Some people just have it.
Just from their presence and the way they conduct themselves, you know they’ve got the right stuff. You know they command respect without demanding it. You know they’ll work their way through tough situations instead of stepping away from them or pointing fingers.
People will automatically point to the NFL “cred” the two bring. Woods played in the league, Ferentz was an assistant coach for a pretty fair outfit in the New England Patriots.
And that’s definitely meaningful. They’ve been exposed to a lot of football and a lot of good football minds.
Woods went from Larchwood, Iowa (population 788) to an athletic scholarship at Iowa. He went from undrafted free agent to seven seasons in the NFL. You don’t do those things without having the right stuff.
His major at Iowa was in elementary education. If he hadn’t made an NFL team, he said he would have become a schoolteacher.
His football career over, Woods moved back to Iowa City. In September 2008 he became the football team’s administrative assistant. That is about as glamorous as it sounds, and it didn’t pay much. But it was a chance to be back in the city where he wanted to raise his family, in the organization he wanted to be part of.
No promises were ever made to Woods about a future coaching job. As of last fall, Woods didn’t know where the football life was going to lead him. It wasn’t, however, as if he hadn’t had inquiries from others. He had offers. He also much-preferred to keep his wife and two children in Iowa City.
Coming out of Iowa City High, Ferentz had no one begging him to leave town and play college ball elsewhere. But he turned out to be quite a capable offensive lineman. He was one of those guys who made his team better in ways that were as intangible as clearly evident.
“He certainly played his best in ’05,” Kirk Ferentz said, “but I think he added the most in ’04. He came back from his injury and basically played on one leg, but he gave our offensive line a little bit of confidence.”
In February 2004, Ferentz had a knee surgery. Signs of staph infection set in on the knee afterward. Amputation seemed a distinct possibility. Returning to football in 2004 — if at all — seemed unrealistic. There were more surgeries, to remove part of the right knee.
The rehabilitation was way beyond tough. But Ferentz was starting at right guard midway through that Big Ten-championship season.
Seven years later, he was the Hawkeyes’ honorary captain for a home game and said this in an interview:
“I get to do a lot of great things, be in the big arenas. But I’ll be chasing the feeling I had here the rest of my life.”
Coaching for Bill Belichick’s Patriots was surely an amazing professional experience, one Ferentz will draw from for decades. But he wanted to coach college football and he wanted to do it at Iowa. To hear anyone connected with the Patriots, he’s pretty good at it.
People will say these moves give Iowa’s staff a needed injection of youth, and it’s true. The average age of the six incumbent assistant coaches is 48, and none is younger than 39.
But age really is just a number. Woods and Ferentz, they aren’t kids like some people twice their ages. These are focused, serious self-starters. They strike me as men that will get both prep recruits’ mothers and fifth-year seniors to listen to them and believe in them, and they know their football stuff.
Unless Iowa puts out a press release from the middle of the Caribbean, the third and final round of changes to this staff looks like it won’t occur until after the annual week-long Iowa football coaches’ cruise. That departs San Juan, P.R., on Sunday.
There is still one major piece of the staff reconstruction to announce. Offensive coordinator. Unlike Saturday’s hirings, that doesn’t look like as much of a chip-shot field goal.