TAMPA - If and when Kirk Ferentz decides to jump to the NFL, we'll probably have little warning. The Iowa coach is so seasoned at answering questions about his name being linked to various pro jobs, he wears the ultimate poker face.
Or does he? Maybe he really loves his job running the Hawkeye program. Perhaps the grass, and pay, aren't greener on the other side.
It is and always will be hard to gauge, and it's no clearer today in words following his press conference here than it was after he interviewed with Jacksonville after the 2003 Orange Bowl. Ferentz can't win when it comes to discussing this thing in public.
You see, he's not going to come out and say, "listen, folks, I'm not interested in the NFL. I love it here at Iowa and I'm staying put until retirement." Even if he feels that way, he just can't give up that ace. And that's good for him and the university.
The Hawkeye football complex and other facilities keep up with the Jones' because Ferentz commands respect. Some of that is based on his name coming up every year in coaching searches. The NFL and collegiate giants like Michigan look at him favorably. That helps to keep money coming into the Iowa coffers.
Iowa fans may not like this approach. They could view it as Ferentz coming up short in the loyalty department. That's how this dance is done, however.
The school always has the right to fire a coach for poor performance on and off the field. It happens all over the country, every year. The coach uses his status to solicit upgrades (facilities, assistant coaches, etc.) in order to stay even with the competition. One need only to look at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to see what happens when a coach holds little to no leverage.
So, to really analyze this Ferentz-to-the-NFL talk, all you can do is look at things on the surface. Ask yourselves questions that the coach might ask himself.
Here are a few: Why would a coach making almost three million dollars a year in Iowa City go to the big-city NFL? Is going to perhaps five million worth it considering the cost of living and the job insecurity? Ferentz is pretty secure at Iowa no matter what the "hot seat" rumors were before this season.
Mike Shanahan is out of work despite winning two Super Bowls in Denver. Romeo Crennel and Ferentz's friend, Phil Savage, are out in Cleveland.
While people less familiar with Ferentz's situation ask why he wouldn't want to leap to the riches and glory of the NFL, ask yourself why he would go? The coach has it pretty darn good.
"I think the mistake a lot of people make in life is that it's easy for us to assume, hey, this is where someone should go," Ferentz said on Wednesday. "You just have to take into consideration the individual involved. Things happen. Something happened (Tuesday's Shanahan firing) that nobody would have predicted. That's part of our business.
"It' a personal decision. Sometimes it's a business decision. But everybody needs to be cautious about assuming they know what's in someone's mind. We all make a lot of assumptions sometimes and don't really research it or think it out. It's one of those deals."
It is not the first time Ferentz said that. It probably won't be the last. But that's about as close as he's going to get to saying why he's staying.
Ferentz also responds that he's been at Iowa for a decade, which shows his loyalty. Opportunities turned down while at Iowa would probably take up more than the fingers on one hand.
"I hoped I would (be at Iowa for a long time). That‘s one of the reasons we were interested in going back to college," Ferentz said when asked about how long he felt he would stay at Iowa when he took the job back in ‘99. "I wasn't dying to go back (to the NFL). I've enjoyed every job I've had. I've enjoyed teaching school. Grading papers I wasn't so wild about, but teaching school was fun.
"But one of the things we were hoping for (when he took the Iowa job) was to have some stability for the family. That's tough to get in the NFL; having our kids go through one school. We had that opportunity (at Iowa), but there were no guarantees. You know that. After 20 games, it wasn't looking so good. But we weathered it. We'll see what happens. Maybe we can eek out one more game (laughs)."
Ferentz said years back that if he were to go to the NFL that he would want to work under a player personnel person that he connected with. That's why he's always linked with Cleveland and Savage. That's why now, with it being rumored that Scott Paoli from New England is going to replace Savage as G.M. in the city on the lake, that Ferentz is again a candidate with the Browns. Paoli and Ferentz are tight.
Ferentz tells a story about when Paoli drove him to the airport after the former interviewed for an assistant's job with Cleveland. Ferentz says he was feeling down about how the process went and Paoli encouraged him that he did well. The Browns then hired Ferentz as their offensive line coach.
"I had my tail between my legs," Ferentz remembered. "He said, "You know, you didn't do that bad." He gave me a little pep talk there. Maybe he knew something I didn't know. I ended up getting called back a couple of days later.
"I think I was like the ninth choice to be the line coach at Cleveland. They got through eight other guys and they finally ended up with me."
Ferentz thinks that the media and fans might be assuming things where Paoli is concerned much like they have with regards to the opinion of the coach's eminent jump to the NFL.
"We've been good friends all the way through," Ferentz said of the time between the airport drive and now. "I have tremendous respect for Scott as a football guy. We consider each other to be good friends. He's just a tremendous person and capable. I would just caution everybody, don't try to predict what Scott's going to do, either. He's got a great job and he's well aware of that."
Even if Paoli leaves New England for Cleveland, it wouldn't mean that he has total say in the coach hiring. And Ferentz is not his only friend in the business.
Iowa's opponent in Thursday's Outback Bowl, South Carolina, is coached by Steve Spurrier. The former Heisman winner and flashy personality leads the Gamecocks after a very unsuccessful run with the Washington Redskins, where he ended up following a national championship run at Florida.
The old ball coach views the college and NFL games with experience at both levels. He believes the situation of leaving college for the pros is a complicated one with many factors involved. Two of the most important he talks about is the timing of the move and the ownership of the franchise. He insinuates that Daniel Schneider in Washington is more like the meddling Jerry Jones in Dallas than the step-aside Rooney Family in Pittsburgh.
Spurrier believes that coaches might want to look at other opportunities after spending 10-12 years at a school as he did when he left Florida for the Redskins.
"I think there is something to that," he said. "Is it good to move around a lot? Some people say it is, but some people can stay 20 years at the same school. It doesn't happen very much anymore."
It's looking more and more like it could happen with Ferentz at Iowa. His tenure at the school ranks second behind only his predecessor, the legendary Hayden Fry. His son, James, is a red shirt freshman with the Hawkeyes and his youngest child, Steven, is still in high school.
Spurrier talks about the timing for moving up a level. This just doesn't seem to be Ferentz's time. Maybe back in ‘03 with Jacksonville, but not now.
Ferentz is not Nick Saban. With the Iowa coach, it's more about substance, feeling good about where you are and whom your with as opposed to ego, power and moving up in profile.
Iowa fits Kirk Ferentz, and it really always did. There are times when he and the university questioned that, but each year the idea becomes more clear.
The pendulum no longer swings to the side of why wouldn't Ferentz leave for the NFL but why wouldn't he stay at Iowa?