On Friday at the Big Ten football Media Day in Chicago, I wanted to ask Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz about, well … Penn State. Not so much Penn State itself, but if after so many years in such a high-profile position, you worry about losing your reality orb. Assuming such a thing as a reality orb exists. Here are the questions I asked and his replies.
Q: Different tangent, you are a Pennsylvania guy…I don’t know how many Penn State 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 the 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 it’s 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.
I asked Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg who he admired most among other quarterbacks.
“I think the one guy I really watch a lot is Drew Brees. He’s somebody who in college — I lived in Iowa, but I was a Drew Brees fan for sure. And watching him in the NFL these last couple years with the Saints, he’s about as good as it gets. To think he’s only six-foot doing all that makes it all that much more impressive.
“He’s so balanced. The way he moves in the pocket, he’s kind of a loaded gun at all times. He can get the ball out of a lot of different positions, but the way he balances himself and moves around in the pocket, he’s as accurate as they come. There’s a lot of good teaching in film, watching him.”
Vandenberg cited Peyton Manning as another favorite.
“I wish I could see a lot more of myself in those guys. They’re great players. The detail you watch Peyton Manning play with is something you really take note of.”
As for college QBs, Vandenberg listed several he admires, including Matt Barkley of USC, Landry Jones of Oklahoma, Denard Robinson of Michigan and Braxton Miller of Ohio State. Asked how to cross the bridge to earn the same national reputation as some of those, he said:
“You’ve got to win more games to be in that conversation. Ultimately, that’s kind of what you’re judged on with your career as a quarterback. The good ones are able to win games. Seven-and-five, 4-4 is not what we’re looking for. We know we need to improve on that. That’s certainly our goal for this year.”
Hawkeye center James Ferentz was in Chicago along with teammates Vandenberg and Micah Hyde. I asked young Ferentz if his brother, Brian Ferentz, knew what he was doing. Brian is Iowa’s new offensive line coach. I was joking, and James knew that.
“Yes, yes,” he laughed. “He’s overqualified, if anything, for our offensive line job.”
That’s quite a statement, I said.
“He’s a great coach. I love playing for him. Lots to learn from him, I’ve been learning from him.”
“He had two young guys in New England (Ferentz was the position coach for Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez), and I think that maybe helped prepare him to deal with us.”
“I think the fresh blood’s been good. I think there’s a little bit more energy just because that’s only natural when a new coach comes into the system. But I think Brian’s done a great job. I think I can speak for everyone in the room that we all respect Brian, we love playing for him. It’s been a short time but I think we already have a great respect and loyalty to Brian.”
I told James that I’d never heard of a player being coached by his brother.
“That’s kind of the conclusion that I’ve drawn,” he said. “That’s what makes my position that was already unique (having his dad as the head coach) that much more unique. Playing for my dad at the same time I’m playing for my brother. It’s one of those things I’m trying to enjoy as much as I can. How many other people ever get to do this?”
“Brian’s seven years older than me, so we’ve always been a little bit apart, just because of age. We had two sisters between us. I was always closer to Steve (a Hawkeye freshman walk-on tight end), sharing a room for seven years. We liked playing Legos, just doing boys’ stuff, I guess, like that. Brian was always older than me. I was never mature enough to hang out.”
“He’s always been a mentor to me. I’ve always looked up to him for advice and what I should do next. Now that he’s my coach it’s just a very natural transition.”
“I think I speak for the offensive line that we have enough faith in my dad as the head coach to hire someone that he knows will do what’s best for the program. Again, I think I speak for everybody on the team when we believe in this program and we think my dad’s going to do what’s best.”
I asked him if he’d like to become a coach himself.
“I’m not sure. I haven’t really looked that far ahead. I’ve been asked that question a couple times and I’m starting to think I should be doing some planning here.” Then he laughed.
Iowa is generally picked for fourth place in the Big Ten’s Legends Division. I asked James Ferentz if the mood on the team was that this year’s squad is better than that.
“We try to ignore the noise as much as possible, but you’re only human. It’s difficult to completely block it out. But it’s because of what we’ve done in the past. What have we done to prove that we belong on the top? Every day we walk into our complex there’s four empty trophy cases (Iowa State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska) that we have to walk by. There’s just a lot of reminders that we haven’t been winning.”
“If we have five guys on the offensive line doing things right, then all we need is six other guys and we’re off and running.”
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