SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. —The banquet before bowl games can be an awkward dance, the coaching staffs of two teams about to play each other forced to mingle in a semi-public setting.
The shindig for the Insight Bowl on Tuesday night wasn't the typical small-talk affair, filled instead with belly-laugh stories, slaps on the back, mutual admiration.
Even with their teams facing each other three days later, the coaches at Oklahoma and Iowa treated the banquet as if it were a reunion, which, in many ways, it was with all the ties between the two staffs.
"Those bowl functions, to be honest with you, can be uncomfortable," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Wednesday. "But meeting with those guys last night was a lot of fun. It was something I had been looking forward to."
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There was a lot to talk about.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was a defensive back at Iowa from 1978-82, the first of three brothers to wear No. 41 in Iowa City, and served five more years as a graduate assistant and volunteer coach for the Hawkeyes before moving on to a successful career that includes time as an assistant at Kansas State and a national championship and eight BCS bowl appearances at Oklahoma.
Ferentz was the offensive line coach during Stoops' final two years as a player, and the two forged a strong bond while working on Hayden Frye's staff together before Stoops headed to Kent State in 1988.
The two coaches interviewed for the Iowa job on the same day — Ferentz got it, Stoops the job at OU — and stayed in touch over the years, hooking up over the summer when Ferentz's staff visited Oklahoma's practice facility for a few days.
So when the two coaches met up at the Insight Bowl banquet, it wasn't the usual polite, how's-it-going chatter. They spent time catching up before the dinner and took turns regaling the crowd with stories during the banquet. Stoops said Ferentz was like a big brother to him, and the Iowa coach credited his counterpart for saving his marriage by painting his house during his playing days.
"Kirk and I had so much to catch up on, we were the last ones to go into the dinner because we were outside talking," Stoops said. "I have always had a great sentiment and have just been very grateful for my experience and my brothers' experience at Iowa."
The connection runs deeper than the two head coaches.
Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell was an All-Big Ten defensive back — among other positions — for the Hawkeyes and played in five bowl games, including two Rose Bowls. He also worked as a graduate assistant at Iowa from 1986-87 alongside Ferentz and Stoops.
Bruce Kittle, who coaches tight ends and tackles at Oklahoma, was an offensive tackle at Iowa, serving as captain for the 1981 team. He also coached with the two Insight Bowl head guys, serving as a graduate assistant and volunteer coach from 1982-86.
Now that they've reunited, the opposing coaches will turn their attention to beating each other in Friday night's game at Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium, then go back to being friends when it's over.
"We'll all go out and compete against each other as hard as we can Friday night, that's just the nature of what we do, but there's such a strong tie there," Ferentz said.
Stoops certainly can't shake his.
He met his wife, Carol, at Iowa, and she has their three kids yell "Go Hawks!" every game day for the Hawkeyes.
A year ago, Oklahoma was in the Valley of the Sun to play in the Fiesta Bowl, arriving in time for Stoops to attend the Insight Bowl, where Ferentz and the Hawkeyes faced Missouri. Stoops turned into a fan that day, taking in the game while he and his family were decked out in Iowa gear — a move he doesn't plan on repeating.
"My wife actually went out that morning and got all the kids and got me a sweat shirt," Stoops said. "There will be none of that this year. It's a little different, but you just have to go against them for four hours."
Then it'll be right back to being an Iowa fan. He can't help it.