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Harty: Ferentz is right to limit open practices

[ 0 ] June 25, 2013 |

Operation Accessibility — as I like to call what’s happening with the Iowa football program — continued Tuesday with a little news gathering.

It was long overdue, considering Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz hadn’t met with the media as a group since the final day of spring practice on April 27.

I say that jokingly because the media used to have little to no contact with members of the Iowa football program over the summer. I can’t recall former Iowa coach Hayden Fry ever holding a news conference in the summer, and Ferentz was the same way until recently.

Ferentz took things to a new level this spring by having an open practice at Valley High School in West Des Moines. He also allowed each of his assistant coaches to have a news conference during the spring. He did a question-and-answer interview with at least two members of the Iowa media this spring. And he allowed me to conduct an extended interview with Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle earlier this month.

But there is a limit to all of this accessibility. Ferentz made that clear when asked Tuesday if he would consider opening his practices to the public or to the media on a regular basis.

“I don’t know why you would,” Ferentz said. “I don’t see any upside about it.”

Ferentz believes that it would be inviting chaos into a world already filled with enough distractions.

“It would be a total circus,” Ferentz said. “It’s hard enough to keep the guys focused.

“You have so many limited opportunities with your team anyway. It would be out of control.”

I couldn’t agree more.

And I’ll admit it, part of my reasoning is self-serving because the thought of having to watch the Iowa football team practice for two to three hours on a daily basis is daunting to say the least.

Reporters would tweet every time one of the players dropped a pass, missed a block or was chastised by a coach. And I can’t even imagine what we’d do if we witnessed a fight in practice.

In this case, too much Iowa football wouldn’t be a good thing.

The players and coaches need and deserve their privacy and space, and the media needs to realize that even in this age of Twitter, we still don’t have to know everything the moment it happens. Being transparent is not always the best option.

Ferentz isn’t required to make any of his players accessible during the summer, but he does it anyway. He started taking steps to be more accessible a few years ago by having his two coordinators meet with the media every so often. He has since made select players available for interviews, as was the case Tuesday.

Ferentz’s one year as a graduate assistant at the University of Pittsburgh in 1980 is the only time that he can remember having open practices. It didn’t really matter, though, because the Panthers were a sideshow at best in Pittsburgh, despite being a national power at the time.

“When I was at Pittsburgh, (reporters) could have walked through the locker room,” Ferentz said. “You would have loved it. All you (reporters) would have loved it. You could walk through the locker room and go to practice and do whatever you wanted to do.”

Being accessible was Pittsburgh’s way of trying to be relevant in a town that featured one of the NFL’s most-storied franchises in the Pittsburgh Steelers. The media was treated much differently by the Steelers.

“It was because nobody in Pittsburgh cared about the University of Pittsburgh,” Ferentz said. “Now with the Steelers, that was a different deal. You couldn’t get near the Steelers.”

Ferentz joined a mini-version of the Steelers when he became the Iowa offensive line coach in 1981 under Fry. In addition to having Iowa’s uniforms resemble the Steelers, Fry also had strict rules about practice. He liked to joke with the media, but he didn’t like reporters anywhere near his practices.

Senior linebacker James Morris has grown up around the Iowa football program with his dad being the long-time equipment manager. So I figured Morris would be strongly opposed to having open practices, but his answer surprised me.

“Honestly, I don’t think it would make a difference for me,” Morris said. “For some people it might. I’m just saying for me personally, I couldn’t care less.

“I think it’s arrogant for us to assume that we would have so many people there. We practice every day.”

When told that members of the media almost certainly would be at practice every day, Morris seemed surprised, but fine with that, too.

“That’s 20 to 30 guys,” he said. “I think we could handle 20 to 30 guys.”

But why even bother?

There already is enough to handle with playing football at Iowa.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or pharty@press-citizen.com.


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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