National Columnist

The rest of the Fran McCaffery story, featuring Kirk Ferentz

Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz also got involved with the Starmer family. (USATSI)
Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz also got involved with the Starmer family. (USATSI)

DAYTON, Ohio -- So, about last night …

There's more to the story of Iowa fans Matt and Melissa Starmer, of their infant son Maddox, of their connection to the University of Iowa athletic department. Much more than what I could write -- what I could fit -- into a story about Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery and his own son Patrick's medical condition and his tender dealings with the Starmer family before and even after Maddox died at the age of 2 months.

There's a Kirk Ferentz connection here, too, and it just didn't fit in that story -- but I know about it, and almost nobody else knows about it, and they need to. So here's what I couldn't write, couldn't fit, into the story last night:

It was the middle of November, and lifetime Hawkeyes fan Matt Starmer was lost. He was on the Iowa campus, looking for the football office, because he was trying to ask if football coach Kirk Ferentz would sign a ball for a fundraiser. Starmer already had met with McCaffery, already received a signed ball, but Maddox's medical bills were enormous and the fundraiser was approaching and Starmer needed more memorabilia to offer and he was lost.

Guess who found him? Norm Parker, the longtime former Iowa defensive coordinator who himself was dying. Parker was suffering with diabetes, had lost one of his legs to the disease, and two months later he died at age 72. That was Jan. 13. But on this day in November, Parker was heading to the hospital near Kinnick Stadium when he saw Matt Starmer, clearly lost, and asked him where he was headed.

Looking for Kirk Ferentz's office, Starmer told Parker.

Parker asked why. Starmer told him about Maddox.

"Come with me," Parker said, and walked Starmer into the football offices at the Jacobson Athletic Building, near the stadium and the hospital. Parker walked Starmer past security, past the secretary, right into Kirk Ferentz's office.

It was media day -- the Michigan game was that Saturday -- and Ferentz was in the office discussing some details with athletics director Gary Barta before heading to the weekly press conference. But when Parker told them about Matt Starmer, about Maddox, Ferentz stopped talking with Barta and stopped hurrying toward the press conference and sat down with Starmer.

Five days later, Starmer and his wife, Melissa, watched the Michigan game from the Ferentz family suite at Kinnick Stadium.

Ferentz stayed in touch with the Starmers, as did Fran McCaffery. Maddox Starmer, on life support while waiting for a heart transplant, died on Dec. 19. A few days later the Iowa football team headed to Florida to prepare for the Outback Bowl in Tampa.

On Christmas Day, Matt Starmer received an email from Kirk Ferentz. Checking in. Letting him know the Ferentz family was thinking of him and Melissa, hoping they were OK.

"On Christmas!" Matt Starmer told me. "He's in Florida on Christmas preparing for a bowl game, and he thought of us. I still don't know what to say."

So that's the rest of the story, or at least as much of the story as I know. From what I've learned about Kirk Ferentz -- and Fran McCaffery -- I'm pretty certain there's more. And whatever it is, it's special.

 
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