And now, introducing the longest tenured football coach in all the FBS . . .

A former English literature teacher from Worcester Academy?

Yep, that’s one of many things Kirk Ferentz has done in his life, on a winding road that has gone from team captain at UConn, to discussing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in a classroom in Massachusetts, to getting a shot at an assistant’s spot at Iowa – he said last year at the Outback Bowl that he had to find the state on a map – to his first head coaching chance at Maine, to learning at the right hand of Bill Belichick, back to Iowa as the head coach, and a place to call home.

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This will be his 19th year with the Hawkeyes, and with the retirement of Bob Stoops at Oklahoma – who had Ferentz by one day – he’s the king of the FBS in seniority. Though there’s an asterisk for Bill Snyder, who went 17 years at Kansas State, took a break, then came back for a second term in 2009, giving him 25 years on the job. He’s the Grover Cleveland of college football coaches.

But for unbroken service, it’s Ferentz. “I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it,” he said at Big Ten media days. “I feel very, very fortunate.”

Or as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany called him, “a special guy, special coach.”

And since Ferentz – who turns 62 next week -- works in an unforgiving profession in an impatient world, and has survived so long in the age of Twitter and bloggers and talk shows and a sometimes toxic what-have-you-done-lately atmosphere, the feat should be recognized. No matter how quietly he’s gone about it.

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“What we do is really competitive. There’s going to be peaks and valleys,” he said in Chicago. “I don’t know anything about business, but the smart people I know who are successful in business realize that. You address things that are problematic. You address issues, if you will, and find solutions and corrections, rather than blow it all up and start over again.”

Ferentz chats with ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit on the field before a game
Reese Strickland | USA TODAY Sports Images
Ferentz chats with ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit on the field before a game

These are the numbers of a guy who obviously knows something about staying the course:

44 – Years he and wife Mary have been an item. Their first date was 1973. A movie. He has often said he’s lucked out in finding both a profession and a partner for a lifetime.

5 – Children, all Iowa alumni. That includes son Brian, who is now his offensive coordinator. Four grandkids go in the family photo, too. Family means something to him, and his team, too. Last season, Iowa had nine players whose fathers had also been Hawkeyes.

5 – Top 10 finishes in the polls for Ferentz Iowa teams. That’s five of the seven the Hawkeyes have seen since 1960.

10 – January bowl games for Ferentz at Iowa. When the Hawkeyes whipped Florida 37-17 in the 2004 Outback, it was Iowa’s first January win in 45 years.

19-19—Ferentz’ record in a three-year period from 2012-14. That’s one way to get the masses restless and not have the longest tenure in FBS.

12-2 – Iowa’s record in 2015, along with the Rose Bowl and Big Ten coach of the year. All was forgiven.

12 – Coaches that Big Ten heavyweights Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska have gone through in his tenure. Next door to Iowa, Illinois has seen six since 1999, counting interims.

20-13 – Score of the playoff victory for the old Cleveland Browns in 1994. Ferentz was the Browns’ offensive line coach. The head coach was Bill Belichick, and that was his only postseason win in Cleveland. Know who he beat? The New England Patriots. Belichick was later fired. Ferentz stayed and moved to Baltimore with the franchise.

2 – Head football coaches at Iowa in the past 39 years. Ferentz replaced Hayden Fry, who had been there for 20 seasons.

6-8 – Ferentz’ bowl record at Iowa. That includes five losses in a row.

7-5 – Ferentz’ record against Michigan, including winning five of the last six meetings. Last season, the Hawkeyes knocked off the No. 2 Wolverines, their highest ranked conquest in 31 years

1-8 – His record against Ohio State.

31-7 – Villanova’s romp over Maine in Ferentz’ first game as a head coach. Villanova beat him three times by a combined score of 107-22, treating him even worse than Ohio State.

135 – Victories at Iowa. Nine more, and he passes Fry for the all-time lead.

One day, it will come to an end. But when?

“I just read a book about a pretty prominent coach who had a really long career in the NFL,” he said in Chicago, referring to Chuck Noll of the Steelers. “And when it was time for him to retire, he knew it. I’m guessing when you know it, you know it.”

But not yet.

2026 – The final year of his current contract.

Mike Lopresti is a member of the US Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, Ball State journalism Hall of Fame and Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame. He has covered college basketball for 43 years, including 38 Final Fours. He is so old he covered Bob Knight when he had dark hair and basketball shorts were actually short.
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