IOWA CITY — When Gary Barta negotiated Kirk Ferentz’s current contract, the Iowa football coach had just come off a No. 7 finish, an 11-2 season and an Orange Bowl victory.
Things were good. Iowa football had most of the important pieces return for another run at the Big Ten title in 2010. You know that didn’t happen. The Hawkeyes skidded to an 8-5 finish, 7-6 last season and now sit .500 going into this weekend’s game at Indiana.
Barta, Iowa’s athletics director since 2006, knew what he was getting Ferentz. He rewarded the coach for past performance as much as he also bought into the future, which, of course, was a complete unknown when Ferentz’s current contract, which will pay him $3.7 million this year in annual guaranteed compensation and escalates to $3.875 million through 2020, was signed in August 2010.
Today, Barta still feels good about that signature.
“When you sit down with a coach, you take a look at their body of work,” Barta said. “There are different environments that you’re evaluating. In Kirk’s case, back in 2009, I think we finished seventh in the country. If you look what he had done competitively, academically, value, integrity and fit, all of those things, obviously I put together a package that I felt fit the person and the situation.
“Glad I did it and still glad I did it.”
The state of Iowa salary data was released Thursday afternoon. For at least the seventh consecutive year, Ferentz was No. 1 on the list of 60,000 state employees with an annual salary of $3.725 million for fiscal 2012. No state tax money is used in Ferentz’s salary, Barta pointed out.
The Hawkeyes are 4-4 (2-2 Big Ten) going into today’s game at Indiana (3-5, 1-3). That record doesn’t sit well with most fans, and within vocal pockets on the internet and on the radio, Ferentz’s salary doesn’t add up to 4-4.
Todd Brommelkamp, co-host of the afternoon sports talk show “Balbinot & Brommelkamp” on KGYM AM 1600 in Cedar Rapids, said the topic has come up a few times this fall, but not as much as he thought it might.
Ferentz, 57, hears the “noise” outside of the program. He knows the salary makes him a bullseye.
“That’s sports,” he said. “People are going to talk about anything, whether it’s going good, bad or indifferent. If you’re involved in it, you’d better [be ready to hear about it].
“We all like riding in parades. It’s a lot more fun, but when you do things competitively, it’s going to go both ways. What you need to focus on is what’s in front of you, and try to make it go the right way.”
Here are some factors to consider before you hit send on that tweet or e-mail or dial the Ferentz radio show and fire off an on-air missile.
– You’re still filling up Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa is on a run of 23 straight sell outs, including the five games this season. Iowa’s last non-sellout at home was 67,989 for the Arkansas State game on Oct. 3, 2009.
This feeds into the next factoid.
– Kirk Ferentz, who won his 100th game as Iowa’s coach at Michigan State on Oct. 13, has been good for business.
For fiscal year 2011, Iowa football ranked sixth in the Big Ten in revenue with $44,503,833, just behind Michigan State and just ahead of Wisconsin. Ohio State was No. 1 at $79 million, $9 million ahead of No. 2 Michigan.
This figure includes ticket sales, direct program contributions and TV/media rights. Iowa made $26.6 million in athletics contributions in ’11, with $7.3 million directed exclusively to football. Football expenses are a little more than $20.5 million, which is fourth in the Big Ten.
Conversely, Iowa/Ferentz was No. 1 in the league in head coach compensation, with Ferentz’s total package coming in at $4.3 million. This was before Ohio State hired Urban Meyer ($4 million in salary a year) and Michigan brought in Brady Hoke ($3.254 million).
“I’ve been in college football for 30 years, as a player, as an administrator, so I’ve been around a lot of football coaches,” Barta said. “Kirk Ferentz has every ingredient of a football coach who fits at Iowa and who I want to work with and who can lead our program.
“So, do I feel great about the coach we have leading our program? Absolutely. Am I pleased we’ve lost two in a row? No, of course not, but it’s a bigger-picture question and a longer-term viewpoint.”
– There’s all that math and then there’s “marginal revenue product,” which is basically how much revenue a coach generates for his school.
You’re buying tickets, you’re buying jerseys and gear. The Big Ten Network/ESPN/ABC throws each Big Ten school around $20 million. You also donate.
Iowa made $44 million in ’11 and paid Ferentz $4.3 million. That’s a maximizing investment for Iowa and it has kept the school from dropping any of its 22 varsity sports.
– In 2010, there was a market for Ferentz’s services.
Last year, Ferentz’s name was connected to the Kansas City Chiefs because of his friend, Scott Pioli, being named general manager. Barta said other schools looked into Ferentz, but didn’t specify.
“I knew there were programs that were interested in him,” Barta said. “All those played a factor, but not the most important factor. The most important factor is do we have the guy who I believe, we believe, has led this program and will continue to lead this program in the future?
“The answer to that question was yes. So then, we put his package together. The most important factor is is this the person who I believe can best run this program? It’s my decision, absolutely. [And] I’m a leader, so of course I’m vested.”
– The highest salary doesn’t equal wins.
From 2001 to 2010, Iowa was No. 3 in the Big Ten in winning percentage behind Ohio State (.828) and Wisconsin (.682). Iowa (.674) was basically tied with the UW. That’s ahead of Penn State and Michigan, which were in the .630 range.
Partly for this, Barta deemed Ferentz worthy of being the sixth highest-paid coach in the country with a buyout of more than $21 million ($250,000 a month through 2020). Remember, Barta compared it to a lifetime deal when it was signed in 2010.
“The 10 years is as strong of a statement as anything,” Barta said in ’10. “It’s a long commitment, which is something I wouldn’t be comfortable with for a lot of coaches, but with someone like Kirk Ferentz, I’m comfortable with. And he’s marketable in the NFL, he’s marketable at other schools on the BCS level. It’s definitely a marketplace equitable contract.”
The money hasn’t changed Ferentz. The record won’t, either. regardless of today’s outcome.
“You have beliefs in what you do, and you try to be as smart as you can,” Ferentz said. “Anybody who makes decisions isn’t going to be 100 percent, especially regarding people, it’s impossible to be 100 percent.
“So, you do what you think’s best, and you try to approach things in a smart way, and then you go. The process is always taking care of things . . . I grew up in Pittsburgh where they still believe in stability, and they address issues rather than throwing people off the boat.”
In that regard, Barta, who said he hears as many positives on Ferentz as he hears complaints, is perfectly fine with who’s steering the boat.
That contract is the strongest statement Barta can make.
“You take a look at who you have, what the marketplace is and then you evaluate what you want to do in terms of a contract,” Barta said. “When I think of Kirk, I think of someone who has a great track record, someone who’s proven at Iowa he can win, who’s proven he fits the value system and the integrity.
“So, when you sit down with Kirk several years ago, you put down a contract, you factor all those things in, you look at it from a long-term viewpoint — not this week or last week — but bigger picture and full body of work.”