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Harty: Is Ferentz’s way still working?

[ 50 ] November 1, 2011 |

Kirk Ferentz probably would’ve preferred to play scrabble with Jim Rome or Dick Vitale more than attend his weekly news conference with reporters Tuesday.

You knew that many of the questions would rub Ferentz the wrong way just like Rome and Vitale supposedly do because reporters would want Ferentz to make some sense out of Saturday’s 22-21 loss to what was perceived as a lousy Minnesota team.

Ferentz’s way of making sense out of the 22-21 setback was by saying what he often says after an unexpected loss — that it’s just part of the game.

He says it because he believes it, but also because Ferentz can’t give reporters the answers they want without him tossing individual players and coaches under the bus.

That was apparent when Ferentz was asked if the problems on defense were a personnel thing or a schematic thing.

“I’ve noticed we’re not getting it done,” Ferentz said. “Simple as that. We just have to play better. There’s a lot of factors involved, personnel, injuries, scheme. That’s like any phase of football.

“We’ll just continue to work. We’ve had success in the past, and we’ll continue to work for that in the future.”

Ferentz also still believes strongly in the things that helped to build the Iowa program the first time under his watch when hardly anybody saw it coming.

He isn’t going to make drastic changes even though to some the situation looks bleak heading into the last third of the schedule beginning with Saturday’s game against No. 13 Michigan at Kinnick Stadium.

That could ultimately lead to Ferentz’s demise at Iowa, but at least he’ll go down standing by his beliefs.

That’s why I still give this team a slight chance to prove the naysayers wrong this season because whether you think that Ferentz is too conservative or too boring or too predictable or too stubborn or paid too much money or too unaware on special teams, he still does a lot of things the right way, not the least of which is protect the dignity of his players and coaches.

He also has a knack of winning games when we least expect it.

Fans and the media can say that Saturday’s loss to the 1-6 Gophers was inexcusable and embarrassing, but you’ll never get Ferentz to say it because that would not only be an insult to Minnesota, but also to the game of football.

The tears that Ferentz often sheds after a pivotal victory come from him knowing how hard it is to win at Iowa.

Now that being said, it still doesn’t change the fact that Iowa is 6-6 over its last 12 games dating back to last season.

It also doesn’t change the fact that Iowa is ranked in the lower half of the Big Ten in almost every defensive statistical category, including dead last in pass defense.

And it doesn’t change the fact that Iowa got burned on special teams Saturday with Minnesota recovering an onside kick for the second-straight year against the Hawkeyes.

We could be witnessing Ferentz having to rebuild the program for a third time, which is extremely rare for a coach to do that at the same program.

What makes this skid different than the previous one, which lasted from the beginning of the 2006 season until midway through the 2008 season, is that it’s happening so soon after the last skid and during Ferentz’s 13th season as coach.

This isn’t to say that fans are suffering from Ferentz fatigue or Ferentz overkill or whatever you want to call it. But the longer a coach stays in one place, the more you risk alienating some fans and becoming stale.

Iowa still is light years ahead of where it was when Ferentz was hired as Hayden Fry’s successor in Dec. 1998.

But it’s not above being average and probably never will be.

Another thing that’s different about this current skid is the ongoing health issues of defensive coordinator Norm Parker.

It has to hurt Iowa to no longer have Parker on the road recruiting because he’s one of the faces of the program, not to mention a funny guy when he wants to be.

Iowa already has enough disadvantages with regard to recruiting. So to create another one is just asking for trouble.

The fact that a rumor about former Arizona coach and former Hawkeye Mike Stoops being hired as the new defensive coordinator at Iowa continues to fester is partly a result of fans feeling uneasy about the situation on defense.

I finally asked Ferentz about the rumor Tuesday, and let’s just say he wasn’t thrilled that I did.

“You mean Dan McCarney is not available,” Ferentz said sarcastically in reference to the former Iowa player, former Iowa State coach and current North Texas coach, who some fans have wanted to replace Parker. “I’m not responding to that stuff.

“Somebody said (something to me about it) last week and I said the same thing, you mean Dan McCarney is not available. Wasn’t that the rumor eight years ago? I lose track of all that stuff.”

What Ferentz doesn’t lose track of is the next challenge ahead. His one-game-at-a-time approach gets boring, but it’s also one of the reasons he’s been successful.

You’re either with Ferentz or you’re not at this stage.

His way has worked before at Iowa, but that doesn’t mean it’ll keep working.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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