Can a first-year Big Ten coach possibly be better than his 19-year counterpart across the border?
Athlon Sports recently unveiled its Big Ten coach rankings for the 2018 college football season. Nebraska's Scott Frost, the newest head coach in the conference, came in seventh, one spot ahead of Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, the Big Ten's (and FBS') most senior leader. Not surprisingly, this has a number of people crying foul on both sides and from national perspectives.
This is understandable as the argument can be made that Frost hasn’t coached a game in the conference, so why should he be ranked at all? A valid point, however, I would argue that the addition of Frost to the list isn’t about what he has accomplished as a member of the Big Ten, but as a head coach overall.
More specifically, I'll present the case that Frost is, in fact, a better head coach than Ferentz with only two years at the FBS level under his belt. Don’t worry, the Iowa head man does actually get some props.
When it comes to development, Iowa is easily one of the best programs in the country, and that’s not simply my opinion. Since 2002 (four years/one full eligibility cycle into Ferentz’s tenure), the Hawkeyes have averaged a recruiting class ranking of 41st in the nation. These numbers actually dip if you look at the three-, five- and 10-year averages (42nd, 45th and 44th, respectively.)
Despite so-so recruiting on the whole, Iowa has put 46 players into the NFL from 2005-18. Only 18 other schools have done a better job of developing talent for the next level. Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin are the only other Big Ten schools that can make this claim.
However, one would think that with all of this eventual NFL talent, Iowa could accomplish far more than it has since Ferentz took over in 1999. Coming out of the gate, it appeared he was going to get the Hawkeyes back on the national stage more often than not after going 28-7 following an 11-24 showing in his first three years.
That time span included two Big Ten championships and three consecutive finishes as the No. 8 team in the country. After that, we began to see what we’re now all too familiar with when it comes to modern-day Iowa football. Since 2002, he’s averaged an 8-4 record and accumulated only two 10-win seasons following the Hawkeyes’ last conference title in 2004 (’09 and ’15.)
Essentially, he peaked quite some time ago and despite a 1-2 record in New Year’s Six Bowls and a 1-5 record in his team’s past six postseason bids, Hawkeye fans don’t appear to care much.
We turn to Frost. He is a coach that took a demoralized program with an absolutely decimated culture in UCF and led the Knights to an undefeated season -- and arguably a national championship depending on who you talk to -- in a two-year span.
Going beyond that well-discussed talking point and onto one that we just talked about in regards to Iowa, no other Florida school had more players selected in the first two days of the 2018 NFL Draft than the Knights. In fact, UCF had more than Iowa (three to the Hawkeyes’ two) and more picks overall (four vs. three.) This includes cornerback Mike Hughes who spent all of one year in the program as a junior and thrived. As the 30th overall pick in the draft, he's now focused on challenging for a starting spot in an already loaded Minnesota Vikings secondary.
NFL development and Mike Riley era bragging rights aside, Iowa finds itself facing a new animal. Frost is not only a competitor, but he finds himself with an immense responsibility. He has to bring Nebraska back to national relevance and this is a challenge he’s obviously embracing. His colleague across the Missouri river clearly doesn’t have these aspirations (if he does, he’s doing a great job of hiding them) and, quite honestly, he doesn’t need to.
Ferentz has a contract that expires in 2026 and includes a $500,000 raise to his yearly base salary if Iowa wins eight games. Suddenly, his 8-4 average record sticks out like a sore thumb as the program’s measuring stick and again, Iowa fans don’t seem to care about that much, if at all. Should the Hawkeyes beat Iowa State and Nebraska in the same season, I dare say that’s a quality year right now.
Of course, if Iowa goes on to win the Big Ten championship, that’ll be a big thing and Ferentz will be appropriately compensated. However, there’s no sense of urgency and seemingly no actual desire to do much beyond be a pain in the butt on behalf of the Big Ten West.
Over in Lincoln, Frost has rapidly flipped a culture that was deflated following the 2017 season and has brought in an impressive number of immediate contributors which helps set up the foundation for a rebuild much in the same style as what happened at UCF.
Of course, he wants to win as many games as he can immediately and it’s hard to think that Iowa won’t get some extra attention if for no other reason than because of Nebraska’s current losing streak to the yellow and black.
Finally, ask yourself this question: If you were an athletic director with a coaching vacancy and you wanted to your team to be recognized nationally as quickly as possible and had your choice between hiring Frost or Ferentz, which one would you pick?
That may seem an unfair question based on age alone (Ferentz has 19 years on Frost), but we’ve seen coaches defy age for the love of the game. Bill Snyder, who is 78, is just one that comes to mind.
Ferentz may have tenure and has churned out NFL prospects left and right, but he’s proven that he doesn’t currently have the drive to make his program any better than it is. That’s not a mentality that can just spring up overnight, either. Frost, on the other hand, started executing a long-term plan for his days in Lincoln from the second his new destination was set in stone.
I can’t say that I blame Ferentz for his current situation. He’s making bank and all he has to do is spin the Iowa football program’s tires in the mud. However, it won’t take Frost long to expose that effort or lack thereof.
Note: several of the statistics used in this article are courtesy of nationally-recognized analytics guru Dave Bartoo.
Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: College Football Coach Rankings for 2018
-- Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces), and keep up with the Quick N Dirty podcasts on his Patreon page..