CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Coaches
Who were the top 20 coaches since CFN started in 1998? No. 19 Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
CFN Era Top 20 Coaches: No. 19 Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, so we’re looking back on the greatest players, games, coaches and more since we first kicked things off back in 1998.
Wins and losses are certainly a part of it all – okay, a massive part of this – but it’s also about who came up with the biggest coaching performances over the long haul. Consistency matters, championships matter, and personality plays a role, too.
Who are the 20 coaches who defined college football since 1998?
One note, accomplishments before 1998 don’t count, other than when it comes to a coach’s legacy and overall status.
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (1997-2016)
He hasn’t won a national title.
He hasn’t won an outright Big Ten championship, and he shared two conference titles way back in 2002 and 2004.
But Kirk Ferentz has managed to be the only college football head coach still at one school since the 1990s until now, so when it comes to spanning the life of CFN, he’s the only coach to part of our world over the last two decades.
Ferentz keeps on rolling, proving to be more ultra-above-average than a survivor – even after a 4-19 start in his first two years. And now he’s become an Iowa institution.
Does that make him a legendary head coach? It’s an interesting debate when it comes to a longevity vs. quality argument, but his long, long tenure proves that 1) consistency matters and 2) being a good guy really makes a difference.
Being a good dude wouldn’t have mattered too much if he followed up the 4-8 2012 season with another dud – Iowa went 8-5 in 2013 – but it helps when it comes to a program dealing with the pressure of having to win big.
With 135 victories in 18 years at Iowa, he has won his share.
Biggest Moment: 2010 Orange Bowl
Ferentz cranked out a few terrific teams over the years, with the 2002 squad going – 11-1 with a share of the Big Ten title – but it all came to a crashing thud in a 38-17 blowout loss to USC in the Orange.
The 2015 team came within a defensive stop against Michigan State of going 13-0 with a trip to the College Football Playoff, but Christian McCaaffrey and Stanford’s 45-16 win soured all the positives of a great Hawkeye regular season.
The 2009 team was great defensively and just good enough offensively to get by.
There wasn’t anything pretty about the those Hawkeyes in any way as they struggled through game after game on the way to a 9-0 start – they kept finding ways to survive.
Losses to Northwestern and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks put a damper on dreams of somehow being in the national title mix, but an uggo of a 12-0 win over Minnesota meant a 10-2 regular season, earning the team a trip to the Orange Bowl vs. Georgia Tech.
Iowa jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but the offense stalled from there, managing just one field goal in the third quarter until late. Georgia Tech pulled within three late on a long fourth quarter touchdown drive, but Iowa answered with a good scoring drive of its own to put the game away for.a 24-14 win.
Kirk Ferentz’s Best Season: 2002
It could be argued that the 2004 and 2015 teams were every bit as successful and good, but it was the 2002 team that had the big offense and brought the breakthrough excitement,
Ferentz won 11 games in his first three seasons. He won 11 games in 2002.
Brad Banks emerged as a Heisman-caliber quarterback – finishing second to USC’s Carson Palmer – helped by TE Dallas Clark and a solid receiving corps, and a loaded line to help get everything moving.
The Hawkeyes had the nation’s best kicker in Nate Kaeding, a killer of a safety in Bob Sanders, and a nasty defensive front that got better as the season went on.
Iowa handed Ben Roethlisberger’s Miami University team its only loss of the season, but followed it up with a fifth straight loss to Iowa State to temper the excitement of a big start.
But with three straight 40+ point performances – including a 42-35 win over Penn State – the team kicked it into high gear. With November wins over Wisconsin, Northwestern and Minnesota, Iowa finished off the regular season 11-1 with an unbeaten run in the Big Ten.
Fortunately, Iowa didn’t have to play an Ohio State team that went on to win the national title, but it missed out on going to the Rose Bowl. With Ohio State playing in the BCS era national title game, the Orange Bowl had its pick of teams and chose Iowa. Oklahoma ended up playing Washington State in the Rose.
Even with a rough loss to Palmer and USC in the Orange, it was still the breakout season for Iowa, turning Ferentz into a rising star.
Kirk Ferentz’s Worst Season: 2012
Of course, going 1-10 in 1999 was a bigger overall dud, but that was the first year for a new coach trying to turn everything around. But in 2012, Ferentz was established and the program should’ve been on a roll coming off a decent 7-6 2011 season.
Instead, despite opening the season by handing Northern Illinois one of its two losses of the year, and with a tight victory over Michigan State for a 4-2 start, nothing else seemed to go right.
The Hawkeyes lost to Iowa State by three, and were stunned by a good Central Michigan team 32-31, setting the tone for a year loaded with close call losses.
Iowa lost its final six games, dropping dates to Indiana, Purdue and Nebraska along the way to finish 4-8 with five losses by six points or fewer.
CFN Era Coaching Record: 135-92 in 18 years at Iowa
Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year in 2015, AP Coach of the Year in 2002
Two-time Big Ten co-champion
Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2002, 2004, 2009 and 2015
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell