Dear Coach Ferentz,
I want you to know that I remember. I was in Iowa City in 1999. I remember just how bad that team was. I remember just how little talent you had on the field.
I remember how exciting the second half of 2000 was, as the corner was turned. I remember the excitement of 2001's continuation. I vividly remember the magic of 2002. I'll never forget being in the Metrodome, watching you being carried off the field. I remember the great moments of 2003. I remember the joy of Penn State and Wisconsin in 2004. I'll never forget the amazing end to the Capital One Bowl against LSU.
No, I haven't forgotten about the disappointment of 2005-7, either. But, I remember the 2008 win over Penn State and the excitement that continued through the end of the season. I'll always remember the magic of 2009. Two blocked kicks to beat Northern Iowa. The blocked punt in Happy Valley. Seven got six. The Orange Bowl.
I want you to know that I remember all of that, so that it can't be said that I'm ungrateful or that I'm living with a short memory. I am grateful. I do remember. It's because I remember that I wanted to take a moment of your time. You see Coach, something has to change.
I live in Alabama now, and I've seen this play out before. Look at Tommy Tuberville. Takes over Auburn, leads them to two SEC West titles, including an SEC crown and an undefeated season in his first six seasons. Things slipped, and then slightly rebounded. His habits and short-comings received greater focus. He had a losing season. He was fired.
Look at Phillip Fulmer. He led Tennessee to repeated ten-win seasons. He won back-to-back SEC titles and a national championship. Things fell off, and then rebounded. Expectations grew again. He couldn't live up to those expectations. He was fired.
Look at Mark Richt. He's in this play, too. Right now, he's at the slight rebound point. He may well win the SEC East this year, but when he doesn't get beyond that, he'll see his tenure come to an end in a year or two.
Now Coach, I know that things are crazier in the South. But, you're on this path. When you lead Iowa through an incredibly disappointing season last year, and change nothing about the program, fans get frustrated. If Iowa had gone 10-2 last year, this year's anticipated rebuilding would have been more palatable. We know that we are not being built to compete every year. That's why we know it's so horrible when we waste those few shots that we have. And make no mistake, you wasted last season.
This year, our frustration has only built upon that. It's not that we lost to Minnesota. It's not that we lost to Iowa State. It's that we lost because of the same short-comings that you and your staff seem unwilling or unable to fix.
I've watched Iowa long enough to know that on third-and-four, our cornerbacks will play seven yards off, and take their first step back. That cornerback will do his best and tackle the receiver upon the reception, after a gain of five yards.
I've watched Iowa long enough to know that if a team runs a four wide receiver set, at least one of them will be covered by a linebacker. That linebacker will do his best to stay with the receiver, but there will be deep routes that he just can't cover.
I've watched Iowa long enough to know that our offense will try to avoid mistakes instead of scoring as soon as it has a double digit lead. As a result, opponents are always in the game.
I've watched Iowa long enough to know that Iowa will be unprepared for plays that you personally wouldn't run in that scenario. You would never take the risk of running a fake punt deep in your own end. You would never try an onsides kick except in an endgame situation. Accordingly, our players are not in position to defend against those scenarios.
I've watched Iowa long enough to know that your recruiting classes will be the low-hanging fruit. Yes, it's a tribute to you and your staff that so many unheralded projects have turned into NFL players. It's also attributable to your staff that so few heralded players, specifically skill players, come to Iowa.
I've watched Iowa long enough to know that I'm tired of you belittling the program. Look, if Iowa is "not sexy," as you love to say, that's your self-fulfilling prophecy. Wisconsin can be a "sexy" program, but Iowa can't? C'mon.
I've watched Iowa long enough to know that the Hawkeyes will play with less passion than any opponent that they face. Now, it could be that you have recruited 85 men who are as steely and cold as you are. Or it could be that your system has drained the joy and energy of football from them. When our players succeed your primary interaction with them is to tell them to calm down. When our players fail, your primary interaction with them is to grimace and look beyond them. (And a hat tip to Adam Jacobi for his spot-on impersonation of the emotionless Ferentz.)
I've watched Iowa long enough to know that something has to change.
Coach Ferentz, I'm writing this because I want you to succeed. I don't want you to fall prey to the same traps that snared those other coaches. Whether it's changing what your staff is doing, or changing the men on your staff, change is your only way out of this. It's not a question of execution. It's a question of alteration. Iowa won't have great seasons again until modifications happen. I hope that you are the coach that makes them happen. I hope that some of them happen this Saturday against Michigan. Let's Go Hawks.
P.S. One last thought of encouragement, Coach. In the late sixties, after a great run in the first half of the decade, the fans were growing restless with the diminishing performance of Alabama's squads. Coach Bryant remade his entire offensive and defensive schemes and achieved even greater success. In the early aughts, Penn State fans grumbled and groused about the game moving beyond Coach Paterno. He remade his offense and won more Big Ten titles than he had in the decade prior. This can be done. If those famously stubborn men could assess their programs' short-comings and make the necessary changes, you can too.