Here’s the transcript for Kirk Ferentz’s two hours at the table during Big Ten media days Friday in Chicago.
I teamed up with HawkeyeNation’s Jon Miller to transcribe all of this. We now own all the carpal tunnel that you can own.
Q: The kid just broke the news that..
Kirk Ferentz: Oh boy…
Q: Brian told me yesterday not to say anything..congrats on being a grandpa.
Ferentz: OK. That is good news. that is the kind of news we like. I have heard it’s a great deal. I have never heard anyone complain about it. The end of October.
Q: On a game day?
Ferentz: Preferably not/
Q: What do you do if it is?
Ferentz: We will figure that out when it happens.
Q: All that timing thing…
Ferentz: It’s a rookie mistake. I had one of those myself. Number five.
Q: Did you miss a game?
Ferentz: No. It was perfectly time. Mary went into labor early Saturday morning. The hospital was five minutes from our facility. I dropped her off, went back and did our meetings and walk through. Steve arrived that afternoon, I made the walk through that night and we beat New Orleans on Sunday. It worked out well.
Q: Talk about that Michigan game when Brian was coming off the staph infection and you didn’t play him.
Ferentz: He went through a tough situation there. He got cleared that week to play and practice. We were not going to start him. We wanted to get him going. I got caught up on that one. I just couldn’t do it. That is when he gave me a lecture. He said that “you have always treated me like a coach and today you treated me like a son.” Lesson well served.
Q: When you took over in Iowa in 1998, did you have any idea how long you’d be at Iowa or how long you wanted?
Ferentz: I had some ideas how long I wanted to be there, but no idea how long I would be. It doesn’t work that way. Every job I have taken…my first job at Worcester, I wasn’t thinking too far down the road. When you are a GA you don’t expect to be there a long time. When I went to Iowa the first time in 1981, I needed to get a resume started. I didn’t know anything about Iowa or what was about to happen. But since then, every job I have taken has been a long term thing in my mind. In this profession, and others, you don’t get to make that choice.
Q: Replacing a legend like Coach Fry, it can be dicey. It has worked out for others, but you got compared to him I am sure early on.
Ferentz: Part of the reason that worked so well is because he was so great. He went over the top to give me distance. It was tough to get him to even come around. He was reluctant to say anything to the team, and that was a process. He couldn’t have been more helpful, and he was helpful on the outside telling people to give me a chance.
Q: Did he give you any advice early on?
Ferentz: Not really. I think the conversation we had was afterwards, he was hopeful it was someone who had been in the Iowa family who would take over for him. He didn’t have a horse in the race, but he wanted some continuation of linkage to his past.
Q: I know you are not done..
Ferentz: I hope not.
Q: Are you proud of what you have done at Iowa? Do you think you have honored what Fry built?
Ferentz: We have tried to and that was a goal coming in. Having worked for Coach, I was not on his original staff and I got here in year three. That was a magical year in Iowa football history, going back 100 years. Going through those nine years with Coach Fry and the staff, what happened during that time meant a lot to me. It has always been meaningful. It was important to come back here and try to continue something that was really significant.
Q: Do you think you have done that?
Ferentz: History will judge that as we go along. We have put an honest effort in.
Q: What else would you like to do? Obviously win some more, but do you have any goals left?
Ferentz: Lou Holtz had a book, 149 things he wants to do. I don’t have any lists. I enjoy what I do and I try to get smarter and do things better. That is the goal every year.
Q: Getting to a Rose Bowl?
Ferentz: Absolutely, that is a given. Any coach in this conference…that is something we haven’t done. I’d like to go more than once, but you can’t go twice if you don’t go once.
Q: Motivation to get the program back to the Top 10?
Ferentz: College football is tough terrain, realistically. There aren’t a lot of teams in the Top Ten every year. It’s a tough thing to do. We have some inherent challenges but I thoroughly enjoy working at Iowa and we are capable of having success each year. the goal is to maximize each season. You go through the season and you start over, learn from it and move on. That is as far down the road as I will look.
Q: Have you gained an appreciation for what Hayden did at Iowa and how hard it is there?
Ferentz: I have always had tremendous appreciation. I have said this before; there is not a guy in the country, I don’t think, that could have done what he did back in 1979 and on. It was a program that needed work. It had some flaws at that point. He and Bump Elliott made a great team. Bump was supportive and they did the things necessary to get the program going. I will say the same thing about Bill Snyder at Kansas State; no one in captivity could have done what he did. Hopefully when this one is over, they will say “you did a good job, too’. We will see what happens.
Q: You don’t believe in curses..but it’s like the Cubs with your running backs. I know it’s bad decisions, a combination of a lot of stuff but it’s weird that it’s one position. Have you given that any thought?
Ferentz: No. Uh uh. If you look at each case individually, and I am going back to 1999…it’s true at every position…I don’t think we have ever seen any common threads. I think I am fair in saying that it’s more recent history. You can lump Shonn in there with teh academic. The bottom line is you try to find a way to be successful. We have been able to do that at that position for the most part.
Q: It sort of seems like that Bugs Bunny cartoon, where he is knocked out and walking on steel girders and one slides in before he drops. You guys seem to find enough, even in the bowl game last year.
Ferentz: That is how college football is. You have those rare years where things go really smoothly and you don’t have many injury problems to deal with. When you have those you enjoy them, but they are infrequent.
Q: 2002 was freakish
Ferentz: Things went well. Fred’s hand was the biggest bump. Bob was always..you thought he was on his way out and he was back in five minutes later. That is how it works.
Q: I know in the NFL has a very different attitude towards running backs. There are teams who sign the big contract back and others pick them up off the waiver wire. Do you have a philosophy that way where you are not so worried about five-star kid.
Ferentz: You have a chance to find backs if you are patient, or good players. We are not averse to getting one of those obvious guys, either. that would be OK with us. The reality is we haven’t had many of them. Shonn wasn’t one. We stubmled into Fred Russell.
Q: Jermelle was close to that, and Ladell.
Ferentz: Ladell earned his yards. At least when I was here. We would not mind having one of those guys.
Q: Can this offense operate with a running back by committee?
Ferentz: We did that in 2009 just fine. It worked out well. My suspicion this year will be more like 2009 than 2008. I don’t see a 2008 coming. Although sitting here in August in 2008, I was not sure where Shonn was at physically. He got started in late July when he was able to train in our building. I think this will more like a 2009 thing, where we will have a rotation.
Q: Do you Canzeri making a comeback this year?
Ferentz: We will see. He is doing well. We will probably be conservative on that one. You never want to say never.
Q: Are you comfortable with two freshmen running the ball?
Ferentz: One was an MVP in a BCS game a few years ago. It depends on how they do.
Q: When you look back to last year, how do you evaluate Vandenberg’s season?
Ferentz: I thought he played well. I know there is a road deficiency knock on him. My answer to that, he played pretty well at the Purdue game. I will go back to the Ohio State game in 2009 and he couldn’t have played better that day. I think he played well last year and the exciting thing is there is no substitute for experience at any position. that only helps you if you make it help you. James is one of those guys who takes what happens to him and learns from it. I am really excited about watching him play this year. The biggest concern we have now is to make sure he has a good supporting cast. Those road losses were team things. We needed to play better as a team. I wasn’t all the quarterback. That is hardly the story, usually. Occasionally a guy lays and egg but I dont see him doing that.
Q: Then you have to separate “playing on road” from “who you play”.
Ferentz: That is another factor. It’s easy to generalize. The facts are it’s always more difficult to win on the road in any BCS conference. I know it is in the Big Ten. If you want to be a championship contender you have to win on the road and your quarterback has to play well. I look at it more than a team thing. There are a lot of things we could have done better in those games to have an opportunity. It’s a protection thing, guys getting open thing, a lot of factors. We didn’t play well on the road in general.
Q: Are there specific things you want to see out of him this fall?
Ferentz: I think the biggest thing is he will continue to improve. That is what the game is all about. He works so hard at it and as hard as anyone we have ever had. The other challenge for him is a new system, a lot of new verbiage, a lot of newness to the whole thing. He has had a bigger load than anyone on the football team. He really welcomed that. He knew it from the onset and nobody has spent more time with Greg Davis than James. He saw that one coming down the road and was ready to go.
Q: Did James have the offense figured out by the end of spring?
Ferentz: he did really well. He was way ahead of most of the coaches in terms of being comfortable with Greg’s terminology, all of the things that go with a new system. I think he is off to a great start. I know he has been working hard this summer. He chose not to work (a job). I think I know where he has been a lot this summer. He has been in the building more than I have.
Q: It was an unprecedented offseason for you, replacing both coordinators. Talk about that process and what was going through your mind.
Ferentz: We have not had a lot of staff changes, period. The coordinators are even more significant. We knew about Norm before the bowl game and Ken after recruiting. I knew we had one change to make and I didn’t see any benefit in rushing that and I am really glad that I didn’t. Once we got into January, things looked different to me overall and it gave me some time to think and reflect. We ended up with one outsider coming in and elevating one guy. In Phil’s case, I felt great about him. He has been with us for 13 years and has done an outstanding job. We had two obvious good inhouse candidates with he and Darrell. Both have worked in Norm’s system and they are the two most experienced in the system. There will be some differences and different ideas, with things also looking similar. On the flip side, I had some really good options offensively and Greg emerged as the guy who looked like our best choice. YOu hope you are right when you do it and since then I know we have gotten a tremendous person.
Q: Might be too early to tell, Greg there just for a few months, you said he has fit in well with the community and program.
Ferentz: You do a lot of research before interviews. It was a real consistent picture on Greg from a lot of people I know well. The interview was impressive. The nuts and bolts of it gets down to what happens to once a guy gets in place and he has been great with it. He was great with our staff on the front end and he did a great job with our players during the spring. Everything has been really positive. He is a tremendous professional but a tremendous person too. We are fortunate to have him on our staff.
Q: Is this something you just decide on? Do you consult with staff?
Ferentz: It depends on the circumstances. For the most part I did a lot of thinking and talking with people on the outside. Trying to research people, that type of thing. One of the big keys with the interview, I want to see what the staff thinks, what their sense is and what kind of feeling they have one a prospective coach comes to campus. I did a lot of it on my own and when Greg came it was unanimous. “If we can get him, it would be a great thing.”
Q: Do the two young guns add new excitement and/or energy?
Ferentz: That is a sign of me getting older. Hiring a former Iowa player was not a prerequisite that we had to do. I am glad we had the chance to do it. I think both guys had distinguished careers here, they were both captains and great leaders. I think both have had significant experience since they left and that will be good for our program. The idea is for us to grow and move forward, get some new ideas and maybe look at things different. We have a blend of a veteran coach who has had a lot of success in his career and two younger guys who have had success. It’s been interesting to hear the ideas and meld them together.
Q: How different is it to have new people on the staff. Adjustment process for you?
Ferentz: A little bit. Every year with your team, every team is different. When you flip the calendar in January, there are a bunch of guys that are gone and guys who will have to do things who have not done much. It’s a similar deal. When we had three new staff members, which we have never had that experience and certainly not two new coordinators, it is different. There is more talking that has to be done and more things we have to cover to be sure we we are on the same page with and all together. that is a healthy thing, after 13 years that probably didn’t hurt anything. It’s energizing in some ways.
Q: Did you find that it added a spark?
Ferentz: Absolutely. It wasn’t by design. We were at the point where we needed to go back and look at some things again. We have had some success but there are always things you need to consider and look at. We have done that; added some things and thrown some things out and some things are the same.
Q: How eager are you to see what the offense will look like?
Ferentz: The first phase of spring practice, you never know what will happen. The first day we hit the field, we only had two guys coaching the same positions they were in December. Three changes, but guys in different spots. That was fun. It was fun to watch that, watch guys teaching at a new position, new guys teaching guys they hadn’t worked with before. I was pleased with how the staff worked together, how things were being communicated. It was a real positive period for us. The next opportunity for us to get back with our players is next Friday.
Q: Inaudible question
Ferentz: Not at all. Our two former players, I know. I know what they are about and who they are. I have known Greg for a while, but only professionally in tight quarters for several months. Greg is a professional. He has coached in a lot of big games. I have already learned a few things from him. It will be more me getting things from him than the other way. He is a true pro and an outstanding football coach.
Q: You have always cited staff continuity as a strength. Do you think this will hurt you?
Ferentz: Not at all. I think we are together. That to me is why the selection part of the whole thing is so important. Above everything else, it’s not always getting the smartest or best guy, but getting the right guy. I have total trust levels with both former players. I have known LeVar since December of 1998. I known Brian longer than that. I know their backgrounds. WHen I look at Greg Davis, I think of Norm Parker or Bill Brashier; two veteran coaches who were as fine a coaches I have worked with at anytime or any place. Bill was one of the best defensive coaches I have been around and is a great person. Norm is the same way. They know how to be good role models on the staff, which is important.
Q: Did you learn anything from Coach Fry on how to pick people for your staff? I don’t know if anyone had better staffs.
Ferentz: Two guys took huge risks on me in my career. My high school coach and mentor Joe Moore, that was more father/son. Coach Fry took a leap of faith in hiring me. He is the only guy in the world who would have hired me in 1981. I didn’t try them all, but I tried a few. Bill Belichick is the only guy in captivity who would have hired me from Maine. I was like the 9th choice as they ran out of names, but he gave me an opportunity. I have studied how both of those guys went about putting a staff together and hiring people. I didn’t ask either one a lot of questions but I tried to study both of them. COach Fry in retrospect, I thought about how that staff came together. None of us had resumes. Bill operates in that same area, he didn’t go out to get big name guys but the right fits for your program.
Q: Do you make hires on instinct?
Ferentz: I think that is part of anything you do related to people. It’s not different than who is starting. It’s not just numbers or what have you. You try to hire people who are going to fit what your program is all about. Recruiting is like that, too. You see things in players that maybe will fit with your program that might not work somewhere else. It’s the same with coaches. There are places I know I could not coach, it would not work or be fun for anyone. That is a big part of it.
Q: For years Iowa closed the season with Minnesota, now you are playing them early in the season. Does that change the rivalry?
Ferentz: Not at all. My first year here, my first experience with losing a trophy game, at least a Big Ten trophy game. We lost Floyd of Rosedale in 1981. It was early October. For whatever reason, 1981, 1982, we played them early in the season. I can’t tell you why. they were still knock down, drag out games. In 1981 they beat us at our place and the next year we beat them up there in a physical game. I could suggest the rivalry is more bitter and unhealthy back in the early 1980’s. Maybe it was my perception of things at that time. It was not always…there were some bad jokes going back and forth. I don’t think it affects things.
Q: Does their having beaten you two times in a row ratchet things up for you or make things more bitter?
Ferentz: One loss does. You never like losing. To their credit, they beat us straight up both times. Neither one was a fluke. They beat us fair and square in two different circumstances. Jerry Kill is a great coach, he has a staff that has been with him for a long time and they will have a great program up there.
Q: With a playoff impending in college football, strength of schedule will be an emphasis. How will you approach that going forward?
Ferentz: I haven’t given it much thought. Our basic thought in the past is we play Iowa State each year for obvious reasons. We have tried to play a BCS conference team in an area where we might recruit. We have played some Big East teams. Scheduling is becoming a bigger challenge and with the playoff impending like that, it will be different and we’ll probably stay in that same area. To that point, we talked at one point about playing nine games in conference, then it looked like a Pac 12 scheduling agreement and that is off the table. Somehow, some way, it is a concern with athletic directors because scheduling is challenging.
Q: I know you can’t talk about recruits, I am from Dayton…We see two of our kids there at Iowa…talk about the Dayton area football players and what you see.
Ferentz: The state of Ohio is such a strong football state. It’s a big part of the culture there and high school football is outstanding. There are a lot of good programs in that area. Micah Hyde is right over there…Ohio State can’t take everybody. They do have more players in that state than just the 25 limit. It’s heavily recruited for obvious reasons. We feel there are still a lot of good players available. WIth our state population, we have to recruit a lot more out of state than we do in state, unfortunately. It’s a Big Ten area, good high school football and we have had some players have success out of there. Micah, Ricky Stanzi, some guys who have done very, very well.
Q: What did you seen in Micah that others didn’t see?
Ferentz: He just really impressed us being an all around athlete. He was good in a lot of sports. It’s not the same as, but I think back to Marcus Paschal, he did a lot of things in high school. Punt returning, quarterback, a lot of different things. We think Micah could have played receiver or defensive back. He has been a return for us. We felt he was flying under the radar. then once we got to know him, we were so impressed with him. Now that he has been with us, you ask me what the first impression of him or first response, it would be he is the kind of guy you want on your team. He is positive and genuine. It’s hard to catch him on a bad day. Those are the kind of guys you like to have on the team. It gets back to some people saying that coaches job to pick team up. It’s nice to have players pick coaches up and Micah is like that. Good players are like that; they have an energy about them that permeates and that is the first attribute I think of. he has done good things on the field, too.
Q: He even kicked.
Ferentz: Snort…those are all good signs. He is a gym rat. There are fewer and fewer of them out there now. Technology has had something to do with that. I can envision him going out in the back yard and throwing the ball around with friends, or shooting hoops. Doing things kinds of things. those guys typically bring good energy to your team.
Q: Different tangent, you are a Pennsylvania guy…I don’t know how many PSU games you went to….
Ferentz: They didn’t invite me to any.
Q: You lived there and I know your in laws have strong ties there. This whole deal out there, has it been gut wrenching for you?
Ferentz: I think it has been for a lot of people. As I said yesterday, the bottom line is that it’s hard to comprehend. It really is. On all levels. It’s historic. It’s gut wrenching and tough to comprehend.
Q: Setting aside the crimes involved, can you understand how a program or an institution could get to the point where protecting a program means more than anything?
Ferentz: I will say yes and no. Yes in that I am not naive. But no, in that you never want to think that is a possibility. We have all seen in life that anything is possible, but this one is tough to comprehend.
Q: Again, putting crime aside, but the insulation, is it something that you talk to yourself about sometimes, or say I can’t be bigger than the institution, I am not the king?
Ferentz: I don’t think I have ever had a problem in that regard. I don’t want to take anything for granted here, either. Balance in life is a big thing. I am not here to preach and I am in no position to. I have always looked at this, I think what I do is important, but I am just coaching football. That being said, there is a lot more to it. Believe it or not I am still..when this changes I will try to get out of football. At the beginning of the season its about the challenges and the people you are working with and there is a unique set of circumstances in high school and college. It’s different at the pro level. You are coaching football and there are more important things going on out there.
Q: You have been doing this 14 years…I am sure everywhere you go people tell you how great you are…
Ferentz: I am laughing because for everyone that tells me that, there are a few over here saying ‘When are you going to…” you know.
Q: You have more people telling you that you are wonderful than the average joe does.
Ferentz: We have our…the people who are more euphoric tend to tell you those things, where people on the other side do it in other ways…they are not quite as direct. It starts at home with me. My wife does a good job of keeping me humble and there are things in life that do that. We have disappointments every year, be it a game or a player not doing what he is supposed to be doing. There are plenty of things that remind you that you don’t have it figured out. I quit golf a long time ago. When you think you have it figured out, you find out quickly…that is like life. there are a lot of reminders that tell you you have a long way to go.
Q: I have been to a lot of these things but I can’t recall another father/son instance. What does that mean to you? James said he thought a lot about it, and did today coming in here.
Ferentz: I am not sure if it has happened or not. It was not by design. It’s a neat thing and I have appreciated the fact that Brian was able to play in our program, it has been great having James for four years and I am looking forward to his 5th. With Steve coming in…not that I think we foresaw this a decade ago, it’s just one of those things that has worked out. It has been a nice side bonus for sure
Q: Has James grown a lot as a person since he has been here?
Ferentz: His story is more public than a lot of guys. That is what college is about. College athletics, certainly. There was more drama around his missteps than the average guy on the team but he knew that when he signed on and I think it has made him a better person. That is part of this process. A high percentage o the population will make academic or social mistakes and its our job to help guys grow. He got a lot of good assistance from a lot of people on campus during his issue. he has done the right things to move forward and you hope to see that with every player.
Q: James said Iowa was his only offer out of high school. Did you envision this kind of success for him?
Ferentz: Northern Illinois did try to recruit Brian. Kansas State threw one in the water and I am not so sure that was..he as not on their A list. They threw an offer in there. In James’ case, it was strange. I assumed everyone thought he was going to Iowa and he was a better high school than Brian was. Brian would tell you that. He was a no brainer other than he was not tall. So, that’s the way that one just kind of worked out. Brian would tell you that James was the better high school player. Brian’s not delusional on that. He’s delusional on some things, he’s not delusional on that.
Q: What made James better? Just more physical?
Ferentz: Brian was a good player and had a really good career with us. James was just at a little different level. He has a little different tempo about himself. James has a high tempo out there on the field.
Q: So is it fair to say you knew what you were getting, obviously some schools wouldn’t know because he was your son, but you had to feel pretty good about that.
Ferentz: I wasn’t really worried about him. I thought he was going to come in and do just fine. All that being said, he still had to do it and he had a lot of work to do. Just like most of our players, he was hardly ready to play when he got here. He’s kind of representative of our program. We get a lot of guys who are two-star, three-star guys, but really what counts is where they are when they’re seniors. He still has another season to play. We’ll see where it all ends up. He hasn’t embarrassed himself out there, that’s for sure.
Q: How does Lomax’s injury impact you guys
Ferentz: Basically, we went from being healthy, pardon the pun, to being unhealthy. Coming out of spring, we really felt good about the two starters. Jordan really made big strides and Greg had a good spring. It’s rare when you have four guys you feel pretty good with at corner. We went from being in that rare situation with a luxury to where we’re going to be scrambling a little bit.
Q: Can Torrey Campbell help?
Ferentz: Torrey made strides, too, in the spring, so that’s a positive. He was a little slower in his progress than Jordan, but he’s progressing. There is going to be a little bit more opportunity for him now and the freshmen will have an opportunity just as Jordan did a year ago. The good news, if there’s a silver lining here, Jordan has that redshirt year to take. I think realistically that’s what we’re facing right now.
Q: How does this impact Fleming? I know you guys were toying with him at WR.
Ferentz: Our plans now are to keep Reese on the offensive side. That’s where he’s worked this summer. I understand he’s doing OK. That’s our intention right now. I know we have two guys who can play and play well, on defense at the corner position. I’m not sure we know what our depth is or who are top three receivers are let alone depth at that position. So if Reese could be in the top three or top four or top five at receiver, because you’re more apt to play four or five receivers than you are certainly four corners, so that’s probably going to be our approach.
Q: Are you going to toy with him at return game because he can be pretty dynamic?
Ferentz: Yeah, we’ve got a handful of guys in the freshmen class we’ll get a good look at. If they can help us, we’ll put them in there.
Q: Will both true freshmen running backs play this year?
Ferentz: Possibly, yeah. Absolutely. That’s my mindset right now.
Q: Can you talk about Nico a little bit, the strides he’s made?
Ferentz: It’s not the same as Jordan, but it’s similar. They both played on special teams and did some good things. Both clearly grew a lot this spring. It’s really hard for first-year players at a lot of positions to really get it and understand everything in totality, especially at certain positions. I think both of those guys made a lot of strides this spring. They got a lot of work. With Nico right now, he’s right in the thick of it. It’s a jump ball at strong safety. It’s kind of like our whole football team. We’ve got a lot of things going into preseason that are up for grabs right now. That’s certainly one of those positions. He’s certainly put himself in position to compete and have a chance to start.
Q: Do you enjoy coaching more with expectations or without?
Ferentz: My expectations, outside of the first years, have really been pretty similar every year. I’m not ignorant to the fact the way our team is hearing things is certainly different from year to year. The bottom line is . . . I think really going into the 2001 season and since, we’ve had an opportunity to put a good team out there. Some teams have progressed better than others. There are certain things you can control and certain things you can’t control. The things you can control, depending on how well you do with those, that determines what the season’s going to be.
Q: How well do you know Bill O’Brien and how do you feel about what he’s been going through?
Ferentz: I can’t tell you that Bill and I are best friends, but I think he would tell you we’re friends. I hope he would. I’d hope he say we were friends. And then we have a connection, my oldest boy worked with him the last couple of years. There are two Bills in that building who were really good in taking time and mentoring him and helping him grow as a coach and person. On that front, I’m very appreciative. I know what kind of person Bill is, I know what his family is like and what that means to him. And I think some people overlook his college experience, how diverse it was. The kinds of attacks he was familiar with. He’s been with a lot of really good coaches in his career. They’ve done a lot of different things offensively, so that gives you a little idea of the depth of his knowledge. The other thing, he gave up a pretty good job to go, basically, to take a lower-paying job. It was a real leap of faith on his part, and I really admire him for that. It just tells you he’s all about coaching, he’s all about learning and getting better. It would’ve been tough for anybody. I said yesterday, I believe Penn State is really fortunate to have a person of Bill’s caliber lead the program. I don’t pretend to be lifelong friends with Bill, but the Bill O’Brien I know, he’s up for it. He’ll handle it. It’s going to be tough to knock him off his feet. There’s no question in my mind that he’ll do a good job leading the program.
Q: As a head coach, do you have any kind of empathy for him?
Ferentz: Absolutely. It’s just a hard situation, really a hard situation. What’s taken place on that front, it’s complex and, as I said yesterday, it’s confusing what’s all going on right now, what the rules are and why the are the way they are. Absolutely, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody, quite frankly.
Q: The NCAA rules are drawn out so that you can go after their guys. Is something wrong with that, in the spirit of sportsmanship or ethics?
Ferentz: I’m stick to the term confused. I’m really confused by what I’ve read, on a lot of fronts and a lot of levels. I’m really confused what the thought process is. I understand it, but I don’t understand it.
Q: What kind of competitive advantage does a team have when it loses 10 scholarships a year with a ceiling of 65?
Ferentz: I’ve never been through that, so I don’t know if I’m one to comment. It can’t be good, it just can’t be good. But I also know this, too. We’re playing them on Oct. 20. I know they’ll be well coached and I know that team will be galvanized. They’re going to be tough to beat, I know that. They handled us pretty well last year and I’m expecting a tough challenge when we play in October.
Q: He’s going to have to rely on walk-ons. He says you guys have a strong walk-on program. What does it take to develop the walk-on program?
Ferentz: With the walk-ons we’ve had who’ve had success, the common denominator has been the personality and characteristics they possess. Just the mentality they’ve had. A guy like Dallas Clark, he was high energy. Brett Greenwood was a very different personality. He wasn’t an outgoing guy or charismatic necessarily, but both of them were serious, hard-working guys who had great pride in everything they did. They had great confidence in themselves, not arrogance but confidence. They were willing to work hard. Our first spring, we had a guy named Bruce Nelson. He was a fourth- or fifth-team walk-on tight end. After a day or two, he looked like the most aggressive blocker we had so we made him our left tackle at 250 pounds, 248 pounds, whatever he weighed. He started every game for the next four years. In 2002, his senior year, he ended up being a second-round draft pick. Just a delightful guy, but hard-working and confident. Guys have to work, because as walk-ons they’re typically not as developed as some other players. They’ve got to be willing to work hard and catch up. Our wrestling program has done a great job with that historically. They get guys who maybe aren’t the sexiest girl at the dance, but after four years they end up being pretty good players. That’s important in college football at a lot of places.
Q: Do you think there’s enough talent in Pennsylvania for him to find some?
Ferentz: Pennsylvania is a great football state.
Q: Does that give him an advantage?
Ferentz: Most, not all, but most of our successful walk-ons have come from in-state. Sean Considine is probably the biggest exception. He’s still playing, in Baltimore now. He was from Byron, Illinois. The in-state tuition thing helps. It’s more affordable. It’s a steeper challenge when a guy has to cross state boundaries to come in.
Q: Why is 85 scholarships a good number? Some people might say that’s too many, but why is that a good number?
Ferentz: When we moved to 12 games, I suggested we might’ve considered expanding scholarships, quite frankly. I was in favor. At that time, I think I was the only coach in the mid-2000s who was in favor of 12 games. I think players like to play games. I also think you need to have a healthy roster, so I think 90 or 95 might be a better number in this day and age. But I know there are Title IX issues that go along with that. At our place, we’ve never had enough good players, that’s just how it is. I think it’s probably that way at a lot of places. It just makes the challenge that much steeper. There are years we have guys injured, but that’s just part of coaching. You navigate the waters that you’re in.
Q: You brought in Greg Davis this winter to be offensive coordinator. What was the biggest factor in his hiring?
Ferentz: I gave a lot of thought to a lot of different people. Basically in a nutshell, there were several people I have a lot of respect for and faith in who said nothing but great things about Greg. There was a very consistent picture being painted by everyone I talked with. Joe Philbin worked with Greg. Ken O’Keefe has gotten to know Greg through Joe in the last decade. And then Jim Caldwell [former Colts head coach and now Baltimore Ravens quarterbacks coach], who’s an Iowa grad, just said nothing about great things about Greg as well. Jim had gotten to know Greg through the yeards and I know Jim wouldn’t do anything to hurt this program. Those are guys I have great respect for. Getting to know Greg a little bit, it was pretty easy to see what those guys were telling me was really consistent, so I felt good when we hired him and I feel even better now that he’s been with us half of the year. He’s a phenomenal professional. When I look at him, I compare him to a guy like Norm Parker or a guy like Bill Brashier, another guy I’ve had the pleasure to work with. They’re two of the best coordinators I’ve been around at any level, pro or college. I look Greg as being that kind of guy. What I mean by that is not only are they excellent at what they’re doing as coaches, but they’re just great guys on the staff. Great leaders who know how to bring the best out of everybody, the best out of coaches and players. That’s part of being a coordinator. I just think we’ve got a true professional and feel very fortunate that he’s with us.
Q: He got kind of criticized in Texas for being a button-down playcaller with all of the talent he had surrounding him. Is that going to change any of the way you control the playcalling?
Ferentz: I’m not a big stat guy, but if you go back and look, I think Texas over a 10-year period was first or second in overall scoring in FBS or whatever we are. Are we FBS?
Ferentz: FBS, I can never remember the name. So, if you just look at statistics, that’s really laughable. The other reason I’m laughing is my son Brian worked with Billy O’Brien in New England and they broke about every record you could break out there. The lightning rod in New England was Billy O’Brien, so anytime things didn’t go quite the way everybody had hoped, all the experts, Billy O’Brien was the lightning rod. It’s an interesting phenomenon. The offensive coordinator position has become a bigger lightning rod than head coach, which I don’t understand but I guess I should be happy on that front. That’s why I think it’s kind of laughable. If you look at the record of places that Greg has been. My first indirect contact with him was when we drafter Eric Zeier in Cleveland out of Georgia. Greg coached Eric in, I believe, his last two years. It comes with the territory. Greg would be the first one to tell you that. That’s just part of being a coordinator. If Vince Lombardi was alive today and he was an offensive coordinator, he’d be getting ripped on Sundays the first time his team lost. That’s just how football is.
Q: Does Greg give you more insight into Texas recruiting and does he give you an in there?
Ferentz: He obviously has great connections down there. He spent 13 years at the University of Texas and I think is highly regarded by everybody in that state. On that front, absolutely. The other side of that coin, though, is that Texas, in recent years anyway, has not been a primary area for Big Ten recruiting. It seems to me it’s been more Big 12 oriented and the Southeast Conference might play into that with A&M going into that conference. For whatever reason, I don’t think as many players have come to the Big Ten out of Texas as maybe they did a decade ago. But it certainly doesn’t hurt and we’re going to continue to recruit down there.
Q: What about being the dean of Big Ten coaches?
Ferentz: I haven’t even thought of it. It’s come up a couple of times since I’ve been here. I think if you go around my first two years, some would say it’s a remarkable feat. It’s safe to say, no one would’ve predicted it then, not back in 2000. It’s just the way it’s worked out. It’s kind of like birthdays. You don’t always want to see another birthday coming, but if you start to think about it, yeah, you do. You want to see a lot of them coming. I feel really fortunate to be coaching at a great school. I’m thrilled to be there. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity that everyone in Iowa has given me and my family for being there. I’m just kind of enjoying life and enjoying coaching.
Q: The kickoff rule this year will kind of tamp down special teams. Will true freshmen be able to work their way into the lineup through special teams?
Ferentz: I think so. It might not be as dramatic, but I think so. I’ll be interested to see how this all plays out with the kickoff rule being enacted. I still think there will be ample opportunity. The kickoff team tends to be one where guys can make a little more obvious impact, but there are still opportunities in all of the special teams for first-year guys to really get their feet wet, do some things and help our team.
Q: Coach, you’re your crew did the best job of anybody last year containing Denard Robinson and Michigan in general.
Ferentz: It was close.
Q: It was, but maybe what went into that?
Ferentz: He’s such an electric performer. Norm Parker said this many times and I really believe in this, anytime you play a really dynamic performer, which Denard really is, it’s got to be a team thing, with maybe a rare exception. I remember 2001, we we had Bob Sanders just kind of track Antwaan Randle El. We had one great player tracking another great player. Unfortunately, we only had one Bob Sanders in the last 13 years and don’t really anticipate many more coming along. Typically, when you have those types of matchups, you have to play really good team defense. It really imperative everyone does their job the way it’s designed to be done. If you have a breakdown, players like that just exploit you. Sometimes, you might make a mistake and get away with it, but guys like him find you pretty fast and it’s scary.
Q: In a lot of peoples’ minds, Michigan got out of character. Where do you see Michigan going with Brady Hoke?
Ferentz: I don’t want to say I told you so, but maybe I can. It’s not because I’m smart. We played Brady in I think it was his first game at Ball State in one of our openers. He inherited a team that wasn’t very good at that point. They weren’t very good when we played them that day. Shortly thereafter, Ball State would show up on our tape looking at Indiana or whomever, and then he goes for an undefeated season. When you watched the tape, that was a team that was really well coached. Fast forward, we played Missouri in the bowl game a year ago December, and the best tape we had to look at to prepare for Missouri was San Diego State, an obvious connection there again, too. I had a chance to watch what he did at Ball State on film. I had a chance to see, on film, what he did at San Diego State. They lost to Missouri in a very close game in December, but that was a very well coached football team. I had reason to believe we would really see . . . He’s put a great staff together. A lot of those guys have been with him for quite some time. He had great coaching ties. He’s got an excellent football team. Michigan has always had excellent football players as far as I can remember. It’s a pretty good combination. You’ve got good players, good coach and a good tradition. They’re going to do very well in the future just like they did last year.
Q: Kirk, how will the Combat uniforms translate into recruiting?
Ferentz: It has come to my attention that is important. Right, wrong or indifferent, it’s one of those things that high school kids and younger tune into. I’ve witnessed it with sons of my own, being on the computer and all the video games they play and picking uniforms and all that kind of stuff. It’s a sign of the times. We may integrate some of that into our thinking.
Q: You may? You are.
Q: The cat’s out of the bag.
Ferentz: The cat’s out of the bag, huh? OK. Did they tell you what game it is?
Ferentz: Oh, OK. Good. That’s right up there on my list of priorities. You can see that. I just hope we can line up and play well.
Q: What are your thoughts on the uniform?
Ferentz: I think it looks good. It should be well received I would think.
Q: Over the last couple of years with a lot of new coaches in the league and so many playing styles, have you seen the Big Ten evolve in a way, in that sense, the last three or four years?
Ferentz: Not necessarily. Not to make light of it, but I think our image is so ingrained and so fixed. I go back to 1982, expose my age to you here. I think it was Mark Wilson from Illinois set a stadium passing record in Kinnick Stadium. I think we beat them 10-7 or 14-10 or something like that. He threw for 400-something yards. It was unbelievable. What I’m saying is Mike White was throwing the ball a lot back then in the ‘80s. We threw the ball pretty liberally, too., in the ‘80s. I think there’s this image of Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes. It’s been a while since those guys have coached. In my 13 years, there have been a lot of teams that have opened it up and, quote, unquote, opened it up with three receivers, four receivers. Certainly we’re seeing more of that. Certainly we’re seeing the option or whatever they want to call it, the read option stuff. There’s a lot of diversity in our conference. I think that’s probably true in most conferences. The neatest thing about college football is there’s a lot of different ways to be successful. Ironically, a team that’s been, if you want to use the word “dominant” and they are in my mind at least, I think of Alabama in the last five years, four years. Their offense looks a lot like Wisconsin’s, Michigan State’s or ours in a lot of ways. It’s still really about having well-coached players, having good players who are well coached. And then, whatever it is you do, do it well. Those are the teams that are successful. The year before it was Auburn and Oregon, both with running quarterbacks and that kind of stuff. So, there are a lot of different ways to be successful. We’ve had change in our conference, no question. That’s representative of college football, too. You have a lot of change in staffs every year and a lot of different ideas. You just never know what to expect. I think that’s part of the reason, maybe, the fan interest is so strong.
Q: You mentioned there’s sort of a brand thing going on with the Big Ten. Do you think . . .
Ferentz: Maybe in 30 years people won’t know who those guys are. I really do think that’s still kind of hovers over our conference. We run the ball, our guys are slow, all that stuff. We have big lumbering linemen, slow players. There have been a lot of good No. 1 draft picks in our conference who played skill positions over the years. So yeah, I think it’s really easy to generalize sometimes. I’m not so sure that’s always accurate.
Q: When Bill O’Brien was put under these NCAA sanctions, his athletic director said, look, we’ve got to keep TV. TV is very important. Why is TV so important?
Ferentz: Just that exposure. I think players love that, first and foremost, and everybody does. It’s great for programs and certainly that’s something that’s changed in college football, too. If you go back just 10 years ago and now, think about how much exposure there is and all the contracts. You want to be relevant. You want to be out there. You want to be seen. The other thing they were talking about was looking into some creative scheduling, which I thought was a great idea, very creative. I don’t know where they’re at on it, but I thought that was a great concept.
Q: Do you think it’s important for recruits to watch you on TV?
Ferentz: Absolutely. Absolutely. You want that exposure. It’s really good.
[Question on when Penn State players can make a decision on transferring.]
Ferentz: It’s my understanding it’s the first day of classes, which is Aug. 27, I think. And then as I understand it, I don’t understand it, but as I understand it, they can still transfer anywhere through the year.
Q: Do you have a magic date set up in your mind?
Ferentz: We’re just going to do what we think is appropriate. I don’t think there are going to be any bombshells. I don’t anticipate that.
Q: Are you interested in some of their players?
Ferentz: What I said yesterday, this whole thing is confusing, complex and I think everybody is just going to have to decide to do what they feel is appropriate. That’s kind of where it’s at.
Q: You’re a guy who held Joe Paterno in high regard over the years. In light of everything that’s come out, I wonder if you’ve revisited those feelings.
Ferentz: I would imagine there were a lot of people who felt that way. That’s a pretty obvious statement. The only thing I would say on this whole thing, and I said this yesterday, I drove in two nights ago and it dawned on me that every time I drive into here, it’s kind of the kickoff of the season. Once I get back into the car, it’s pretty much us and our football team for the next four months, which is a fun time. But the point there is how much things change in a year’s time and that happens in life, in a lot of different areas not just sports. The whole thing is just really hard to comprehend. It’s just really hard to comprehend.
Q: I’m from Detroit. Tell me about Riley Reiff, what are we going to see?
Ferentz: I was, too. I was born in Royal Oak, Beaumont Hospital. They kicked me out in third grade. Riley is just a delightful guy. We’ve been fortunate. We’ve had some a lot of good players in our place and Riley right there in the upper echelon, a first-round draft pick. He had the option of staying another year. I make the comparison with he and Bryan Bulaga. I think both those guys, had they chosen to stay for their senior years, they probably would’ve been in the top eight picks. They would’ve kept improving, kept developing. With that being said, they’re still first-round picks. Bryan proved it. He went in there and played well as a first-year guy. [Marshal] Yanda did the same thing in Baltimore. All three of them are similar. I’ve told people they’re going to get better as pros. Marshal Yanda has already done that. He’s a Pro Bowl player. He probably would’ve been a year ago if he hadn’t have been injured so severely. Bryan Bulaga is a tremendous football player and Riley is the same kind of guy. Riley is hard-nosed and tough.
Q: And you switched him from D to O.
Ferentz: That was kind of the master plan all along. I think he knows that now, so I’m not letting the cat out of the bag. We really envisioned him being an offensive lineman. When Bryan had a thyroid issue back in ’09, Riley jumped in and played left tackle at Iowa State and Penn State and he did a great job. He played left guard the rest of that year and then we moved him out to left tackle went to the draft. He’s a tremendous football player. His best football is ahead of him.
Q: You and Schwartz [Detroit Lions head coach] seemed to have a good connection. Does he pick your brain on these guys before they come in?
Ferentz: Their whole organization does a good job on doing their homework. Jim is a guy I have tremendous respect for. He was another one of those “down the road” guys in Cleveland, you know. He was a young guy who was really smart, you could tell that. He started out in personnel and then when we went to Baltimore, he ended up working with Marvin Lewis and the rest is history. He climbed with every step. Jim is a highly intelligent guy, great football coach and he’s already done a great job with the Lions in a short period of time.
Q: Do you think the playoff is going to dramatically change the way teams schedule non-conference games?
Ferentz: I haven’t given it a lot of thought, quite frankly. To answer the question, I think yes. You certainly have to favor it in or think about it a little bit. Our policy has been to play two BCS schools. Is that term still relevant or not? You get the idea, at least. That’s been our guiding principle over the long haul. As you know, in the Big Ten, we talked about playing nine conference games at one juncture. And we talked about playing the Pac-12. Now we’re still kind of working on the equation. I think people are going to have to consider it.
Q: Does it matter where your program is as well, thinking about a national championship? Or you might want to think differently if you’re building a program.
Ferentz: Yeah, I think it does. If I were the head coach at Alabama, I’m not but if I was I’d probably look at it a bit differently, I think for sure. Depending on where you’re sitting, you try to gauge what’s best for your program.
Q: You think we’ll get away from the FCS?
Ferentz: That I don’t know about. I haven’t thought that far ahead. As you know, scheduling has become a real challenge. That really was the impetus for us exploring the nine-game conference thing, because it’s been a real challenge. The FCS teams have had a good market to go out and get paydays. To their credit, why not? There are going to be a lot of discussions, certainly at a higher level over the next couple of months.
Q: I think fans think you snap your fingers and create a schedule. Wouldn’t they all love Alabama, USC and whoever. But really, there are a lot of obstacles, aren’t there?
Ferentz: You have to do what’s best for your program. We’ve had four top 10 teams here in the last 10 years. None of those teams were really prolific in September. For example, if we had gone out and played Alabama, any one of our top four teams, we were fortunate to beat Northern Iowa in 2009 when we ended up winning the Orange Bowl. I think you have to look at your program and do what’s best for your particular situation.
Q: By the way, I’ve seen every game Bryan Bulaga has played for the Packers. Do you follow those guys when they leave the program? Bryan was terrific last year.
Ferentz: When I was in the NFL it was hard to follow the college guys and vice versa. And really, my biggest interest if I’m walking by the TV or it’s a bye week, I’m hoping it’s someone who’s come through the program. So yeah, if the Packers or the Colts, when Dallas and Bob were there, it’s a lot more fun when one of your guys is out there. I try to follow them and keep up with guys. I’m very happy for them.
Q: How does he rank [Bulaga] with guys who have come through your program? I think he’s on the verge. They’re going to push him for the Pro Bowl this year, I think.
Ferentz: We had a pretty good guy graduate a couple of years ahead of him named Marshal Yanda. We’ve had some good guys go through who’ve done very well as pros. He’s certainly in that group. You don’t luck your way into being a first-round draft pick. You just don’t luck your way into it. His story is more amazing because most people don’t realize he was in college three years. For an offensive lineman to go to college for three years and be a first-round draft pick and then to play as a rookie . . . He should’ve been playing in whatever game we played in that year. Missouri? He should’ve been playing against Missouri, but he ended up playing in the Super Bowl. So, you know, that’s quite s story. That doesn’t happen very often for a three-year guy on the offensive line. That tells you a little bit about his attitude and work ethic. He’s an exceptional guy.
Q: And the flip side is, there’s still a lot of room for growth because he is such a young guy?
Ferentz: I thought the Packers really got great value with their pick. I think the Detroit Lions did the same thing with Riley Reiff. Those guys would’ve been top five, top eight picks a year later. Instead of developing a guy who played his senior year at Iowa, he played his senior year at Green Bay. A year later, you would’ve gotten a guy who would’ve been a lot more expensive, at least back in the old days. Now they’ve got it all slotted. I thought it was just an outstanding pick. I wasn’t surprised, though. Ted Thompson does as well as anybody.
[Bill O’Brien question]
Ferentz: I’ve got great respect for Bill in all areas. I think he’s done just an absolutely great job. I said yesterday, it’s just an extremely challenging circumstance. I’m a little biased, but I think Penn State is so fortunate to have Bill there. He’s a tremendous person, first and foremost. Great family. He’s a tremendous football coach. I know everyone is aware of what he did in New England, and that’s not easy, either. Coaching a veteran quarterback who’s established, that’s one of the hardest things in the world. Really a hard job, a challenging job. He did just an outstanding job there. If you look at his college career, he was with great coaches in college. A lot of different systems, great depth of knowledge and he has great flexibility that way. He did a really great job and then stepped backwards professionally – quote, unquote, backwards – that was all about him wanting to learn and grow and develop. Not a lot of people in our profession do something like that. So, I think that gives you a good insight into how he thinks and what he’s all about.
Q: What has your son said about him?
Ferentz: I’m just so appreciative. He was a great mentor, a great teacher. My son asked a lot of question. He’s very inquisitive. Bill always found time for him. He really helped him grow, so on a personal level, I’m really grateful and appreciative. I can’t ever pay him enough for that.
Q: His leadership through this whole deal, comment on that.
Ferentz: I think it’s public knowledge with Bill and his son. He and Colleen have a unique there. [The O’Briens have a severely disabled son.] I’ll draw a parallel to Norm Parker, our defensive coordinator. He had a son, Jeffery, who had some challenges. When I hired Norm, the one thing I knew was it would be hard to rock his world. Things like that put everything into perspective for you. One thing I knew about Norm was we were getting a guy who was stable, a guy who wasn’t going to be complaining about little, stupid things and who was focus on things that were important and have a great attitude about it and persevere. I think you’re going to see the same thing out of Bill. I don’t want to pretend that there the same, but I think there’s a common bond there. I can’t imagine someone who’d be better equipped for the challenges that are in front of them right now than Bill O’Brien.
Q: From Iowa’s Facebook page, fans are curious what Jordan Walsh’s role on the team will be this year.
Ferentz: We’re curious to learn what that’s going to be, too. We have a lot of positions up for grabs right now that will be in competition this camp. Jordan very quietly had an outstanding spring. He did a nice job last fall, but this spring he got a lot of quality work with our second and first unit, at times with the first but mostly with the second and mad great progress with each and every day. He’s certainly in contention right now with the offensive line. We’re going to have a lot of interesting competition and healthy competition. Based what I saw at the end of spring, I think Jordan will be right in the middle of it.
Q: Well, breaking news. De’Andre Johnson got a disorderly house last night. I don’t know how you process this. You probably already know about it.
Ferentz: I don’t. Firstly, I’d like to learn the facts. A disorderly house, that’s not going to rock the Richter scale, but there will be consequences. He didn’t sneeze too, did he? Certainly, I don’t condone that.
Q: I know there has been some dialog with a player from Penn State. Is there a timeline for that? Does the door shut at some point this year?
Ferentz: I think the position we’re going to take is we’re going to do what’s appropriate. I think that’s something everyone has to do nationally. Just reading the papers, it looks like everyone has a little different approach to it.
Q: Your son who’s on the staff now hinted on a tweet at some point that you might be joining the Twitter nation. — I’ve been told to get a baseball bat for that one.
Ferentz: I joked about that yesterday and I’m sure that everyone is sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the arrival mainly because the things that get tweeted are so insightful and so interesting. I could see why they would want to know what I might have to say. We’re still working through that process.
Q: I can tell you’re excited about the idea.
Ferentz: Never say never. I’ve got to make sure it’s a Styrofoam bat when I do receive that blow.
Q: You seem to be making concessions to youth, with the Pro Combat, with the more open media policy in the spring. Everybody kind of jumps to the conclusion that it’s Brian’s influence, is it?
Ferentz: Yes and no. And it’s Brian and LeVar. That was one of the motivating factors for me with both of those guys. LeVar has been working in our office for the last couple of years. I’ve gotten to see his work habits. I’ve gotten to see the way he thinks. He’s sat in our staff meetings. Unfortunately for him, a lot of times, I’d turn the camera to him and ask, what do you think? What do you think about that from your perspective, that type of thing. That was one of the motivating factors, and I will lump the two together. They both played in our program. They’ve seen it from a players’ perspective. I think they’re both young enough to have that real connection for what it’s like to be in the program. I thought that was good insight. I always want to be firm in my beliefs, I think that’s a positive, but I don’t want to be stubborn, either, or certainly not stupid. I guess that’s probably the progression – firm, stubborn, stupid. I try to avoid the stubborn, stupid part because it’s not going to move things forward. I’m open to ideas. I’ll go back to high school., when I was at Upper St. Clair High School and Joe Moore came in. At the time in August, you couldn’t play football if you didn’t have a crewcut and you couldn’t drink water. This is 1971 at that time. And then Joe Moore came to town and you could have hair down to your belt if you wanted and facial hair, if you wanted that, the ‘70s. There was Gatorade everywhere. He was ahead of his time. And we worked harder than we ever worked in our lives. We all thought we were getting away with something because we all had long hair and got to drink Gatorade. Really, if you read about Vince Lombardi, people ask if he could’ve coached – “When Pride Still Mattered,” if you read that book – he could’ve done anything, anywhere at anytime. That’s my conclusion. So, part of the lesson there is you have to know what’s important, I think. It’s like marriage. You have to make concessions. You can’t win every battle.
Q: Did you have long hair in high school?
Ferentz: Oh yeah.
Q: How long?
Ferentz: Long enough. Until August, then I’d cut it off.
Q: You’ve dealt with the tattoos and the long hair and even the neck tattoos and all that kind of stuff, now it’s communication. Now it’s expression that you’re managing with young guys. Some of the Twitter is scary stuff.
Ferentz: Robert Gallery is a good example of that one. He had the tattoos. The guy was an Eagle Scout. You would love to have your daughter marry a guy like him. You’ve got to be careful when you’re making judgments on folks or things. My biggest reservation with social media, and it remains that way with Twitter, there are just so many examples of people causing undue issue. Just so many examples. The Facebook and all that. I’m not sure everybody understands all the time what they’re doing. It’s kind of like a tattoo, though. It’s hard to get those off, too, when you walk into a job interview.
Q: I know Brian and LeVar and Eric Johnson, he doesn’t get enough credit for this quick start in recruiting. They can speak kid. Do you feel like you can do it? Do you try to do it?
Ferentz: I think it’s like coaching. You have to be who you are. I think that sells. I don’t think that’s changing in any era. Players, prospects but mostly players on your team, if they know you have their best interests at heart . . . It may take awhile. Players have to know they can trust you. They have to know that you do care about them and you are concerned about them. I think that’s been the essence of coaching and teaching forever. It’s not always the package you present. If you have long hair or a flat top or whatever it may be, it’s really about how you act. And sometimes, it’s hard for people to see that you do care about them. It’s a little painful at times. But there’s no question in recruiting, you have to get their attention somehow, someway.
Q: Is it a truism that with the old staff, did you guys win parents over more and these guys Brian, LeVar and Eric, is this a chance for you guys to win kids more?
Ferentz: I know where you’re going with that. Norm would tell you he’s not modern, but I also would tell you if you interviewed a guy like Abdul Hodge or Chad Greenway or Matt Bowen, who was back in town two or three Fridays ago for the Special Olympics. If you’ve ever heard Matt Bowen talk, the first thing he talks about is his relationship with Norm. Matt’s a modern guy. I think this whole thing is a little deeper than the superficial stuff. I would suggest that when a kid or a parent would meet Norm Parker and take some time and really talk with them – or Ken O’Keefe – they were typically impressed. I’ll flip it around, too. One of the things that’s always impressed me about Eric Johnson, every coach or parent that I’ve come in contact with through the recruiting process, they go out of their way to tell me what a great representative he’s been for our program. And then, I personally like both Brian and LeVar, they’re exactly what we want walking into a living room. I think they’ll play well with any parent who’s concerned about their kid getting a good education and getting into a good program with structure and expectations. Both those guys have gone through that. They believe in it. They believe in what we do and yet they’re younger and maybe they can relate on the face-to-face level. I’ll say this, too, there were a handful of guys we could’ve brought in, too, as opposed to Brian and LeVar who were players here and are in the coaching profession who I think would do a wonderful job. Sooner or later, we’ll probably have more of them on our staff, at some point.
Q: How close are you to being done with recruiting in this class?
Ferentz: Closer than we’ve ever been at this time, I can say that.
Q: In the season, now you have to babysit. It never stops, I guess.
Ferentz: It’s kind of like a lot of things going on right now. We’ve never been in this situation. We’ve had some discussions about it. Unfortunately, we now move on to the next class, so we’re looking harder at juniors as well, next year’s juniors. Wow. But yeah, we can’t take anything for granted with the guys who are committed, because there’s nothing binding at this point. And then my other thing is, it’s probably not a bad idea to keep some room in the class because historically, we have had a lot of guys who’ve had good senior years but were maybe in the B range and not on the offer list.
Q: Rick Stanzi?
Ferentz: Vandenberg, Micah Hyde, all three of the guys sitting here. They didn’t have any offers going into their senior year. That’s really the history of our program. I don’t want us to lose sight of who we’ve been. But things have changed, so it’s not exactly the same as it was five years ago.
Q: Three or four more guys?
Ferentz: Probably less than a handful, I would think.
Q: Why do you guys not make a big deal when you give a walk-on a scholarship? I know it’s a personal thing and it’s a big deal for the young guys. Maybe it’s putting your cards on the table, too, maybe there’s some of that.
Ferentz: There’s a degree of that. We also don’t announce publicly who the scout team player of the week was. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but we typically don’t put our stuff out there. It’s always one of my highlights of the year to tell someone who’s walked on that they’ve earned a scholarship. I have to deliver bad news more than I like, but I sure do like delivering good news.
Q: I think you might have a little bit of that coming up or was that done in the spring this year?
Ferentz: We’re fairly close right now, but usually in camp we have a decision or two to make.
Q: Do you have a story about a walk-on who got a scholarship that sticks out in your mind?
Ferentz: They’ve all been pretty good. They’ve all been pretty good. Sometimes, it might be to a player who wasn’t going to hit the field, a service award, if you will. If there’s not someone who’s an obvious choice, then typically, we’ll go to that senior class. And last year, Tom Nardo hadn’t really done anything on the game field and really hadn’t done much that spring, but we just felt like he was a guy who stuck with the program, had done a nice job and then materialized into a pretty good story as the year went on. That was more of a reward for paying out-of-state tuition for four years and persevering through some injuries. It was a good way to reward his dedication to the program. It’s always nice if you’re in that position. We’re not going to let one sit empty just to have it sit empty. We’re not going to do that.
Q: Coach, what is your policy on your players using social media?
Ferentz: Pretty simply, we discourage Twitter or ban it.
Ferentz: Just because there are just way too many examples right now . . . And it doesn’t mean our players would be guilty of it, but the likelihood of it happening is too high, so we’ve really pretty much banned Twitter. I don’t think we have to make a national announcement on that, but that’s just been our policy. Then, Facebook, MySpace, YourSpace, MyFace, all that stuff, I think it’s probably going too far for me to say you can’t do that and unrealistic, but we sure have tried to educate our players to just think about what they’re doing and that it’s part of their DNA once they post something. It’s an educational process and I think players are smarter now than they were five years ago. It just really opens the door to get in trouble really easily. We all do things we wish we hadn’t done, and that’s just one more avenue to do that.
Q: Have you ever as a coach considered getting Twitter or anything like that?
Ferentz: I have a member of the staff suggest that I do that. We’ll see. It’s not beyond the realm of possibilities. Not that I’ve read anything, but they give me copies of things that have been on Twitter and I haven’t seen much that’s really insightful. To me, life would be fine without it, but I realize times have changed too.
Q: Do you think your players are OK with it?
Ferentz: I’m sure there are some who wish they could. I tell them, hey, as soon as you play your last game, you can Twitter your life away. They can do a lot of things, go do what they want to do, but I’d really like to see them have good careers and be as uncomplicated as possible and I really like to see them get their degrees. That’s really all I care about.
Q: Is there any other place where you can communicate with fans?
Ferentz: I still think that’s what press conferences are for. Not to give you too much commentary on Twitter, I think it’s OK for people to watch things and to draw their own conclusions sometimes. When they get done playing, they can Twitter their lives away.
Q: Do you think with Iowa having a policy against Twitter that they’re kind of behind other schools who let players use it?
Ferentz: You never say never, so I’m not saying we’ll never change our policy, but if that really becomes a determining factor for a guy picking our school or another school, he probably wouldn’t function real well in our program anyway so we’ll just live without him. I may eat those words down the road, we’ll see. I’ll Twitter it if I do, if we switch that.
Q: What is it with all these Ferentzes running around?
Ferentz: Right now, the body count is three, soon to be four. I just thoroughly enjoy it. It wasn’t a master plan by any stretch. It’s just something that happened. However many years ago, there was just one in the building besides myself and it was something I thoroughly enjoyed. I think the challenge is on their end more than mine. It’s easier for me. They’re the ones who have to prove themselves to their teammates and everyone else. I’m sure the world looks at them a little funny, but I thoroughly enjoy it. Part of that is as a coach you miss a lot of your kids’ growing up. I’m not singing the blues or complaining about it, we signed up for it, but what I learned with Brian as a player, just having him out there and be on the field, see at his locker . . . I might not even say anything, but to just see him in the building, that was a really neat thing, that was a really neat experience for me. To watch him in practice film, I wouldn’t have been able to do that if he were at a different school. I obviously got to watch all of his games in college. That was like a bonus for the things I missed in high school and when he was in junior high.
Q: Would you say because of their last name, they have to prove themselves more?
Ferentz: Absolutely. They have the tough job, not me, starting with their teammates. One of the good things about our program, this goes back to my first experience in ’81, walking into Iowa not knowing anything about it, I was amazed in the early ‘80s and just throughout the ‘80s how receptive our players seem to be to newcomers. It’s just a tradition, I can’t explain it, at Iowa. So, I think that added to it. I think his classmates have given him and his teammates have given him a fair opportunity to prove himself. That’s one of the great things about sports, too. There are no victims. Typically, you earn what you get. You can’t say that about a lot of things in life, but in sports, you earn what you get out there on the field. There’s no judgments or debating or any of that stuff. Either you are getting it done or you don’t. So, the onus was on him, but I think everyone looks a little differently at him than Joe Smith.
Q: Vandenberg actually said that he thinks Brian is overqualified for the position.
Ferentz: I don’t know about overqualified, but there was no doubt in my mind that he was qualified. I wouldn’t have hired him if he wasn’t, because you know, I want to win. That’s part of my job, too. Part of my job is my responsibility to our program, our athletes. I have to do everything I can in my best judgment to give us the best chance to be successful. I love my son, don’t get me wrong, but I was going to hire the person I felt was the best fit for that position. We had three great choices at the position, not including Reese Morgan, who is obviously a great line coach.
Q: James is one of the top pro-style quarterbacks in the Big Ten. There has been a proliferation of dual-threat quarterbacks, why do you think that is?
Ferentz: It’s just a sign of the times. The read option has become bigger and bigger through the years now and in the last decade. Randle El was a running quarterback. We’ve had some running quarterbacks in our conference. It shifts this way, it shifts that way. I think that’s one of the neat things about college football and one of the reasons it’s as popular as it is. In every conference, fans see this, this and this. There’s no magical way to do things. There’s not right way or wrong way to do things. There’s always a flavor of the day, but typically it gets down to execution.
Q: Kirk, do you have any idea what coach O’Brien’s offense is going to be like?
Ferentz: I don’t. I a couple of things people need to understand about Bill, he’s had a really tough job. Coaching Tom Brady might look like an easy job, but when you coach a pro player who’s that established, I mean he’s a Hall of Fame player, a guy like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or go back through history, veteran quarterbacks are pretty firm on their opinions, so there’s a lot of give and take there when you coach a player like that. That has a unique set of challenges. One of the things I admire most Bill, he left a very good job to take a step back – quote, unquote – professionally. I know it was pay-wise. He went into New England basically as a low-level guy, but he did it because Bill is all about being the best coach he can be. That’s my perception of Bill. He’s interested in doing what’s best to grow and develop. There aren’t a lot of guys in our profession who would do that, have the guts to take that kind of step. And then I would add that his experience in college, he’s been around a lot of successful coaches in programs and a lot of different kinds of attacks. He’s been with throwing programs. Last year, no one threw the ball better than New England. But he’s also gone with option attacks, so he’s got a really diverse background. My assumption is he’ll take what they saw in 15 days of spring ball and mold the system to fit their personnel.
Q: Could they have one of the most diverse attacks in the league?
Ferentz: Anything is possible. Just knowing his background, anything is possible. I wouldn’t know what to expect frankly. Fortunately, we’re not playing them until October. At least we’ll have some idea.
Q: How has Twitter and Facebook changed the life of a head coach?
Ferentz: It’s one more challenge. It’s one more thing to educate them about. There was a long list prior to Facebook and Twitter. Now, just throw those two on there. The potential for missteps, not everyday but frequently, of things that come out that I would imagine, now I’m talking about athletes, athletes might regret what they said or put out there. I know coaches do.
Q: Do you have any restrictions on players?
Ferentz: Yeah, we’re not really big on Twitter. I’ll let them Twitter their lives away after they’ve played their last game. We encourage them not to use that. If they want to Twitter away for the next 60 years, have at it.. It’s just like if they make a comment to the media. They’re responsible for that. Just like any actions you take, you’re responsible for those. Just add it to the list. My concern as a parent or coach is sometimes people don’t think about what the long-range ramifications might be, as a player and, more importantly, trying to go out and get a real job in the real world. NFL people look at all that stuff, too. They look at all that stuff in the NFL process.
Q: The NCAA is raising academic requirements going forward for core classes. I was curious to get your take on that.
Ferentz: I’m all for anything that’s going to help in that area. My only concern would be getting the word out, grassroots. That was the challenge back in the day of the initial Prop 48 or whatever it was. How do you get the word out to all of the high school counselors? There are a lot of places in this country where people aren’t aware of that. When I went to Maine in 1990, we had a young man from a high school in Maine out in the middle of the state. His dad was an educator and this young guy had no idea. He was in no way qualified. He didn’t have the core courses. A lot of people think of it as an inner city issue. Hardly. There are a lot of places. That’d be my concern. The key thing with all these core courses, they need to know in ninth grade. I spent some tie with Phil Savage yesterday. Phil is from Mobile. He’s in charge of the Senior Bowl now, the director. He does a lot of work in that community and we had that same conversation, just on the lack of awareness. A lot of young people and parents don’t understand. So when a guy finds out his junior year that he might be a Division I prospect and he and his parents find out there’s no way he can get the work done, that’d be my concern. If we’re adding to that list, we’ve got to get the word out sooner. That’s a real challenge.
Q: Something about Brett Bielema and Urban Meyer and being in a room when something had to be worked out among coaches.
Ferentz: What we do is competitive. It’s a recruiting and a game competition. It gets intense. I think as a result of that, things may happen that need to be talked about and discussed. I’ve only been in that room for 13 years now. I think going back as an assistant in the ‘80s, I think this conference has in general terms have had a group of coaches who’ve had good working relationships, with an exception here and there and I can think of one during the ‘80s that was interesting. I think for the most part this conference has gotten along. Guys aren’t afraid to pick up the phone and talk things out. I don’t know if you’ve been married, but I’ve had a few conversations where hmmmm, one of those deals. You work through those things. That’s part of life. I think in this conference we’ve had a pretty good tradition of that and I don’t see that changing down the road.
Q: Knowing Brett as you do, how do you think he handled that particular circumstance?
Ferentz: My sense was walking out after the meeting in February that we all gained ground and we’re all moving forward.
Q: [Something about Dan Gable and if KF wants to leave that sort of mark on Iowa football.]
Ferentz: Probably unrelated, but my appreciation for Dan Gable . . . I knew who he was in the ‘70s. He won a gold medal and what have you. My appreciation for him grew when I went there as an assistant in the ‘80s, watching that program. I’ve had three sons wrestle in high school now. To this day, I don’t pretend to understand the sport and all the technicalities, but the people in Iowa do understand it pretty well and what I do understand and respect is just what a demanding sport it is. It’s unique in a lot of ways. To watch his program and watch him coach, it’s a real treat. I’ve gotten to know him even better over the last 13 years. He’s one of the great figures not only in collegiate sports, but in all of sports. His record is phenomenal. He’s just a great person. He’s all about his family. He’s all about the wrestlers who wrestled for him and the people in his program. Those have been his two life priorities, once he quit competing. Indirectly, he’s been a great role model. His values, everything he stands for, how lucky am I to be coaching at the school where he made such a large impact. Ironically, he competed at one of our rival schools. That part is almost kind of interesting and funny, but he’s an all-time legendary figure.
Q: What’s it like after 13 years? Do you just like what you’re doing and where your at? You don’t need anything to rejuvenate your coaching?
Ferentz: Absolutely. As a coach growing up, you look around and you watch people. I ‘ll throw a name out for you, I always admired Tubby Raymond, legendary coach at Delaware. He did a phenomenal job and he was smart enough to know he had a good job. That’s how I felt about Iowa. I loved coaching there in the ‘80s as an assistant. My life loved living there. Four of our kids were born there. We have a real history with the community. Ironically, the plan when we went there, the plan was to get in and get out. That was my first full-time job. I was going to get my resume started and get the heck out of there, but we stayed nine years and loved it. It was a no-brainer for us to move back here when we had that opportunity. Pretty much my professional life has been dictated by two things: Any move had to be something we felt was good for our family, personally. And secondly, it had to be a good professional opportunity. I’ve seen no compelling reason to leave Iowa. It’s just been great for our family and great for me professionally, so I really like where I’m at and I really love living in the state.
Q: You talked about coach O’Brien a few minutes ago, what do you think coach Meyer and coach Beckman bring to the Big Ten on the field.
Ferentz: I don’t know as much about coach Beckman, but he did a fantastic job at Toledo’s program. His dad coached at Iowa back in the ‘70s. He’ll do an outstanding job. Coach Meyer’s reputation certainly precedes him. Everywhere he’s been, he’s had tremendous success. In my 22-year association with the league, nobody has had better players year in and year out. I’d throw in my six years in the NFL watching the draft board. Ohio State, I could argue very easily, has had the best NFL personnel each and every year. You have a great staff and great personnel, there’s no reason they won’t have great success. There’s no reason to think things will change there.
Q: What are your thoughts on the four-team playoff?
Ferentz: I think it’s a positive step. It’s something I think everyone has been clamoring for, at least the public has. My only request would be, and I don’t think this is going to happen, but if I were commissioner of sports, I would mandate that there’s at least 12 to 15 days buffer after the two teams get determined, give those teams at least 12 plus days to prepare for the championship game. I think that’s important from a health standpoint and a I think it’s going to be important from a preparation standpoint. You want that to be a marquee game, a quality game, so to better increase the odds of that, I think it’s better to give it a couple week buffer, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. There’s a chance those two teams might not be really familiar with each other, so it will allow them to have ample opportunity to really do some homework and also get the players rested. That’d be my two sense.
Q: I talked to Nathan Scheelhaase for a while. He said growing up he was around Kinnick all the time and, of course, his dad (Nate Creer) played there. He said you were the first to offer him.
Ferentz: Tremendous young guy. Outstanding student, too. He played at Rockhurst High School, which is a very traditional program. He’s just an outstanding young guy. Dynamic player, dynamic athlete, which we’ve seen now in conference play. Great personality, smart, just everything you’d want in a player.
Q: What do you remember about his dad and his career at Iowa?
Ferentz: Nate had a real good run in the ’80s. He was a teammate of Owen Gill’s and Devon Mitchell’s. Those guys had great careers at Iowa. Nate’s a different personality than Nathan, who’s probably a little bit more measured. Nate was the life of the party.
Q: He wanted to play Iowa and you guys go six years without playing.
Ferentz: That’s just one of those freak things. Who could’ve predicted that? With the divisional stuff, who knew what was going to go on and there you go.
Q: I think yesterday the whole eight-game schedule was locked in with the Big Ten. As far as non-conference scheduling goes, where do you see the future going?
Ferentz: I don’t know if we’ll deviate from where we are. I know scheduling is still a big challenge for the administrators and understandably so. To that point, I think the scheduling of the Pac-12 thing made a lot of sense and maybe there will be an opportunity somewhere else along those lines. I don’t know. I know they met yesterday on that and I’m sure that was a big part of their discussion. I’ll be curious to see where it goes. I stick to my feelings that in conference I don’t think it’s healthy to have a four-five split. I don’t think that’s a good thing. I think that gives a competitive edge.
Q: You prefer to go east, right? That’s more of a primary recruiting area.
Ferentz: If I could, I’d rather play somebody that’s in our recruiting area. That might not be realistic.
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