Ferentz Dead Serious, Is He Dead Wrong?

On Tuesday, Kirk Ferentz was asked about his punt return game and comments he made following Iowa’s loss on Saturday where Michigan State became the latest in a long line of teams to convert a fake punt against Iowa.

“If you pressed me today I’d say we may never return a punt again, just because when you do that, the blocked pass you have to turn and go with those guys to shadow them.  When you do that you open the door.  And Michigan State did a pretty good job of taking advantage of it, to their credit.  What helped us a couple of weeks ago we paid for on Saturday and cost us a field goal and a possession.  So, yeah, I may be leaning towards where you never see us try to return one again.  We may just try to catch it and keep it off the ground.  I was being dead serious, yeah”

And there it is…the white flag.  Not surprisingly, a few posts/comments began to pop up from around a surprised world wide web:

Saying this immediately after a game and in the heat of the moment is forgivable.  However coming back three days later and saying the same thing and adding the ‘dead serious’ line to it is another thing altogether.

Even if this is going to be your strategy going forward, don’t announce to the college football world that you actually do come from the jurassic period as it relates to risk taking and trying to win with dynamic play.  I realize running more than 70 plays per game might be enough change for one year, but don’t INTENTIONALLY make things harder on you and your staff on the recruiting trails than they already are.

That’s where I think this comment is going to live on, actually.  It will be forgotten by national media types (those who are still even paying attention to the Iowa football program) but it likely won’t be forgotten by assistant coaches in the Big Ten who recruit against Iowa.  The Hawkeye program already has a bit of an Old Spice or Brut tinge to it so there is no need to announce to the world that you are actually getting into the DeLorean and setting the timer back to 1939.  Wait, even Nile Kinnick fielded punts and holds the school record for most punt return yards in a game, so perhaps we need to go back much further than that, to the days when they didn’t wear face masks.

There is a distinct possibility that Kirk Ferentz is the first football coach in Iowa or Big Ten history to say something like this related to the punt return.

To be fair, it’s not like many teams are doing much as it relates to punt returns. There are around 123 teams in the FBS so roughly team 62 would be right in the middle, or average.  The 62nd ‘best’ team at punt returns this year is averaging a paltry 7.50 yards per punt.  You could say that is the average of average.  You can also say that a punt return is a high-risk, low-reward play given those numbers.

So on the surface, Ferentz’s thinking isn’t crazy and you wouldn’t say he’s ‘Dead Wrong’ with his (de) evolving philosophy.

My issue here is that you don’t say it.  You don’t put it out there in today’s day and age because you become a punch line.  You don’t put it out there in a day and age where Northwestern has more athleticism on the field than you do, at least in their starting lineup and just showed it on national TV.  You don’t put it out there in a day when you are knocking on 60’s door and you’re the oldest coach in a conference; don’t remind your peers of that because they will most likely be reminding your recruits of that and/or bringing up something like this on the recruiting trail.

Was Kirk Ferentz wrong to be so open and honest about this?  Those of us in the media are always looking for honest and transparency so some people might defend Ferentz and say he was just being transparent and he can’t win.  I get that, but Ferentz has mastered the art of saying a lot without saying anything and if you have been a regular reader of his press conferences through the years, you know that to be true.

I think Kirk’s job on the recruiting front and perception front is hard enough without him actually playing in traffic like this, which is why I found these comments to be cringe worthy as opposed to refreshing honesty.


Some may want to say he was still joking.  This is several days after the fact and he was asked if he was serious about those comments.  If he were joking, he’s turned into a horrible communicator, which he is not.  He’s not unintelligent.  This is also diverts attention from the fact that Iowa has been atrocious in this area of special teams over the past three and a half years.

What’s your take?


  • Ryan

    Iowa does not have the play makers to run punt returns anyway. So what if we don’t get an extra 10 yards off the punt return. That actually plays into Iowa hands better by taking more clock on a longer drive. Unless Powell learns to field punts their isn’t the speed to risk it. The punt return is a high risk-low return for them. Love Ferentz for being candid and I agree with him. Now, do I really think he will do it? No. He put this out there so that coaches would believe they are spending a ton of time on it now.

  • BobbyBoy

    Kirk’s deadpan humor. He can’t say that fans are stupid so he lays out the plan they would be forced into to prevent 100% possibility of a fake kick. The coach is smart and good. Hawks will get better and fans need to relax and appreciate Iowa’s wonderful athletic programs for what they are… entertainment for us and athletic opportunities for young men and women.

    • Airon


  • Andrew

    Somewhere that idiot Dantonio is “smirking” again…SMH

  • Jay

    Oh please… he wasn’t serious. We will be returning punts. I am sure this is the first time a coach had said something he didnt actually mean.

    • HNStaff

      Jay, Kirk was asked if he was being facetious about his no punt return comment he gave right after the game. On Tuesday, three days later he said “No, I was being dead serious.”

      • Jay

        Again, anyone with any common sense still knows the man was not serious. Whether he says he is serious or not it is clear to any football fan with any knowledge that the man was not serious.Do you ever really think there was a point in his mind where he really believed we would not return the punt? NO.
        He is simply venting his frustration with the special teams play.

        • HNStaff

          “Again, anyone with any common sense still knows the man was not serious. Whether he says he is serious or not it is clear to any football fan with any knowledge that the man was not serious”

          LOL. Even though he said he was dead serious and not being facetious, he’s not serious and was being facetious. Right.

          • bob

            Someone should ask him if he was being serious when he said he was dead serious

          • westsidebill

            Some will NEVER see anything that Kirk does as incorrect and ALWAYS seem him as some sort of secret master tactician – regardless of what his record says.

        • Dan Brust

          Jay I agree 100%

          • westsidebilltx

            You and Dan are welcome to enable KF to continue on his road of mediocrity until 2020. Others prefer to live in reality. You choose.

          • Dan Brust

            Whatever, I’ve seen mediocrity from 1961-1978 and this isn’t it. I’m sure bringing in someone knew is going to bring in all 5 star recruits, spread offense (sissy football),and national championships like Alabama. Now whose not living in reality?

          • westsidebill

            In today’s college game hovering around .500 only precedes the fall…GOOD programs with the support, facilities, etc. DO NOT embrace what fans have seen much of the last 8 seasons and counting.

  • GP

    Yea I see what your saying here and I think what may have coach so ticked about this to this extent is that he’s wanted to not return punts for awhile but between the fans his staff and the players he’s just always kept on with what they’ve been doing. I have never understood the risk vs reward in returning punts. I’d have one return guy back and the other 10 in some kind of regular D alignment. Then have him fair catch most everything and just return what he clearly can. I don’t think 5-7 yards is worth it. Kids are pretty smart when they are explained and shown this on film over and over they’ll understand it’s the best for the team to be conservative in this.

  • Greg

    Maybe this brilliant strategy of saying we won’t return punts…then we actually do return punts!!! See what he did there? Oh wait I forgot this is vanilla ice cream without the vanilla or the cream. The hilarious part is even if we do try to return a punt it will probably come when our opponent is 4th and 3 and down by 7 with 2 mins left in the game .

  • Greg

    PS As I’m reading and commenting it just occurred to me how far we’ve fallen to be having this ridiculous conversation. Glad I can laugh and not cry.

  • Bob

    (Sigh) I guess nobody ever said HN posters were the most observant or perceptive.

    As an FYI, Kirk is sending a couple not-so-subtle messages, one to players, the other to staff.

    • Joel

      He is the Head Coach, this is not how you send a message to players and his staff.

      • Jay

        What he tells then inside the locker room and what he says to the media are two different things. Unless you are a head coach you cant speak on how to effectively send messages to a player and staff.

        • westsidebill

          Fine Jay. Assume he’s kidding. He still does his program and team no favors when it comes to recruiting and breaking the perception he’s an old guy with a risk-averse approach to today’s college game. So who is the joke on now?

  • The Truth Hurts

    If this was supposed to be sarcasm, it was a huge fail. If Kirk was serious, as he claims he was, it was a huge fail. Some of us have been chastised for being “bad” fans simply because we have told the truth about Mr. Ferentz and his poor performance, especially since giving Wisconsin that HUGE win in 2010 thanks to the first of the ongoing series of successful fake punts.

    I will never get over that play or that season. Iowa should have either been in the national championship game or, at the bare minimum, the Rose Bowl. Instead, after the Wisconsin fake punt, Iowa finished 7-5 with a roster full of NFL talent. That was unforgivable.

    I’ll say it again: The Ferentz era ended with that Wisconsin fake punt. Iowa has never come close to rebounding from that devastating game and season. And it’s not just the losing, it’s the continuing lack of coaching acumen. Iowa may not have the most talent in the league, but with creative, intelligent coaching, it would currently be undefeated and heading into the teeth of the schedule with a shot at a memorable season.

    Instead, it is what it is, certainly.

    Iowa football needs a huge breath of fresh air that will only come with an innovative, risk-taking, play-to-win, 21st century head coach and staff–a football version of Fran McCaffery, if you will.

    At the moment, we have the football version of Todd Lickliter; it’s an embarrassment to everyone involved, and Kirk has no one but himself to blame. It’s sad that it has come to this, but either Barta fires Ferentz, or Mason fires Barta and the new AD fires Ferentz, or somebody fires all three of them before the Hawkeye spirit and pride can return to Kinnick Stadium.

  • teboel

    Maybe the linemen could simply hold up the opponents lineman until the punter kicks the ball prior to releasing rather than releasing
    a second after the ball is snapped and prior to the kick.

  • Bert D

    He is as much as admitting that he and his staff cannot figure out how to coach punt returns without giving up fakes to the other team. So what’s next? “Well, we cannot figure out how to throw the ball down field successfully, so we’re just not going to attempt it anymore.” Or, “We can’t figure out how to play regular pass defense without giving up the long TD passes, so we’re just going to play nothing but prevent defense and hope like heck we don’t let receivers get behind us.” Iowa is paying top money for football coaches and instead they are getting excuses and nonsense. I can’t imagine any other head coach getting away with making a statement line this.

  • Grady

    First, please stop repeating that nonsense about NW having “more athleticism on the field” than Iowa — they simply run a more creative offensive scheme. Second, if they are like me, most Iowa fans simply reacted with a sigh of relief at KF’s new punt return plan. Not having to worry about fake punts should make everyone sleep easier at night. The likelihood of punt returns against BCS conference teams is remote, anyway. Most have kickers who provide excellent hang-time and allow excellent team coverage. Is eliminating all fake punts worth the cost of having ‘fair catches’ or no punt return? Absolutely. I look at this as a total positive: not only does Iowa take an opponent’s trickery out of play, but it gives the Iowa defense a chance to be more aggressive on putting actual pressure on the punter since they don’t have any responsibilities of blocking on a return! Maybe we’ll even block a punt occasionally. As a bonus, if we ever DO set up a return it will be a complete surprise — something not often said about any aspect of Iowa’s program. All in all, this is a total positive. And your suggestion that recruits will come to Iowa or not based on our punt return strategy — well, that’s just silly.

    • HNStaff

      I don’t believe a recruit is going to make his decision based on a punt return strategy. I do think that it’s ‘symptomatic’ of how ‘old school’ Iowa is. That it’s just another ring around the tree on that front.

      And yes, after having watched NW play against Iowa last year and seeing them this year, they look more athletic on the field than Iowa does. More speed. Those are the things most kids want to be a part of these days.

      • Grady

        OK, let’s compare NW and Iowa speed. Does NW have any WR with Powell’s speed? No. Is NW’s RB Mark quicker than any Iowa RB? Yes. Are NW’s LBs or DBs faster than Iowa’s? No. Is Iowa’s QB more nimble than NW’s 2 QBs? Yes in one case, no in the other. The teams are very comparable in speed and ‘athleticism’. You and westsidebill are getting sucked into the visual illusion that the spread offense provides. More space between players allows what existing speed you DO have to succeed. As far as recruiting, NW IS outrecruiting Iowa now on an annual basis…the reasons: 1) they’ve been winning; 2) exciting offensive schemes; 3) big city atmosphere; 4) world class education. Iowa can’t compete on the first 3, and is outclassed on the 4th as well.

        • westsidebilltx

          That’s fine Grady, we’ll have to disagree. For fun, let’s assume you’re right then: Why has NW, with less athleticism, worse facilities and little fan support been a better program than Iowa since 2005? Creative offense and all, I mean, KF and crew are such great developers of talent and an NFL football factory, so why have they been owned by NW for much of the time? Telling the world you’re never going to return punts again – seriously or not – is stupid strategically both on and off the field.

          • Grady

            If you eliminate athleticism, facilities, tradition and fan support — as you have done — I think it leaves only one answer: coaching. I’ve believed for years that Fitzgerald is perhaps the top coach in the BTen for years. Hard-nosed on defense; creative as heck on offense; top-notch motivator. I think KF does a good job in 2 of those areas, but Iowa’s offensive inabilities are real, and have dragged the program down for years. Stats just back that up.

          • westsidebill

            You have some truth there, but it’s limited. If you put Fitzgerald anywhere else I doubt he’d last 4 years.
            As for athleticism, I still say that NW is more athletic than Iowa overall. We can disagree all you want; the fact is, KF’s record has been mediocre to average for most seasons since 2005. Unless/until that changes, he’s going to continue to take a public beating every time he throws out questionable statements.

    • westsidebill

      Grady, if you’ve paid attention the last 3-4 years, NW HAS surpassed Iowa in front-line athleticism. Ever wonder why their “more creative” scheme is successful? If you haven’t, consider putting Iowa’s starting WR’s and RB’s in its place and see what you get. NW is no powerhouse, but they have established themselves where Iowa USED to be = middle of the B1G to occasional runs to the top of the league. Iowa’s made exactly ONE run at the top since 2004. ONE. Think about that and see why NW has been outrecruiting Iowa recently.

  • B

    My concern on these fakes is that it doesn’t appear that our coaches even warn our players to watch the fake, even in a situation that just smells like a fake such as last Saturday. I told my buddy in the stadium before that fake that I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fake on that play. It made a lot of sense for MSU… 1. MSU seemed to have the Iowa players and fans falling asleep at that point in time, 2. It was at a quarter change/ break in the action, trending a little laziness in the return team’s mental responsibilities, 3. MSU was up by 6 points near the 40 yd line with a chance to squash the Hawks (yes go for the kill vs. hang on), 4. Even if they didn’t succeed on the fake, it wasn’t like Iowa’s offense was going to do anything anyway.

    Man, you’d think that a coach that is so scared to try anything risky would be better at making sure we don’t get burned on a play like this. Maybe, just maybe, since he would NEVER fake a punt himself, the thought doesn’t cross his mind that someone else would either….

  • theDOG

    my take is KF is a fuggin’ idiot. Of course, that’s no new revelation.

    • westsidebill

      You add nothing. Why bother posting at all?

  • bwsmoney

    I’ll buy it … at least it means he’d be engaged in thought rather than just presiding over a decline

  • jiowa832

    Just a thought. Couldn’t they get a punt return if they went after every punt? The opponent would need to have max protection so you would need to get past the gunners and long snapper. Probably still average seven yards a return.


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