Dan Fleser: Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz Goes Way, Way Back With The Vols

  • Tuesday, December 5, 2023
  • Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser

Buried in Kirk Ferentz’s comments on Sunday about the upcoming Citrus Bowl was some time capsule-worthy reminiscing about Tennessee.

The Iowa football coach goes way back with the Vols, way way back.

“I’ll go back to my first experience playing Tennessee,” he said. “It was 1982 in the Peach Bowl and one guy I remember they had, Reggie White.”

You’d have to be a Tennessee football fan for a half-century, probably longer, to match that memory with any White recollections of your own. Along with White, Ferentz mentioned fellow defender Mike Cofer. Both White and Cofer have since passed away.

Jimmy Colquitt was UT’s punter and and “Oh my golf course, the sprinter was the receiver – gosh.”

Willie Gault

“Willie Gault, I’m sorry,” Ferentz said. “It’s embarrassing I couldn’t pull that name up.”

No, it’s understandable. The 68-year-old Ferentz has a few football names in his personal storage, enough to fill several time capsules. He’s been in coaching since serving as a student assistant at his alma mater, Connecticut, in 1977. Along the way, he experienced enough to conceive the following perspective: “I have no problem with two teams claiming to be national champions at the end of the year. But that’s our society. We’re dying to know who the champion is. Heaven forbid we have two. That would be socialist, right.”

Oh my golf course, he’s worth remembering and being celebrated someday for those words alone.

In the meantime, Ferentz will be manning the sidelines on New Year’s Day, making a fresh Tennessee deposit in his memory bank when the Hawkeyes and Vols meet in the Citrus Bowl.

Ferentz’s bio on the University of Iowa’s athletics website comes complete with a phone number. How quaint, I like him even more. He’s been Iowa’s head coach for 25 years, making him the longest tenured head coach in the nation. He was on the Hawkeyes’ staff as the offensive line coach from 1981-89, which included the Peach Bowl versus Tennessee. His linemen had to block White. No doubt they remember him, too.

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel coached against Iowa in the 2011 Insight Bowl as an assistant on Oklahoma’s coaching staff. The preparation for another meeting, to some extent, will be timeless in nature.

“You know it’s a program, as we prepared in 2011, you knew it was going to be tough, smart, physical, disciplined; that it’s a football team that doesn’t beat themselves and you have to go out and match those things,” Heupel said. “Haven’t had a chance to watch the tape yet, but I know those things are still true with Coach Ferentz leading that program.”

The Hawkeyes have won this year with defense and field position. Their punter, Tory Taylor, is one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award, an honor given to the nation’s top punter. Taylor arguably is the team’s MVP.

Iowa’s old-school approach has added up to 10 victories. The victories buttress another Ferentz thought that might sound quaint but has stood the test of his time.

“I learned a long time ago that at the end of the day, the only stat that counts is points. The others are significant, but I’d much rather have the right score on the board. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re worried about.”


Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 1988. He is a 2022 inductee to the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com.

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