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Harty: Surviving the black and gold fishbowl

[ 0 ] September 26, 2012 |

Besides probably not wanting to be there, the Iowa football players who attended Tuesday’s weekly news gathering were in agreement about one other thing.

At least they claimed to be.

Every one of the roughly 10 players said they either weren’t aware of, don’t pay attention to or don’t care about the criticism that has been festering since Saturday’s stunning 32-31 loss to Central Michigan.

The players say they are only focused on Saturday’s Big Ten opener against Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium. Sort of like old mules with blinders on, to borrow a line from former Iowa coach Hayden Fry.

“It’s a tough world to live in,” senior center James Ferentz said. “You kind of have to get in a zone where you don’t hear anything, you just kind of focus on the task at hand.

“It’s a difficult thing to do. But good football teams are able to do that. And if we want to be a good one, we’ve got to learn how to block out the outside noise and just focus on the task.”

His father couldn’t have said it better.

James Ferentz has lived through all the peaks and valleys with the Iowa football program since his father became the coach in 1999. He’s watched Kirk Ferentz rise above the criticism, mostly by ignoring it and by understanding that it’s part of the deal.

James Ferentz didn’t make excuses for his father or for the team. It’s good that he didn’t because the last thing fans want to hear now is somebody trying to spin a loss to Central Michigan at home, especially the son of the coach.

“That’s just the nature of his position that he’s in,” James Ferentz said of his father. “Obviously, when we go out on the field and don’t execute fundamentals and don’t play smart football, it’s going to create some criticism. And it’s kind of deserved with the way we played.

“Now it’s up to us players this week to try and change that and come out with a better performance this Saturday.”

It’s hard to believe the players don’t hear any of the criticism, considering the black and gold fishbowl in which they live. They’ve also got mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and best friends who probably keep them informed.

“I really don’t think about what everybody is saying,” sophomore left tackle Brandon Scherrf said. “We know what we can do better.

“We don’t really care what they think. We just know that we can do better.”

It seems unlikely that Scherff has to deal with much face-to-face criticism from fellow Iowa students because he strikes an imposing figure at 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds. Mess with him at your own risk.

Even if the players did pay attention to the criticism, it’d be a mistake for them to react negatively in public. This isn’t to suggest that what they said Tuesday was rehearsed or insincere, but the influence from the Iowa coaches on what they said was obvious.

The Iowa players are prohibited from being on Twitter per team rules so that spares them from being subjected to the disparaging remarks by anonymous critics who are so common there.

You hope for their sake the players don’t frequent the Internet message boards or listen to talk radio in times like this because they’re not going to like what they read or hear.

From Kirk Ferentz needing to be fired to the players being lousy, the chatter over the past few days has been brutal.

“In all honesty, I don’t think that many of us are aware of it,” senior quarterback James Vandenberg said. “We have a lot of confidence in coach Ferentz. We have complete confidence in him.

“We all came here basically because of him and we’re going to follow him with whatever he says. And that won’t change after one game.”

Vandenberg has handled the criticism better than he has opposing defenses this season. His mood with reporters hasn’t changed. Vandenberg is still polite and patient with the media.

I wrote something critical of Vandenberg after the 9-6 loss to Iowa State on Sept. 8 and was told by one reader to leave the players alone because they don’t get paid. I respectfully disagreed, my thinking being that college football players are big boys who should be capable of dealing with criticism as long as it doesn’t get personal.

Vandenberg seems more than capable of handling criticism.

Junior fullback Brad Rogers said the players tend to stick together even more than usual during tough times.

“You pretty much sit there with your teammates and hang out with each other and try to stay out of the way,” Rogers said.

Of course, the best way to stay out of the way of criticism is to win. The players don’t need to be reminded about that.

They just need to show they can do it. Unfortunately, for the players, that’s been harder than ignoring the criticism.

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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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