TAMPA, Fla. — What are the odds?
A little more than 1,000 miles separate Raymond James Stadium, the site of Tuesday’s Outback Bowl match-up between Iowa and Mississippi State, and the western Pennsylvania towns where Kirk Ferentz and Joe Moorhead learned the game of football.
The coaches of the Hawkeyes and Bulldogs grew up in Pittsburgh-area communities about 15 miles apart, developing core beliefs anchored in a physical approach to the game that are trademarks of the programs that meet for the first time ever this week.
Saturday at a bowl news conference, both reflected on those roots and the irony that led them from the hills of Pennsylvania to their current roles in Iowa City and Starkville.
“When you grow up in western Pennsylvania, you pride yourself in rolling up your sleeves, going to work, shutting your mouth and getting the job done,’’ said Moorhead, whose team shares an 8-4 record with Iowa as both prepare for the 11 a.m. game.
Ferentz recalled the lessons learned from his high school coach, Joe Moore, and the impact they have had throughout his coaching career.
“All of us are products of our experiences,’’ Ferentz said, saying the influences of Moore and Hayden Fry can be seen on the field whenever Iowa plays today.
Both Ferentz and Moorhead cut their coaching teeth at the collegiate level as graduate assistants at Pittsburgh, Ferentz working again with Moore before leaving for Iowa in 1981 and Moorhead spending two seasons there in the late 1990s.
More recently, they were on opposite sidelines in 2016 and 2017 when the Hawkeyes faced Penn State in Big Ten play.
After spending four seasons as the head coach at Fordham, Moorhead joined James Franklin’s staff and spent two years as the offensive coordinator for the Nittany Lions before being hired to lead the Mississippi State program last year.
He coordinated the Penn State offense that routed Iowa 41-14 two years ago at Beaver Stadium and celebrated the Nittany Lions’ 21-19 walk-off win at Kinnick Stadium last season.
Those experiences provide Ferentz and Moorhead with a familiarity as they devise plans for Tuesday’s match-up.
“They could have had 1,000 yards on us that night two years ago (at Penn State),’’ Ferentz said. “There are similarities with what they do now to what Penn State has done. There are differences, too, but a lot of that is dictated by personnel.’’
Moorhead said personnel changes are the biggest differences he sees between the Hawkeyes the Bulldogs face this week and the Iowa teams he prepared for the past two seasons.
“Playing against them the past two years, I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what they are going to do on the offensive side of the ball, plus watching all of the games this year,’’ Moorhead said. “Iowa does a great job emphasizing what its team does well, and I think that shows up in all three phases.’’
He labels the Hawkeyes “a model of consistency,’’ something he is working to develop within the culture of the program he now leads.
“I think that consistency is something you see with their philosophy, blue-collar work ethic, fundamentals and technique,’’ Moorhead said.
“He has done it at a very high level for a very long time. The fact that he has had teams here (at the Outback Bowl) six times, playing on New Year’s Day, I think speaks volumes for his program.’’