “low man wins.”
If his recent press conferences are any indication, Kirk is ready to scratch that football itch. And in his PSA announcement thanking Hy-Vee workers, Kirk looks physically great. The pandemic pause seems to be just that — a pause — before Kirk resumes his regularly scheduled tutorial on chop block enforcement.
As for Iowa football, the Hawkeyes are well suited to weather the pandemic. Ferentz and company have generated recruiting momentum, once again reaffirming that this is, indeed, a Hawkeye state (ignore those grumbling truthers in Ames). And with Kirk and his key lieutenants — Phil Parker, Chris Doyle — entering their third decade in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes’ coaching continuity provides a level of reassurance for recruits and Hawkeye fans alike. With the tried and true Hawkeye Challenge, Ferentz and company have an offseason template that can be adapted to our 'rona reality.
Compare Iowa to, say, Michigan State (incidentally, Sparty travels to Iowa City this fall or maybe next spring?). Jettisoning Boulder for East Lansing, Mel Tucker is organizing his staff, persuading recruits, evaluating Dantonio’s players (mind you with no practices), introducing his scheme (again with no practices), familiarizing himself with MSU’s bureaucratic mess, and adapting to a new conference during a damn global pandemic. Good luck with that, Mel. You can almost hear the chuckles out of Boulder.
More big picture, Iowa football is in a good (and almost great) place. Following the 2014-15 season, Iowa football felt tired. You wondered if Kirk had another reboot in him—or if this was Hayden’s late 90s descent, part II. Over the past five years, Kirk has rebuilt the once shaky Hawkeye foundation. There have been savvy assistant coaching hires, a recruiting resurgence, and Phil’s opportunistic defense to provide a comfortable nine-win floor. If Kirk wanted to hand off the head coaching keys after the USC woodshedding, you would understand. Depantsing a college blueblood — even a mildly underachieving one like USC — would be a fitting coda to KF’s career.
So color this Hawkeye homer a little surprised — and very much relieved — that Kirk is striking his “business as usual” approach. This two month retirement preview might have prompted a little bit of an epiphany: As much as the Hawkeyes need Kirk’s steady leadership, he equally needs Iowa football—the “stay square to the line” exhortations to the offensive line, the press gaggles, maybe even Gary Barta. And for this Iowa fan, weaned on a two decade plus diet of zone runs and “bend but don’t break” Parker-isms, a rejuvenated KF would be the biggest offseason victory yet.