SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – A good way to maintain a friendship is to avoid contesting the same piece of turf.
For 12 seasons and 12 games, Kirk Ferentz and Bob Stoops did just that. Then earlier this month, their Iowa and Oklahoma football teams were thrown together in an Arizona extravaganza called the Insight Bowl.
Everyone wants to win their bowl game, protect their portion of college football’s turf. But you don’t wipe out 30 years of friendship in three hours of competition. At least you shouldn’t, and these two definitely won’t. You’re talking some serious happy history Stoops and Ferentz share, on and off football fields.
Their two staffs attended an Insight Bowl dinner Tuesday night. Such events are closed to the press, but I’m guessing they’re often a little stiff. Rivals, and all. But that sure didn’t sound like the case here.
“It was actually really fun,” Ferentz said, “something I was looking forward to.”
At the dinner, Ferentz told a story about how Stoops once helped paint his house in Iowa City. It was almost 30 years ago. Ferentz was Iowa’s offensive line coach and Stoops was a Hawkeyes graduate assistant coach.
“He’d have a hard time paying me now,” Stoops said here at a Wednesday press conference. “It’d cost too much to get me up there.”
Painting houses was what Stoops did in summers as a young man. He did it in his Youngstown, Ohio, hometown, and continued to do so in Iowa City in the offseason. As a Hawkeye player, he would paint, then train in the evening.
“Mary (Kirk’s wife) was after him to paint their house,” Stoops said. “So myself and some other GAs went over to help him.
“And of course, he was scared to get all the way up to the peak. So I had to get the ladder and get all the way to the high part.”
Stoops laughed and said he was joking, then continued.
“He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know how to paint a house. … Needless to say, we had a good time when it was done.”
Then Stoops laughed again, adding that after the job as done he and his colleagues joined Ferentz for a “picnic.”
“We did that a fair amount,” he said.
“My wife brought a picture to the dinner last night of us sitting around his living room. He’s on the floor explaining something while we were playing Pictionary. And I’m looking at him with this confused look like ‘What in the world are you talking about?’ I’m 22, he’s 26 or 27.”
Ferentz was 25 and a first-year Iowa assistant when the Hawkeyes went to the Rose Bowl under Hayden Fry in 1981. Fry loves to tell the story how Ferentz fibbed about his age during the job interview. When asked about that, Ferentz has tactfully said the fib is Fry’s story.
Of the two, Fry is considerably more likely not to let facts get in the way of a good yarn. But Stoops, whose mood was bright Wednesday when talking about his pal Ferentz, said “I wouldn’t doubt it. After all, (Ferentz) is from Pittsburgh or right around there.”
Ohio guys aren’t big on Pittsburgh, you see, at least not if they’re fans of the Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals.
The two coaches and their wives have remained friends long after they went their separate ways in the coaching world. Most other coaches would have quickly gotten sick of hearing how someone else was the fans’ favorite to replace Fry in late 1998. That someone was Stoops when the person who got hired was Ferentz.
Ferentz has never seemed to let that affect him, and Stoops has repeatedly stressed his own happiness with how everything worked out.
On Dec. 2, the day before Oklahoma played at Oklahoma State, Ferentz phoned Stoops.
“He was working out and I was at my office getting ready to go down to a meeting. He just called to wish me luck. I got back to him, we caught up a little bit.”
The two have appeared together at a few Youth Leadership Program banquets in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids over the last decade, and get together when Stoops returns to Iowa. Stoops’ wife, Carol, is from Cresco. In fact …
“Every Saturday my wife starts the day off by yelling in the house to the kids, ‘Go Hawks!’ There will be no yelling of that here this Friday, though. But that’s kind of how what she yells around the house to the children during the day, leading up to the games. Always ‘Go Hawks!’ ”
Last season, Oklahoma played in the Fiesta Bowl, a few days after Iowa played Missouri in the Insight. Carol Stoops bought a lot of new Hawkeye garb. She, her husband, daughter MacKenzie, and twin sons Drake and Isaac were at Sun Devil Stadium wearing Iowa gear and cheering the Hawkeyes to a victory.
Last year, Stoops was asked if he’d like to coach his boys. He said he’d seen coaches and their sons have tough times when they were on the same team.
“They’re only 11, so I don’t know where I’ll be at that point,” Stoops said. “I won’t let them come here. I’ll send them to Iowa maybe and they can play for Coach Ferentz.”
But what if they’re the best recruits in the nation, Stoops was asked.
“I’ll tell them, ‘Go play for (brother Mike at Arizona) or somebody.’ Or like I said, ‘Go be a Hawkeye.’”
Mike Stoops, another ex-Hawkeye, isn’t Arizona’s coach anymore. So maybe Iowa has the inside track on two kids from Oklahoma. Knowing their bloodlines, that would be a very good thing for the Hawkeyes.