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Harty: Two criticisms that don’t pass muster

[ 0 ] September 11, 2012 |

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has made it easy for fans to criticize him because the results have been less than desirable after two games.

His offense has been offensive and needs to improve dramatically or the Hawkeyes could be dealing with back-to-back losses to instate opponents with Northern Iowa coming to town Saturday.

What’s hard to understand, though, is why some fans insist on criticizing Ferentz for not using his best players and for not coaching with enough emotion.

You could criticize Ferentz for being too conservative and too predictable and for being overpaid based on his nearly $4 million annual salary and Iowa’s 9-10 record over the last 19 games.

But to suggest that Ferentz isn’t using his best players or that he doesn’t get his players motivated to face Iowa State simply because he doesn’t whoop it up on the sideline during the game is just ridiculous.

Some fans are upset because Ferentz hasn’t used any of the four true freshmen receivers despite the passing game being inept at times.

Fans don’t understand why Ferentz won’t give the youth movement a shot, especially in the wake of the 9-6 loss to Iowa State when Iowa receivers dropped anywhere from five to 12 passes, depending on who you talk to.

Here’s why: Ferentz doesn’t feel that any of the four freshmen receivers deserve to be ahead of the veterans based on what he’s seen in practice so far. That could change as the season progresses — it could even happen Saturday against Northern Iowa — but if it doesn’t, that means the four freshmen receivers didn’t do enough in practice to earn playing time.

It doesn’t mean that Ferentz is afraid to play freshmen or that he favors his veteran players at the expense of winning.

“We’re trying to play our best players at all times, absolutely, whether it’s a first-year guy or not,” Ferentz said Tuesday at his weekly news gathering.

Some fans probably will refuse to take Ferentz at his word because they’ve convinced themselves that at least one or two of the freshmen receivers have to be better than the ones currently playing.

How they’ve reached that conclusion is anybody’s guess because we’ve only seen the four true freshmen receivers participate in two open practices.

And if you’re basing your argument on high school film, it’s time to get a clue.

“It’s way more complicated; just the level of playing college football from high school,” said Iowa sophomore receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley, who was redshirted as a true freshman in 2010. “It’s a faster pace. Things move a little quicker out there.

“You’ve also got a playbook. You’ve got protections and things like that.”

Chicago native Maurice Fleming probably was the most heavily recruited among the four true freshmen receivers, but he mostly played defensive back and quarterback in high school.

It’s reasonable to think that perhaps Fleming needs more time to adjust to playing a new position at a new level.

Part of the reason the freshmen receivers are in demand right now is because they didn’t drop any passes Saturday. It’s sort of like the backup quarterback being the most popular guy on campus when the starter is struggling.

Now, if you want to criticize Ferentz and his assistants for their recruiting, that’s different because they have failed to land elite receivers on a regular basis.

But when has Iowa ever landed elite receivers on a regular basis?

It rarely happened under former Iowa coach Hayden Fry, as evidenced by all the instate walk-on receivers who played significant roles for him.

As for the emotion thing, there is no right or wrong way to coach football — or any sport for that matter. Ferentz has his own style and he’s made it this far by being himself.

Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads also has his own style, which is to wear his emotions on his sleeve. Rhoads’ style looks good now because the Cyclones have won back-to-back games against Iowa.

His rah-rah style didn’t look as good in 2009 and 2010 when Iowa combined to outscore the Cyclones 70-10 in two victories.

Ferentz was considered stoic and classy after those victories, as well as when he was leading Iowa to Big Ten titles in 2002 and 2004. But now he loses consecutive games to the Cyclones and he supposedly doesn’t care as much as Rhoads does about winning.

“I think no matter what your profession is, you probably ought to do it within the framework of your personality,” Ferentz said last week when asked about Rhoads’ passion and fire during games. “If I was giving advice, which I’m not, I think that’s what most effective people that I’ve witnessed in any profession do.”

There is a side of Ferentz that fans don’t get to see. Ferentz has become so emotional after a few games that I and other reporters could hear what he was saying to his players through the walls.

“What people don’t know is to the players he does show emotion,” Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg said. “He’s portrayed as that mild guy, but there are a lot of emotions in him. When he talks to us before the game, after the games, team meetings, you can really see how invested he is and how much he wants to win. And that’s something we all feed off.”

It’s hard to dispute that based on the three hours we see Ferentz on Saturdays in the fall.





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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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