Happy 63rd birthday to Kirk Ferentz whose character continues to shine brightly

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Kirk Ferentz

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Happy 63rd birthday to Kirk Ferentz and thanks for not embarrassing yourself, your employer or your fans.

Class and integrity are easy to overlook or to minimize in this age of win at all cost, but they still should mean something.

Ferentz hasn’t lasted for nearly two decades as the Iowa football coach just because of his high character and his chartiable causes, but it certainly helps when a head coach has no baggage or anything to hide.

Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta has enough to worry about without wondering if his head football coach is cheating, covering up a scandal or burying an unflattering story for reasons that are self-serving.

I don’t make a habit of writing a column wishing Ferentz happy birthday, because frankly, it’s kind of corny and makes me come across as a homer.

But I was inspired to do so this year because there is so much to be disgusted about with regard to college sports, especially in the Big Ten where scandal and corruption are now part of the landscape.

The latest scandal to surface has Ohio State coach Urban Meyer embroiled in controversy.

Meyer denied knowing that former Ohio State assistant coach Zach Smith had been accused of domestic violence in 2015, saying at Big Ten media days on July 25 that "I was never told about anything.”

However, Smith’s ex-wife says several people close to Meyer, including his wife, knew of a 2015 accusation of domestic violence against her husband.

"All the [coaches'] wives knew," Courtney Smith told college football reporter Brett McMurphy in a story posted on his Facebook page "They all did. Every single one."

Smith, who is the grandson of former Ohio State football coach Earle Bruce, was fired from his position on Monday. But was it too little and too late to save Meyer’s job and his reputation?

And if Meyer wasn’t told anything, then what does that say about his wife and about the culture at Ohio State?

Meyer has been put on paid administrative leave while Ohio State officials try to determine if he knowingly kept an abuser on his staff.

Earle Bruce was a mentor to Meyer, so it's easy to conclude that Meyer coddled Bruce's grandson at the expense of his grandson's battered wife. 

It seems to be yet another sorry case where doing the right thing took a backseat to winning at all cost and doing damage control, with the cost in this case being the safety and well-being of a defenseless woman who was pleading for help.

Combine the controversy at Ohio State with the scandal at Michigan State where Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor, has been convicted of sexually abusing more than 300 of his female patients and the Big Ten has a disturbing mess on its hands.

Michigan State will pay out $425 million, and set aside another $75 million for survivors who may come forward in the future. The payout far exceeds the $109 million Penn State paid to its more than 30 victims in the case of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of molesting young boys in 2012.

Sandusky’s downfall also led to Joe Paterno’s stunning demise from living legend to disgraced head coach. Paterno could have done the right thing and help to end Sandusky’s reign of terror, but he and school officials mostly just looked the other way as Sandusky continued to prey on his victims.

Maybe I’m just a homer blinded by my ties to Ferentz, but I can’t envision him sacrificing the safety and well-being of others for the sake of winning or for damage control.

The biggest controversy we have at Iowa right now is whether a drunken driving charge should lead to more than a one-game suspension.

Ferentz doesn’t thinks so as we saw when he suspended offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs for one game after his arrest for drunken driving last weekend.

Junior defensive lineman Brady Reiff also received a one-game suspension after being arrested for public intoxication less than two weeks ago, and some question whether a public intoxication charge should draw the same suspension as a drunken driving charge.

And it’s a fair question.

Ferentz isn’t above being scrutinized or criticized, but I feel confident in saying that he is above sacrificing his integrity for the sake of winning or to cover up a scandal. I’ve been around Ferentz long enough to truly believe that what you see in public is also what you see in private.

Ferentz is probably more relaxed and outgoing in private, but his principles don’t change just because nobody is watching.

Coaches either have that quality or they don’t.

Ferentz might not always be completely truthful when dealing with the status of his players in a public forum, but it’s usually to protect the players.

For example, it seems hard to believe that senior defensive back Brandon Snyder suddenly decided on his own to transfer from Iowa to South Dakota State just three days before the start of preseason practice simply because he wanted more playing time.

There is obviously more to the story, but it appears that Ferentz did what he could to help Snyder move on by saying it was a playing-time issue.

Some might call that a cover up, but Ferentz had nothing to gain from helping Snyder relocate.

Ferentz certainly has his critics within the Iowa fan base.

Some are bored with having the same head coach since 1999, while others feel that Ferentz has made Iowa football too much of a family affair with his son serving as his offensive coordinator and his son-in-law as the director of recruiting.

Iowa also hasn’t won a share of the Big Ten title since 2004 and has lost five of its last six games to Wisconsin.

Only on brief occasions has Iowa flirted with elite status under Ferentz.

But Ferentz also has won enough games to avoid being on the hot seat.

He has 143 career wins at Iowa and will surpass Hayden Fry as the school’s all-time winningest football with his next victory.

It’s easy to take Ferentz for granted because he isn’t flashy, nor does he seek the spotlight despite constantly being in it.

But there is a lot to be said for just being a good person and that was my intent with this column.