History may be repeating itself on opposite ends of rivalry
Early stages of Campbell’s tenure at Iowa State has a Ferentz feel to it. Will longevity follow?
Cyclone fans aren’t necessarily going to like this comparison, and Hawkeyes won’t exactly go out of their way to repeat it, either.
The Matt Campbell era at Iowa State is starting to look a lot like the craftsmanship of a certain head coach 130 miles southeast of Ames. That’s a credit to both Campbell and Kirk Ferentz, despite how partisan supporters feel about drawing parallels from this often-bitter rivalry.
Truth be told, we could use a little more unification in our society these days, right? Let’s see if I am able to explain myself without infuriating both sides.
In 2001, a then-46-year-old Ferentz had a “breakthrough” 7-5 season with a victory in the Alamo Bowl. That set the stage for a remarkable three-year run at Iowa, which resulted in three consecutive 10-win campaigns and Top-10 finishes — along with a flurry of NFL rumors.
Ferentz chose to stay with the Hawkeyes, crafting a Hall of Fame career here instead. Since 2004 — when his name hit a peak of sorts in pro circles and many were saying he should strike while the iron was hot because he couldn’t sustain success in Iowa City — Ferentz has a record of 124-75 with six bowl victories and nine seasons of eight wins or better (a full year in 2020 would have made it 10).
Campbell is still in the relatively early stages of his tenure at ISU, but we’re starting to see the same trajectory we did right around Year 4 or 5 of the Ferentz era. The Cyclones won their first-ever Big 12 regular-season championship, took the Fiesta Bowl, and finished in the Top-10 for the first time in school history — all in Campbell’s fifth season at the helm.
With 20 of 22 starters scheduled to return in 2021 — including eight all-conference performers — Iowa State will again be perched in the Top-10 this coming fall. Campbell’s staff has put the legwork into building depth and talent along both the offensive and defensive lines: staples for success and sustainability that Ferentz championed at Iowa when he first arrived. It took time and patience, but it became the Hawkeyes’ main identity — and still is to this day. Campbell prioritizes similar development in the trenches, and his program is now reaping the rewards accordingly.
The Campbell rumor mill will continue to churn well into 2022. Elite Div. I programs will want him. Professional franchises as well. Iowa fans were sweating out every job opening through Ferentz’s first decade in Iowa City. They soon came to realize Kirk meant what he said: he loved being a Hawkeye, and wasn’t interested in “bigger” or “better.” He wanted to make that happen at Kinnick Stadium.
Now Ferentz is 65 — an age, traditionally speaking, when coaching tenures are typically deteriorating. Instead, Iowa is enjoying arguably its best six-year stretch in program history: 53-21 overall and 35-17 in the Big Ten since 2015.
Yet again, the “narrative” doesn’t apply to Ferentz, despite ostensibly being in twilight of his time on the sidelines.
Campbell may be at Notre Dame, or Ohio State, or in the NFL five years from now. Maybe less. Who knows.
Then again, he may be perfectly content with building more at Iowa State — and truly believe he has the support and resources to make the Cyclones a consistent, legitimate Top-20 program as a floor, rather than a ceiling.
Campbell recently tweeted, “so grateful for the commitment of so many to continue to want to build our program together. Our foundation has been built on Loyalty and Faithfulness and it will continue to be our guiding light. Humbled and Grateful to continue to lead to be different.”
Ferentz used to offers similar assurances back in 2002. Or ’03. Or ’04. Or ’09. Insecure Hawkeyes kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and for Ferentz to parlay his success at Iowa into the perfect gig.
What they didn’t realize is that privately, Ferentz saw this as the perfect gig all along.
Campbell may believe the same about being a Cyclone. He’s already had a few opportunties to move on or “up.” But he seems firmly dedicated to ISU.
Maybe Ferentz and Campbell share more than just the arc of their respective careers in common. Campbell could very well be satisfied with calling Ames home, rather than a stepping stone.
If that happens — and we’re looking back years from now at a coach who won well over 60 percent of his games, multiple conference titles, sent dozens of players to the NFL, and established an entirely new standard of program success and expectations — a body of work similar to Ferentz would be unprecedented at Iowa State. The way he values dedication, sincerity and character, don’t be surprised if — again, like Ferentz — Campbell already found what he was looking for.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ByEricPratt