Bob Stoops and Kirk Ferentz are tied at the hip through more than a "longest-tenured" designation. The former colleagues are pad-locked through a 1998 coaching search.
Long before Stoops retired as head coach of Oklahoma, leaving Iowa's Kirk Ferentz the longest-tenured head coach in the FBS, the two battled for the job that Ferentz still holds.
In November 1998 — 17 years after the pair first met when Ferentz was the Hawkeyes' offensive line coach and Stoops was a sophomore defensive back (they were also assistants together at Iowa) — Iowa was searching for a replacement for longtime head coach Hayden Fry, who had prostate cancer and struggled through a three-win season.
Athletics director Bob Bowlsby (current Big 12 commissioner but that's hardly the most ironic part of this story) and a search committee evaluated at least six candidates, according to Jon Miller of Hawkeye Nation. Among them were Ferentz (current Baltimore Ravens offensive line coach), Stoops (Florida defensive coordinator) and Chuck Long (Iowa quarterbacks coach). Ferentz was ultimately hired on Dec. 2, 1998, but not without a fascinating story.
Before Stoops interviewed with Bowlsby, he interviewed for the head coaching position at Oklahoma, who fired John Blake days earlier. From all reports, the job was his if he wanted it. Stoops didn't accept or reject the offer, instead asking for time to interview with Iowa.
Because Bowlsby had one remaining interview — with Ferentz — he didn't give Stoops an answer, leading Stoops to accept the Oklahoma offer. Though hiring Ferentz, a Hayden Fry disciple, should've been applauded, it wasn't. Many Iowa fans, who badly wanted Stoops, didn't know who Ferentz was.
On Dec. 3, 1998, The Daily Iowan covered the hire with the headline "Ferentz to Follow Fry." Columnist Roger Kuznia wrote about "puzzled looks" and "mouths slightly agape" from students.
Nine months later, on Sept. 5, 1999, The Oklahoman ran a story: "Stoops is man Iowa let get away." A day earlier, Iowa got pummeled in the season opener by Nebraska, 42-7. It was largest margin of defeat in a season opener in a decade.
"The Bob Stoops Watch isn't over at the University of Iowa. It just has a different vantage point," wrote Dave Sittler. Nine months ago, thousands of Iowa football fans thought they would be watching favorite son Stoops walk the sideline Saturday as coach of the Hawkeyes in their season opener against Nebraska. Instead, they find themselves relegated to watching scoreboards and televisions replays to check out how Stoops and his Oklahoma Sooners do this season."
Oklahoma went 7-5, their most wins since 1993, and reached a bowl game, their first since 1994. Iowa, meanwhile, went 1-10, their fewest wins since 1973.
"The whole thing was just absolutely sickening," said Iowa City business owner Jim Mondonaro. "The University of Iowa had an opportunity to bring one of their own people back into a head-coaching position with the credentials Bob Stoops had, and we turned our back on him. … We let a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity get away from us, and it's going to prove out. You mark my word: Bob Stoops is going to win a national championship at Oklahoma."
Jim Mondonaro was right; Bob Stoops won a national championship 16 months later with a victory over Florida State in the 2000 Orange Bowl.
Stoops retired on Wednesday after 190 victories (.798 winning percentage), 10 conference titles, 14 10-win seasons and one national championship. Though Ferentz has delivered stability and a few flirtations with national relevance, he enters 2017 with 135 wins (.595 winning percentage), two conference titles, five 10-win seasons and zero national championships.
It's not fair to compare Kirk Ferentz to one of the better coaches of all time in Bob Stoops. However, when Bob Bowlsby couldn't commit to Stoops without interviewing Ferentz, the pair were forever pad-locked at the hip.