‘Mark probably looked like he was 15.’ Iowa coach reminisces on Stoops’ time there.

·3 min read
Charlie Neibergall/AP

University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz during a Sunday news conference shared a story from his days as an offensive line assistant on the Hawkeyes’ staff in the late 1980s.

That time coincided with the playing days of Mark Stoops, who’s now the head coach at Kentucky. The two programs will face off in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1.

He recalled one of his first memories at Iowa, when Stoops was visiting with then-Iowa defensive coordinator Bill Brazier.

“One of my first memories (at Iowa), our (defensive) coordinator during the ‘80s was a guy named Bill Brazier,” Ferentz said. “ ... I’ll never forget when Mark was in on his visit. I walked by Bill’s office and he was talking to Mark. Later on we were having a staff meeting after the recruiting weekend and Bill made the comment, ‘If this wasn’t a Stoops I would’ve sworn there was no way this guy was going to be a college football player.’

“His point was, at that time, Mark probably looked like he was 15. He was a young-looking high school senior. Coach (Hayden) Fry had his mind made up on that one already, and certainly it panned out. All three of the boys had tremendous careers here. Not just good careers, tremendous careers.”

Stoops played at Iowa through the 1989 season and was a graduate assistant with the program for two years after that. Two of his older brothers, Bob and Mike, also played at Iowa before going on to have coaching careers of their own. All of them wore the same number — 41 — while at Iowa.

“Coaching, he probably had no choice,” Ferentz said. “It seems to be in the Stoops blood. All the boys are coaches. ... It’s just a great family, and their dad, Ron Sr., was a tremendous high school football coach also.”

Kentucky is the only school at which Mark Stoops has been a head coach. The Wildcats hired him ahead of the 2013 season, and he’s leading the team in its sixth straight bowl appearance following a late season throughout which his name was linked to multiple openings at other schools. Stoops last week agreed to new contract terms with UK that extended his tenure through at least the 2027 season.

UK’s teams under Stoops have often drawn comparisons to Big Ten programs, like the one fielded by Iowa.

“Just knowing the way Mark approaches things and looking from afar, my sense is he started out by building a great foundation and wasn’t trying to do a quick fix,” Ferentz said. “I personally think that’s the way to go about it. You’re trying to build something that’s gonna last it seems like, and appears from a distance he’s had great support from the administration.”

Will Levis

Ferentz also has ties to Kentucky quarterback Will Levis.

Iowa was the first Power Five school to offer Levis a scholarship, on June 6, 2017. The three-star quarterback later that year would sign with Penn State.

“He was a guy our quarterback coach really liked,” Ferentz said. “He came out and went to our camp. There was no question in our mind he was going to be a good college football player. Unfortunately, another school came in that was a bit more prestigious than us a couple weeks later and that was the end of that relationship.”

Levis played against Iowa while at Penn State last season. He was 13-of-16 passing for 106 yards and rushed for 34 yards on 15 carries. He did not throw or rush for a touchdown in a 41-21 loss.

“Will’s a tremendous football player and I know he’s done a great job,” Ferentz said. “I haven’t seen film, but I kind of follow and read articles, that type of thing. I know he’s done a great job for Kentucky and I’m not surprised. He’s a first-class young man.”

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