IOWA CITY — Brian Ferentz commanded the room for the 20 or so minutes he spoke Wednesday.
He joked that he studied media relations very closely during his four seasons with the New England Patriots and to be on guard. Still, the 28-year-old is home, having been born in Iowa City and graduating for City High School.
He’s fulfilling what has become a family legacy, coaching the Iowa offensive line, a job his father, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, held for nine seasons in the ’80s.
It’s more than that. The former Iowa offensive lineman took another step in a career that will assuredly be lifelong in the coaching profession.
And therein lies a degree of confidence.
“For me, it just seemed like a natural move for a lot of reasons,” Ferentz said. “This is home, this is family and more than just family with my family, but I feel like this program is family for me.
“It’s very important to me. It’s very near and dear to my heart, and I think this is an exciting time here. We are all excited. I think change can be a very healthy thing and I think it was time for a change for me personally to grow. Hopefully, I can be a part of the change of this program to do the same thing.”
The big wrinkle for Ferentz, other than going from working for the exacting Bill Belichick to his father is recruiting.
With the Patriots, he visited some pro days and went to the combine, but he was a coach and not a scout, two distinct departments in the NFL.
“A lot of the work is done for you,” said Ferentz, who played center for the Hawkeyes from 2003-05. “By the time those names hit your desk, it’s a pretty short list.”
Now, he leads the largest chunk of personnel on Iowa’s roster. Iowa will carry nearly 20 O-linemen next fall, with at least 18 on scholarship.
With that, Ferentz will take his first steps into the world of college football recruiting. He’s already taken and passed the test. The NCAA requires coaches to pass a test each year before they can be a certified to recruit, which, as you can imagine, comes with a few rules and regulations.
The test (click the link to take a shot at it) is 30 questions completed in an hour with 80 percent being the required score.
“It’s like taking the driver’s test,” Brian Ferentz said. “You forget to renew your license and you go in there and it’s too late and you have to take the exam. That’s what it was like.
“Common sense questions, but there are one or two that even with the book in front of you, you’re really not sure of the interpretation. That’s why there are compliance officers.”
Of course, Ferentz accepts the recruiting challenge. His pitch will be himself.
“Having played here, it’s a tremendous advantage when you’re out there trying to plant that seed in people’s minds that this is a good place to be,” Ferentz said. “I don’t have to point any further than myself.
“I would say I’ve had some measure of success in my short life and I’m not going to qualify it and I’m not interested in being braggadocios, but I would not have been able to do any of the things I’ve done without playing football here.
“. . . When you are sitting down with a recruit, whether it’s the recruit or his parents, it not a schtick, it’s not a line. I believe what I’m telling you. I believe it. And you may disagree, and that’s fine, but I lived it and it’s very important to me.”
Brian Ferentz’s first O-line at Iowa will come with holes at both tackles, but will have a familiar name and face at center. Senior James Ferentz will be a three-year starter for the Hawkeyes this fall. That was the second question out of the chute.
“It’s certainly unique and it’s exciting and it’s special and it’s all those things,” said Brian, who perhaps trickled as much into Kirk territory as he did at any time with this answer [see Kirk on pep talks for reference], “but at the end of the day, he’s a player, I’m his coach. It’s my job to make sure that all of our players play at the standard that we set here. What we expect out of them is pretty simple, to play with great effort and to do their best.”
Replacing NFL-caliber tackles Riley Reiff and Markus Zusevics will be the test for Iowa’s O-line in 2012. Senior Matt Tobin started at guard last season. Candidates at the tackles will include sophomore Brandon Scherff and junior Brett Van Sloten.
You’ll hear some familiar refrains here. Iowa always pushes to play the five best on the O-line. No one has been anointed. There also is some self-awareness from Ferentz. He’s the new guy, not only to the rest of the world but to his players, too.
“I’m looking to prove myself as a coach to them, to the other coaches, to the other players on the team, to the rest of the team, period,” Brian Ferentz said. “I think they are looking to prove themselves as players. That’s a good combination, and hopefully it’s going to be productive for us.”
Change is the wind in Iowa’s coaching staff. There are three new coaches, two new coordinators and six of the nine positions have been shuffled. This might be Iowa’s most anticipated spring practice (begins March 21) since the 2003 season, following Iowa’s undefeated Big Ten season and first Orange Bowl appearance.
Brian Ferentz is the youngest member of the new staff. Youth brings with a certain amount of confidence and intellectual curiosity, both of which he carefully considers.
“I don’t see myself as just a line coach,” he said. “The world to me is a little bit bigger than the offensive line. That’s what’s changed since I left.
“That was the best part about being on defense for a year and then being over on offense for a year with everybody, doing quality control and working with the tight ends where you are really in both worlds [speaking on his time with the Patriots].
“For the last couple of years, I’ve had about as much exposure to everything as I could and I really enjoyed that. So, I just like coaching football, and I really believe that if you can coach, if you can teach, which I’m not sure I can do.
“I’ve got to figure that out and I’m trying my best.”