Wednesday’s news conference to mark the start of spring football practice was the latest proof that Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz will never change.
I say that in glowing terms in this case, though, because there is so much about Ferentz that doesn’t have to change.
Fans can argue until all the snow finally melts away about whether Ferentz needs to change his philosophy on offense because last season was a debacle with Iowa finishing 4-8 and only producing seven touchdown passes. A similar performance this fall could have serious consequences at the ticket office.
Fans can argue that Ferentz is making a huge mistake by committing to the offense that Greg Davis installed last season with little success. It caused a major reaction on Twitter when Ferentz said Wednesday that the offense wasn’t going to be “radically different” compared to last season.
“The ultimate idea is to figure out what the best thing is for the people that you have on your team,” Ferentz said.
Fans can argue that Ferentz is too set in his ways and too locked into the belief that Iowa’s current skid — the program has lost 17 of its last 29 games dating back to late in the 2010 season — is more a case of poor execution and untimely injuries than poor coaching and inferior talent.
Fans can argue that Ferentz is being paid too much money, with an annual salary of nearly $4 million, for Iowa to be mediocre or worse.
But we have the rest of this spring and all of next season to argue and debate over those issues.
The purpose of this column is just to remind Iowa fans who is leading their football program.
I’m not convinced that Ferentz will lift Iowa back to elite status, but it won’t be from a lack of effort. It won’t be from a lack of passion. And it certainly won’t be from a lack of knowledge or from some nasty scandal.
It’s never been easy to win at Iowa, especially over an extended period. Stay on the job long enough and chances are that you’ll have some lean years. Ferentz is suffering through that right now after 14 seasons on the job.
His predecessor, Hayden Fry, suffered through the same thing. But Fry now is a living legend, has a street named after him in Coralville and is the inspiration for the annual event called FRY fest.
Ferentz knows what’s at stake with his legacy hanging in the balance. He will either return Iowa to glory or he won’t.
What he won’t do is sacrifice his principles, take shortcuts or start treating people differently. He might hire a future son-in-law without going through the proper channels, but that hardly is a sign of a coach who’s out of control.
I would’ve been shocked if Ferentz didn’t start Wednesday’s news conference by offering his condolences to longtime Hawkeye fan Tommy Thompson, who died recently at the age of 86.
“Welcome to everybody, but just to start on a somber note,” Ferentz said. “We lost a great fan in Tommy, just a tremendous fan of all sports and certainly football.”
Thompson was a fixture at Ferentz’s weekly news conferences. He would always wait for the reporters to finish their interviews before chatting with Ferentz. And Ferentz always took the time to speak with Tommy because he knew it meant a great deal to him and because that’s who Ferentz is as a person.
Call me naïve or foolish, but one of the reasons I think Ferentz can right the ship is because he does so many of the little things the right way. Being a man of high integrity doesn’t guarantee success on the field, but it limits the distractions off it while also sending a positive message.
And remember, we’re talking somebody who already has rebuilt the Iowa program twice, with the first time being a major project.
We’re talking about a coach with two Big Ten titles on his resume and with countless former players who swear by his every word.
And we’re talking about a coach who saw 18 of his former players get selected in the last three NFL drafts. I’m reminded of how much Ferentz still is respected in NFL circles every time I interview an agent for one of his former players. Agents say that being a former Hawkeye under Ferentz is a bonus because NFL executives assume the player has been groomed properly.
Critics will say it’s nothing more than blind devotion, but that’s selling Ferentz short with everything he has accomplished at Iowa.
Critics also will say that his pipeline to the NFL is now more of a blemish because the talent hasn’t translated to victories on the field recently. And although there is some legitimacy to that argument, there’s no denying that players are still being developed under Ferentz.
I don’t want to give the impression that nothing is wrong with the Iowa football program because it has been moving in the wrong direction since late in the 2010 season and signs point to more struggles this fall.
It’s just a reminder that the situation is far from hopeless.
Iowa has to break in a new starting quarterback, but whoever wins the job will have the luxury of playing behind an offensive line that could be the strength of the team, even without Ferentz’s son, James Ferentz, leading the way at center.
“I think we really have a veteran group there,” Kirk Ferentz said of the offensive line, which has four starters returning, including a now-healthy Brandon Scherff at left tackle. “The key is keeping everybody healthy and keeping them moving forward.”
The key for fans is to keep the faith because they really have no other option — except to gripe and moan about what they think is wrong with the program.
Some fans now think Ferentz is what’s wrong with the program. I’m just not ready to go there yet because the good still outweighs the bad where Ferentz is concerned.
He proved it again Wednesday just by how he started the news conference.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football