Evans: Highest paid state employee shouldn't be football coach

BY BENJAMIN EVANS | MAY 16, 2013 5:00 AM

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They call me an “intellectual” — you know, one of those guys who can type words into a word processor with relative ease and get a relatively mediocre response. I say this not to garner sympathy from you, my ever-attentive audience, but in the interest of full disclosure.

I should also tell you, in an effort to expose any and all bias in my prose, that I am not the athletic type: I don’t play sports, I don’t watch sports, I don’t like sports (OK, maybe hockey, but only when I watch it with bona fide Canadians, like from Canada, because they understand hockey as a way of life, rather than just a mix between a pissing match and a beauty contest).

So, my dear readers, you can now understand that when I saw Kirk Ferentz (the coach of the Hawkeye football team, in case you had to Google that one, as I did) was the highest-paid state employee in Iowa, my fingers began the all-too-familiar ritual of putting finger pad to keyboard with audible rage.

A football coach? Earning more than the governor? More than any elected state official? More than a public-school teacher? Are you kidding me?

I mean, sure, he provides such a public service: what with his bolstering of the University of Iowa’s morale through dutifully coaching a team to an impressive record of four wins and eight losses in 2012. That benefits the whole state.

Let’s set aside the easy arguments, like coaches don’t directly make revenue for the entire state, or that football boosts school spirit, which helps students perform better in school with their studies and peers. Let’s even put aside the great (ironic use being employed here) rivalry between the Cyclones and Hawkeyes that brings Iowans together once a year, and listen to a little reason.

Ferentz got paid $3.725 million in fiscal 2012 alone. He does virtually nothing to benefit the state of Iowa as a whole. The second-highest-paid state employee was Jean Robillard, the UI vice president for Medical Affairs, at nearly $1.3 million.

I mentioned public-school teachers before. Well, they made an average of nearly $50,000 in fiscal 2011.

Which is more important: winning football games or teaching children to read? That was a loaded question, I’m sorry. Let me try again. Which is more important: losing football games or teaching children to read?

Ugh, I did it again.

But, come on, nearly $4 million? Cut $1 million, the state of Iowa could provide funding to 20 more teachers. Cut $3 million, more than 60 new teachers.

But what is even more sinister here is Iowa’s valuation of football over education. It’s classic and almost cliché, I know, but football is a game. Give me the comments about sports building teamwork and fostering beliefs in loyalty and other values humanity lacks. Give me the factoids about athleticism and healthy living. Give me the Kurt Russell speech from Miracle.

Football is a game. Kirk Ferentz is just a football coach. It’s time to get some perspective.

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