Football, family shapes Ferentz

Posted Aug. 28, 2008, at 10:23 p.m.

CORALVILLE, Iowa — When he was the offensive coordinator at the University of Maine, Jack Cosgrove was shown a photograph by Mary Ferentz, wife of then head football coach Kirk Ferentz.

It showed coach Ferentz and his children, all bunched up on the couch, fast asleep.

For Cosgrove, the picture was worth a thousand words in terms of perspective.

“I remember seeing that picture and saying, ‘I want that,’” Cosgrove said. “Fortunately, I have had that in my life.”

That image of a loving family man is how two of Ferentz’s former coaching associates remember the successful coach, now in his 10th season at the University of Iowa.

Saturday morning, Cosgrove will line up across the field from Ferentz at 70,585-seat Kinnick Stadium when the Black Bears take on the Hawkeyes.

Ferentz, now 53, has rebuilt the Iowa program into a perennial Big Ten power, directing the Hawkeyes to six straight bowl games between 2001 and 2006 since taking over for coaching legend Hayden Fry in 1998.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” Ferentz said recently. “It’s a great place and we’ve got a lot of great people.”

The Michgan native looks forward to seeing Cosgrove and some of his old friends from Maine this week, nearly 16 years after they parted ways. He mentioned Walt Abbott, Kevin White, Dale Lick and Bob Cobb.

“I think, first and foremost, the impression I had [of Maine] was the great coaches and people I worked with,” Ferentz said. “Not only were they helpful with the program, they were great friends, also.”

Ferentz coached UMaine from 1990-92, arriving after coach Tom Lichtenberg’s Yankee Conference champion Bears lost to Southwest Missouri State in the NCAA playoffs.

“I was the fourth head coach for any fifth-year seniors in the program,” Ferentz said. “That’s not healthy for any organization.”

UMaine went 12-21 during Ferentz’s tenure, including a 6-5 mark in 1992 when he and his wife had just refinanced their house in Orono.

Out of the blue, the Cleveland Browns called and asked Ferentz whether he would be interested in becoming an assistant coach in the National Football League.

“I got an opportunity and I couldn’t turn it down,” said Ferentz, a former linebacker at the University of Connecticut.

The head coach at Cleveland was persuasive in pitching the job to Ferentz.

“That was the reason I left Maine,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be invited to Cleveland to work with coach [Bill] Belichick.”

The rest is football history.

Though their three-year coaching association ended in 1995 when the Browns disbanded briefly, Ferentz remains indebted to Belichick.

“He was highly organized and that was certainly a lesson I needed,” Ferentz said. “He had an ability to remain very consistent with his emotions and his actions, no matter what was going on outside.”

Ferentz has enjoyed watching Belichick’s success as the head coach of the New England Patriots and was especially thrilled for his mentor after the Pats won their first Super Bowl championship in 2002.

“To me, it couldn’t happen to a better person who’s more deserving of it,” Ferentz said.

Ferentz has likewise impacted the careers of his peers, including Cosgrove and UMaine assistant head coach Robb Smith, who was a graduate assistant at Iowa under Ferentz from 1999-2001.

Smith has marveled watching Iowa’s rise to prominence during Ferentz’s years in Iowa City.

“The thing that I’m impressed with: He has a vision, he’s a good learner and he sticks to the plan,” said Smith, who joined the UMaine staff in 2002. “He gave you a job and entrusted you to do it and he gave you the tools to be able to accomplish it.”

Cosgrove marveled at Ferentz’s ability as a football technician who can teach players the intricacies of playing the offensive line.

“He’s got this calm demeanor and this incredibly distinct method of coaching offensive line play,” said Cosgrove.

He and Smith are even more appreciative of the kind of man Ferentz is and how he lives his life.

“He’s a great mentor,” Smith said. “He models the right things, whether it’s to a young coach or to a player.”

Ferentz feels blessed to have taken his particular career path to Iowa, where his teams have compiled a 61-49 record, including a 57-30 mark during the last seven seasons.

“I’m fortunate I’ve had a lot of great people to help me through,” Ferentz said.

The Hawkeyes battled inconsistency last season with a 6-6 record and a tie for fifth in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes won their first two games before dropping the next four. Iowa then won four of its next five.

Ferentz and his wife have five children, ranging in age from 15 to 25. James (19) is an offensive lineman for the Hawkeyes. It is his commitment to his family that has made the biggest impression on Cosgrove.

“He’s a real inspiration to people around him,” Cosgrove said. “He’s a father, a great husband, a great coach; just the way he leads his life. Kirk does everything with a high level of integrity.”

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