Pro Wrestling, Cooking with Kirk and the Iowa Quagmire

By Todd Brommelkamp/1600ESPN

CEDAR RAPIDS – Stick around in any business for a quarter of a century and you’ll witness plenty of change.

What once worked even as recently as 10 years ago may no longer be relevant.

Yes, this is about Iowa Football.

For the most part, under Kirk Ferentz the Hawkeyes have built their brand on defense and special teams with an offense that does just enough to win games. It’s an approach that you’d expect from someone like Ferentz, who spent several years working in the National Football League. In the NFL, the margin between winning and losing is often razor thin. It’s better to win a game 17-16 and run out the clock than lose by staying aggressive and turning the ball over.

Football, at its core, is about winning.

But winning is no longer enough in 2023, especially in the college ranks.

Entertainment rules.

Deion Sanders’ Colorado program got de-pantsed by Oregon Saturday afternoon and the all the world wanted to talk about was Ducks coach Dan Lanning’s pregame speech and his halftime interview where he seemingly threatened to body-bag the Buffaloes in the second half.

Ohio State and Notre Dame played a fairly mundane Top 15 showdown and the storyline afterward was Ryan Day putting 86-year-old Lou Holtz on notice.

Don’t get me started on Lane Kiffin.

College football coaches are putting as much work in their mic skills as they are recruiting pitches, as referenced by The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel. He noted recently that college football is becoming a lot like professional wrestling.

The WWE, for those who are not aware, bills itself as professional sports entertainment. Emphasis on the ‘entertainment.’ We’ll watch the WWE as long we’re enjoying the product. Even if you know the outcome, it’s the artistry and the flair that pulls you in and makes you a mark.

During the peak of the late 90s, an era known as “The Monday Night Wars” for those unfamiliar with pro wrestling, two companies competed head-to-head for viewers. There was Vince McMahon’s WWF (before the World Wildlife Federation laid final claim to the initials) and Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW). My friends and I would gather every Monday night to pound caffeinated beverages and snacks while power-bombing one another onto sofas or mimicking an even more dangerous move.

There’s a reason why most WWE programs tell you not to try that stuff at home.

I’ve got a lot of memories from those days, almost all positive. However, what I remember the most was the remote control. If things started getting stale on one broadcast, we’d change over to the competing outfit in search of something better. There were times where we’d ping-pong back and forth but other times once the channel was changed, we stayed put.

The Iowa Hawkeyes are begging people to lunge for the clicker and the folks in Iowa City should be very worried.

If the Hawkeyes were a beer they’d be that stereotypical generic white can with black lettering that just says BEER. Yes, it’s football but are you really going to enjoy the taste (or the resulting morning after)?

The die-hards aren’t the issue. They’ll, as the term implies, go down with the ship. It’s the casual fan that the school is at risk of losing. Hey, those folks spend (and donate) money too. Every school needs them and who cares if the closest they came to attending school there was buying a sweatshirt from a big box store in the same Zip Code?

Kirk Ferentz has refused time and time again to change the recipe that he’s built his empire on, and that’s admirable. He’s forgotten more about football than most of us will ever know. (I question the ‘forgot’ part because most coaches have steel trap memories)

However, tastes change and evolve.

Mom-and-pop operations still exist in the world but keeping the doors open gets harder and harder for them every day. The competition for dollars and time is at a premium.

Adapt or die.

Fans want Offensive Coordinator Brian Ferentz fired.

That won’t happen mid-season. If we’re being honest, it may never happen. Brian Ferentz will leave on his own before it gets to that point.

But you could take the best, brightest offensive mind in the country and put that person on the sideline or in the booth on Saturday and the schemes they’d employ would look eerily similar to those of their three predecessors.

Kirk Ferentz hires the cooks. He wrote the recipe card. There’s no room for substitutions.

The regulars will continue to dine-in and carry-out but before too long it won’t be hard to see that business is hurting.

There is only one question that matters in terms of Iowa Football and it has been asked and answered many times in the past: Is Kirk Ferentz willing to change with the times?

In the past he’s played footsie with change. Greg Davis arrived as Ferentz’s second offensive coordinator and almost immediately gave away the game when he told an assembled group of reporters Iowa was lacking in the talent department compared to his previous stop at Texas.

Davis’ frank assessment of Iowa’s personnel may have been the highlight of his Hawkeye tenure.

Younger staffers like son, Brian, were brought in along with LeVar Woods and Ladell Betts. For a time it seemed like the program was embracing change, becoming more hip. Its social media presence exploded and things loosened up a bit around the complex, though not enough to appease a group of African-American players from claiming they felt stymied by “the Iowa Way.”

After last weekend’s 31-0 defeat at the hands of Penn State, fans are asking for a reason not to change the channel. The last time the Hawks were blanked on the scoreboard was during the 2000 season when, I kid you not, some college football games weren’t even televised. It’s true, ask your parents.

We already know what we’re going to see Saturday night against Michigan State though and against Purdue after that.

It’s the same football we’ve seen over the last 23 seasons. The players come and go, the color of the pants occasionally changes, and every once in a while there’s a new offensive coordinator to blame.

Are you not entertained?

Todd Brommelkamp is the host of “The Todd Brommelkamp Show” on 1600 ESPN and can be heard Monday-Friday from 6:30 to 9:00 AM on Eastern Iowa’s Home for Sports. Follow him on the app formerly known as Twitter at @ToddBrommelkamp.