Kirk Ferentz still pours his heart and soul into winning

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Photo courtesy of Brian Ray/Hawkeyesports.com

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Social media was alive and rocking in the hours immediately after the Iowa football team had shocked the college football world on Saturday.

With all the photos of fans storming on to the field and videos of the post-game reaction inside Kinnick Stadium, it was one photo from inside the Iowa locker room that stood out the most and tugged at my heart.

The photo was posted on Twitter by Iowa’s director of recruiting Tyler Barnes, who is also Kirk Ferentz’s son-in-law. The photo shows an emotional Ferentz surrounded by his players in the moments after Iowa’s 14-13 victory over second-ranked and previously undefeated Michigan.

Breathing might have been a problem for Ferentz if his players had moved any closer to him. It looked as if each player wanted to hug Ferentz out of respect, admiration, and maybe even some relief.

Iowa’s 61-year-old head football coach has seen his popularity fall dramatically with the Hawkeyes struggling this season. He is Old Kirk again, the guy who supposedly is too stubborn to change and who doesn’t really care that much about winning any more since he just signed another 10-year contract with a buyout that gives Ferentz incredible power over his employer.

Of all the criticisms directed at Ferentz, accusing him of not caring about winning simply because he’s financially secure is the most ridiculous. It’s disrespectful, naïve, short-sighted and wrong.

Look closely at the expression on Ferentz’s face in the photo and you’ll see a man who poured his heart and soul into beating mighty Michigan when hardly anybody outside of the Iowa players and coaches thought it was possible.

You’ll see a man whose players adore him.

There is not a better and more deserving head coach in the country. Absolutely love being a part of this staff and program! #GoHawks pic.twitter.com/1D2UgBX5I4

— Tyler Barnes (@TylerBarnesIOWA) November 13, 2016

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And you’ll see a man who believes in his way of doing things and who won’t allow himself to be swayed by the naysayers during tough times.

Ferentz didn’t change his offense or bench certain players after the team started to struggle. He just kept working to get better.

He and Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis added a few wrinkles on offense, including getting running back Akrum Wadley more touches in space.

But mostly, the players and coaches just stayed the course and kept believing in each other and in the culture that Ferentz has built over 18 years.

"Everything starts with coach Ferentz," Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said Tuesday. "He sets the example and the culture of the team. Coach Ferentz is a top-notch guy, a great person and great coach. He sets the mentality of this program and the culture of this team, and it just trickles down to (strength) coach (Chris) Doyle and to the assistant coaches and then down to the players."

Don’t get me wrong, Ferentz isn’t without flaws. His teams have a tendency to play up and down to the competition, his recruiting is usually average at best, according to the so-called experts, and his no-visit policy for committed recruits probably needs to change.

Iowa's performance during a 41-14 loss at Penn State on Nov. 5 was unacceptable, as Ferentz said after the game. It was embarrassing, even more so after Penn State running back Saquon Barkley basically accused the Iowa players of quitting.

Fans had reason to question Ferentz's team and the direction of the program in the wake of the Penn State debacle.

Ferentz’s character, on the other hand, never should be questioned.

And that’s probably part of the reason why Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta feels comfortable giving Ferentz such a long and one-sided contract.

Barta knows that he only has to worry about the product on the field as long as Ferentz is coaching the Hawkeyes. Now sometimes that’s a big worry, but it stands alone.

Iowa wouldn’t have stood a chance against Michigan if Ferentz simply was going through the motions.

If anything, the new contract will inspire Ferentz to work even harder to earn his money because that's how a person with high character responds. We might not always see positive results from his hard work, but should trust that Ferentz is doing everything within his power to win games and please the fans.

If you start to doubt him, just look at that photo and then try to say that Ferentz doesn’t care anymore.