DES MOINES — Iowa's Kirk Ferentz made nearly $1 million a win last season and yet kept his job — likely for years to come, too.
The Hawkeyes have been left to hope that Ferentz can prove he's worth all the money they owe him.
Iowa is about to enter its 15th season under Ferentz — who is signed through 2020 with a prohibitive buyout at roughly $3 million a year — with nonexistent national expectations. The Hawkeyes collapsed last season, losing their last six games and leaving many fans to grumble that the school couldn't afford to fire Ferentz even if it wanted to.
Ferentz, however, has the support of the administration and athletic director Gary Barta thanks to a largely successful tenure in Iowa City. He's also made a number of coaching changes in hopes of reversing a disturbing three-year slide capped by last season's 4-8 finish.
Iowa opens the season on Aug. 31 when it hosts defending MAC champion Northern Illinois.
"We've got a guy in Kirk Ferentz who has proven himself as a leader and a head coach, not only in college football but right here at Iowa. He's done it before. He's a great leader. He's proven that at Iowa before," Barta said last week when asked about the criticism of Ferentz's contract. "While 4-8 was — we were all scratching our heads, we were all upset — I'm ready to go. Let's go."
Ferentz has twice dragged the Hawkeyes out of mediocrity and into national prominence. It's also easy to forget that Ferentz, predecessor Hayden Fry, Joe Paterno and Bo Schembechler are the only ones to be named Big Ten Coach of the Year three times.
But Ferentz has never faced such doubt and scrutiny.
Here are five story lines to watch as Iowa tries to climb its way back into relevance in the Big Ten.