I mentioned in my last post that I’m trying to do a better job of recognizing people in the media who have complimented my books.  I recently looked back at some of my earlier posts and realized that October 2011 was one of the most fun months I’ve had during my writing journey…and so far, I’ve completely failed to mention that month!  So take a trip back with me, if you will, to a year and a half ago – long before this website was launched – and let me tell you about one of my favorite professional experiences: the What It Means to Be a Hawkeye radio tour.

Murph and Miller

My second book, What It Means to Be a Hawkeye, was published by Triumph Books in 2011.  Triumph Books was a great publisher all around.  When the book came out, they set me and my co-authors up with several radio interviews to promote its release.  In a little over two weeks, I appeared on five radio shows across Iowa, trumpeting the release of What It Means to Be a Hawkeye.

I made my first radio appearance in August 2011 on Inside the Game with Pat Williams, which I wrote about before.  Making an appearance on a national radio show with someone as accomplished as Pat Williams was an intimidating introduction to radio, to be sure!  Still, it was a great experience. 

In October, I made my first appearance on an Iowa-based radio program when I did a spot on the Murph and Andy Show on KXNO Radio.  Andy Fales, the usual co-host, was out of town that day, so I spoke with Keith Murphy and Bryce Miller, then the sports editor of the Des Moines Register.  Murphy and Miller asked some very thought-provoking questions, and it made for a great conversation.

The first question that sparked a discussion was one I’m sure they thought would have an obvious answer.  Murphy asked me who I would select as the greatest Hawkeye football player of all time.  I’m sure I surprised the two hosts when I chose Duke Slater, because my third book on Duke had not yet been released.  In fact, Miller asked a followup to that answer, wanting to know why I didn’t choose Nile Kinnick.  I’ve talked about my opinion on that topic before – both on this website and in the Slater book – so I won’t get into it again…but needless to say, it got the segment off to a flying start.

Fry Vs. Ferentz

Murphy and Miller then asked me to compare and contrast Kirk Ferentz and Hayden Fry.  I responded that in terms of philosophy, the biggest difference I have seen between the two coaches is the types of assistant coaches they preferred.  Fry hired assistant coaches who were aspiring head coaches.  His thinking was that an assistant coach with dreams of climbing the college football ladder would pay more attention to detail and work harder than his peers.

As a result, Hayden Fry assembled a remarkable coaching tree that all Iowa fans are proud of.  Barry Alvarez, Bill Snyder, Kirk Ferentz, Dan McCarney, Chuck Long, Bob Stoops, Mike Stoops, and many other future college head coaches served as Fry assistants, and all of them did a great job for Fry at Iowa.  They were a big reason for Iowa’s terrific run from 1981-1991.  However, it’s interesting to note that when several of them departed, Fry had a difficult time replacing them.  That could be one of the reasons why the program fell back a bit from 1992-1998.

Kirk Ferentz has adopted the opposite philosophy.  Understanding that departures of reliable assistant coaches have hurt many college football programs, Ferentz instead chose to hire career assistant coaches – men who had very little interest in becoming head coaches themselves.  In particular, his two coordinators – Norm Parker and Ken O’Keefe – weren’t really angling for head jobs elsewhere.  As a result, each of them stayed at Iowa for over a decade.

That gave the program tremendous stability.  It kept the Hawkeyes from needing to change their offensive and defensive philosophies every couple of years with the departure and arrival of new coaches, a transition which can often be hard on players and wastes the talents of skilled athletes who may be better suited to playing in one system.  When a coaching transition takes place, a player’s skills may be useless when the new system doesn’t best utilize the talents of an inherited player.  In that way, the stability of Iowa’s assistants under Ferentz helped make him a successful head coach.  The downside of this approach is that often an infusion of new blood and new ideas can revitalize a program that has become stagnant, which can only happen when there is some coaching turnover.

In this way, Fry and Ferentz had differing philosophies about the men hired to serve under them, but it worked for both to the tune of 100 Hawkeye victories each.  They got to the same result by following opposite paths.

I continued to compare and contrast Fry and Ferentz by noting that each has compiled a solid record through different methods.  One thing that Ferentz critics like to point out today is that his teams often lose to opponents who, on paper, have less talent…teams that Iowa should be favored to defeat.  I’m a statistics guy, and the numbers bear this out.  Fry’s record against teams that ended their season with a losing record was 93-16-2, which is a 0.847 winning percentage.  On the other hand, Ferentz’ record against teams that ended seasons with a losing record is just 50-18, a 0.735 winning percentage. 

This lines up with the conventional wisdom of Iowa fans that Ferentz has a less than stellar record against teams that aren’t very good.  Fry would absolutely pound teams that weren’t very good…his average margin of victory against teams with a sub-.500 record was 18.1 points per game.  Ferentz, conversely, only defeats sub-.500 teams by an average margin of 13.2 points per game, which probably accounts for his high number of defeats by such teams.

However, something which I think gets lost in discussions about Fry and Ferentz is how Ferentz’ conservative nature and ability to keep games close, regardless of the opponent, has resulted in some major victories.  Against ranked teams, Fry’s record was 19-46-1, for a winning percentage of 0.295.  On the other hand, Ferentz’ record against ranked teams is 21-31…a 0.404 clip.  Ferentz has claimed victories over ranked teams more than 40 percent of the time, while Fry couldn’t even do so 30 percent of the time.  Ferentz already has more victories over ranked teams in 14 years than Fry did in twenty.

What people don’t remember about Fry (probably because they choose not to remember it) is that when he faced a team with excellent talent, he often lost in lopsided fashion.  Fry’s average margin of defeat by ranked teams was 8.8 points per game, while Ferentz’ is less than half that at 4.3 points per game.  Hayden had some really lopsided stinkers against ranked, talented teams, while Ferentz’ teams rarely get blown out.  Of course, many of those Fry defeats have been glossed over by fans who, in Fry’s retirement, have chosen to focus on the more memorable victories.  But it’s important to note that statistically, that wasn’t the norm for Fry’s teams, which makes what Ferentz has done in being competitive against ranked teams something that shouldn’t be easily dismissed.

My wonderful conversation with Murphy and Miller concluded with Miller lobbing a couple of rapid fire player pairs at me and asking me to choose one.  He asked me to pick one of the following two players: Tim Dwight and Tavian Banks (I chose Dwight); Ricky Stanzi and Chuck Hartlieb (Stanzi); Andre Tippett and Larry Station (Station); Shonn Greene and Ronnie Harmon (Harmon); and Randy Duncan and Chuck Long (Duncan).  They were all difficult choices!  But those were my answers.

The last question from Keith Murphy asked me to pick my top player from the Ferentz era.  I picked Dallas Clark…but I’ll be honest, you could have chosen about a dozen different players and been able to make an argument!  Anyway, it was a great conversation and a wonderful time. 

What It Means to Be a Hawkeye Radio Tour

That was just the first stop on what I called the What It Means to Be a Hawkeye radio tour!   Over a two-week span, I went on five different radio shows, talking about my books.  These shows included:

Keith Murphy and Bryce Miller – Murph and Andy, KXNO – 10/13/11

Tim Lary – Early Morning Show, KDTH – 10/19/11

Scott Nolte – Mid Days, KUYY – 10/20/11

Lance Renaud – Morning Show, KFJB – 10/26/11

Chuck Morris and Don Hansen – Chuck and Don in the Morning, KMA – 10/28/11

I had a lot of fun on all of these shows.  The last one in particular was memorable, as Don Hansen is a big time Hawk fan.  He now pairs with Dean Adkins on KMA Radio for Dean and Don in the Morning.  KMA actually invited me back when Duke Slater came out, and Dean and Don was the first radio appearance I made upon that book’s release.

Anyway, a radio tour is one of the most fun things I get to do as an author, and I hope to do another one someday.  Which reminds me…I need to get back to writing!

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