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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Like Money in Ferentz's Bank

by on September 29, 2010 11:06 AM

On Sept. 2, the Thursday before Iowa’s season opener against vaunted Eastern Illinois, Kirk Ferentz signed a contract extension that upped his annual salary to $3.675 million – a whopping 21 percent increase that keeps him under contract until 2020.

By that time, Ferentz will be 75 years old and, most likely, Joe Paterno will have retired.

The new contract makes Ferentz the highest paid coach in the Big Ten Conference and among the very top wage earners in all of college football. Lately, he is also one of its top producers.

He is coming off an 11-2 season (same as Penn State) and an Orange Bowl victory over Georgia Tech as he enters his 12th year with the Hawkeyes. Last season he was named the Coach of the Year in the Big Ten for the third time.

For that and more, he is getting paid a ton of cash. (Actually, four tons -- $3.675 million dollars in one-dollar bills equals 8,102 pounds.)

The last time anyone looked, Paterno makes in the neighborhood of $1,037,322 a year. (In all ones, that’s 2,270 pounds, a bit more than a ton.)

The dollars and cents of a coach’s salary don’t usually weigh heavily in deciding a game, and certainly you can’t measure Paterno’s worth to Penn State using any monetary unit.

But when it comes to Penn State, with Ferentz you can say that Iowa is getting its money worth.

Iowa athletic director Kirk Barta thinks so. “Kirk is arguably the best football coach in the country," Barta said in a press release the day the contract extension was announced. Arguably.

LION TAMER

Ferentz’s record at Iowa is 84-56, a straight winning percentage of .600. Paterno, by contrast, is 397-130-3, a .751 percentage. Joe was 101-23-1 (.812) after his first 11 seasons.

Since arriving in Iowa City in 1999, Ferentz has erected quite a dominating record against the Nittany Lions. To wit:

  • He is 7-2 (.778) against Paterno all-time, and has been victorious in seven of the past eight head-to-head match-ups.
  • Penn State has lost in its last three trips to Iowa City (2001, 2003, 2008).
  • Ferentz always seems to win the close ones, by such margins as: 1 point, 2, 3 (two overtimes), 6 and 7 (OT). That’s five wins by 19 points.
  • A 0-3 record in Big Ten season openers against the Hawkeyes for the Lions. That includes last year, when Iowa came into a washed-out whiteout at Beaver Stadium and rode Adrian Clayburn’s blocked punt and subsequent return for a touchdown and a 21-10 victory.

(As an aside: Penn State is just 7-10 in season-opening conference games.)

TITLE AND TAGS

Even though Ferentz has a lot of money, and possesses an impressive run of victories against Penn State, it may be a bit presumptuous to say he owns the Nittany Lions.

At least Paterno thinks so.

“Is your lack of success against Iowa over the last 10 meetings (2-8) personally frustrating?” Paterno was asked at his press conference on Tuesday.

“Frustrating because Iowa's beating us?” Paterno replied.

“Correct.”

“No,” JoePa answered.

“I think they've beaten us fair and square. I think we've had chances to win,” he said.

In 2008, the Hawkeyes won 24-23 in Kinnick Stadium on a last-second field goal, while in 2009 the Nittany Lions jumped to a 10-0 first-quarter lead, then yielded 16 points in the final quarter to lose its first game of the season. The loss ultimately cost the Lions a spot in the Orange Bowl.

“Obviously we had a chance a couple of years ago (2008) when they beat us on the field goal at the end of the game out there,” Paterno said. “And I think we were ahead 10-0 (actually 10-5) when we went in the fourth quarter (in 2009). I think these things go this way. No, that doesn't even come into what happened, except to learn from the fact that we might get this and this situation, because they've had some success doing that in a particular situation. We want to be ready for it.

“But the fact that Iowa beat us the last couple of years or even I don't know, maybe they beat us three, four, I don't know. I know the last two, obviously.”

“I don't think that way,” Paterno continued. “I don't mean to be all the time putting you guys off on being specific, but I don't think that way. We're playing Iowa whether they beat us last year or we beat them, it won't make any difference. We better play well, because this is the 2011 (he meant the 2010) team. It's not the 2010 or 2009. It's the 2011 (2010) Iowa team. And they're the team we've got to play and they're the team we've got to try to beat.”

(Just to make all of those parentheses clear: Joe said 2011, but he meant 2010. Gives a small look into any thoughts by him of retiring, huh?)

CAPTAINED BY KIRK

On Tuesday, Ferentz downplayed his team’s dominance of Penn State. When asked if the recent success gives his players confidence against the Nittany Lions, he launched into coachspeak and threw in a double negative just to cross things up.

“We’re not going in thinking that we don’t have a chance to compete at all,” he said. “But the bottom line is, again, historically against this team if you’re going to have a chance to be there in the fourth quarter, you better play your best football.

“In the games we’ve done that, we’ve won. When we didn’t do that, the game was over pretty early in 2007 (Penn State jumped out to a 20-7 lead). If you open the door at all for them, it makes it tough to win.”

TIES THAT DON'T BIND

This is usually the point in the story where Ferentz is mentioned as a possible successor to Paterno.

The fact that Ferentz went to Upper St. Clair High School is mentioned. So is that he was a graduate assistant coach for the offensive line at Pitt under Jackie Sherrill. In fact, he was inducted into the Upper St. Clair High School Hall of Fame in September 2002 and the Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in May 2003.

Then his Penn State ties are mentioned.

His wife, Mary, has a brother (Kevin Hart), who lettered for the Nittany Lions in 1976. His nephew, quarterback Mike Hart, was on the Penn State squad several years ago. (I taught Mike’s brother Patrick back in the mid-2000s.)

“I think when he plays Penn State there's a little bit something there because he is a Pennsylvania kid,” said Paterno, “and his father-in-law, Gerry Hart, and I were high school teammates” at Brooklyn Prep.

“I can tell you, Iowa has been a good, solid football team that's played extremely well against us,” Paterno added. “And I think Kirk's done a great job. They're recruiting well. He's been able to keep his coaching staff together.”

And that’s a big reason — among 3,674,999 others – that Ferentz will most likely stay put. Not that he doesn’t covet the job, some say, or that he wouldn’t do a good job, I say.

But he has invested so much of himself into the program and into the Iowa City and University of Iowa communities, and kept a good group of coaches around him (sounds like Paterno, right?) that at this stage of his life, he will not move. Even to Penn State.

Why should he? And lose the near-gimme on his schedule?



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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