Iowa wisely locks up Ferentz through 2020

You'd have a hard time convincing most state employees that college football coaches deserve the money they make.

But when you consider the market for the nation's best coaches, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz is worth every penny.

Iowa continued to pledge its loyalty to Ferentz on Thursday, announcing a contract extension through the 2020 season. School official expect the contract to be signed Friday, hours before Ferentz begins his 12th season as Hawkeyes' head coach.

The compensation certainly is notable: Ferentz will earn $3,675,000 annually, an increase of 330,000. He also receives longevity compensation beginning in 2010 that starts at $325,000 and increases every year. I'm no financial expert, but that kind of money goes a long way in Iowa.

Ferentz becomes the Big Ten's highest-paid coach, pocketing just more than Ohio State's Jim Tressel ($3.5 million).

"I've said publicly, and privately to Kirk, that it would be my goal to have him retire at Iowa," athletic director Gary Barta said in a statement. "This contract is a statement supporting that commitment."

The Ferentz extension is a wise move for Iowa and Barta, who had himself a very nice week, securing the Farmageddon rivalry with Nebraska in the new Big Ten divisional alignment. Iowa loves stability, and Ferentz has provided it as the second-longest tenured coach in the Big Ten behind Penn State's Joe Paterno. Ferentz is one of only eight FBS head coaches to be in the same position they had in 1999.

So why lock him up now? Because Ferentz always has the potential to move on. He'd never say anything publicly, but his name always gets mentioned for NFL vacancies. And when Paterno finally decides to step down, expect to hear Ferentz, a western Pennsylvania native, get mentioned as a candidate.

I don't think he's going anywhere. He loves Iowa, and his son, James, will start at center for Saturday's opener against Eastern Illinois. Ferentz also has a 17-year-old son attending school in Iowa City.

As I wrote back in early October, Iowa might not be considered a big-time program, but it distinguishes itself from comparable schools by paying its coach what he's worth.

"To many, Ferentz's credentials don't translate into a $3 million salary, but consider the alternative. If Iowa doesn't pay, it could turn into Louisville or North Carolina or Michigan State or Washington State, programs that went downhill after losing successful coaches (Bobby Petrino, Mack Brown, Nick Saban, Mike Price). Coaching change really stings, and some programs never recover. Iowa has avoided the same fate."

Why should Ferentz make more than Tressel? He faces a more challenging situation, which lacks the local recruiting base enjoyed by Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. Despite bringing in average recruiting classes, Iowa has reached six January bowl games in the past eight years and comes off of an Orange Bowl championship.

Smart move by Iowa. And the dollars given to Ferentz make sense.