Ferentz Fine Points

On Friday, we posted two hours worth of Kirk Ferentz comments from his Thursday sit down with media at the Big Ten event in Chicago. That’s a lot of Kirk to digest. That’s a lot of anything to digest. Here are some of the items that jumped out to me, or at least items I’d like to comment on further.

First, here are the items in whole in case you missed them:

Ferentz Verbatim: Recruiting & QB Race « Hawkeye NationHawkeye Nation
Ferentz Verbatim: RB Rotation, Free Time & More « Hawkeye NationHawkeye Nation
Ferentz Verbatim: The Final 40 Minutes « Hawkeye NationHawkeye Nation

Now for the greatest hits.

THE IOWA WAY:  If you spend a few minutes reading the opening part of the first link above, the one with recruiting in the title, the reporter was angling to get Ferentz to comment on the way things are at Iowa.  This is something I have believed for years, that Kirk has run the style he has run at Iowa because he knows the type of athlete he is most likely going to be able to get here.  The reporter in this instance was Marc Morehouse and I listened to this entire back and forth.  Kirk didn’t go down the roads I would have loved him to go down or the roads Marc was trying to take him down, but there was still some good stuff there. For what it’s worth, I do believe there are certain types of players which will be more readily available for Iowa than others.  Those will be offensive linemen, blue collar types who may not wow you at the combine.  Iowa has struggled to recruit receivers for as long as I have followed them (nearly 35 years) and this was even in the days when they had a first team All Big Ten quarterback several times in the 1980’s.  When you can recruit offensive linemen the way Iowa will likely be able to continue to recruit them, it’s tough to want to break out the run and shoot….

SUPPORT FOR VANDENBERG:  Rare is the time where Kirk Ferentz will get within a mile of the proverbial bus, much less throw anyone underneath it.  While he didn’t do that in Chicago, he certainly went out of his way at one point in time to stand up for James Vandenberg and his play from last year.  No one had asked him about Vandenberg.  Ferentz had been asked a question about Greg Davis and if things would be better for him and the offense in year two.  Then he was asked about the quarterback battle this year and what his expectations were.  He said:

“I don’t have any expectations other than hoping all three will look improved and I think they will.  You can’t predict it, but looking back on things, after going through a spring where they were really running the offense and looking at film all summer and then 7 on 7’s, I would assume they are all farther down the road.  It will be a matter of what they do in camp but that will be based on how the rest of the team supports them.  Whomever is playing quarterback this year has a good chance to be better supported than James Vandenberg was last year…. James ended up being a victim of circumstance more than anything, I think. James is a great football player and a great young man.”

Again, Kirk didn’t throw anyone under the bus but he certainly insinuates that Vandenberg didn’t get a fair sendoff and the people around him were not playing on his level.  I think we can point the finger at the wide receiver position first and foremost.  Then the midseason injuries on the offensive line were devastating to the offense, not to mention the new system and they hybrid offense I think Iowa was running; the best of Greg and Best of Kirk mashed up together to create something less appealing than a Best of Air Supply download.  It’s rare for Kirk to drift into this territory.  It might also have been some at tight end…Kirk said the following at a later point in his interview and disconnected from the Vandenberg comment, but you might be able to piece the two together:

“Last year, CJ Fiedorowicz was a bit streaky in his production. Most of it came after game six. How does that happen? Were defenses taking him out?”

QB BATTLE:  Ferentz was asked about the quarterback battle…a lot.  This is an obvious story but it’s just not all that interesting to me yet because nothing has changed since April since they are not allowed to practice under the eyes of the coaches.  They do seven on sevens and all of that, but there isn’t any new-news to speak of.  That said, Ferentz said something that was positive, at least in my opinion:

“We’re comfortable with all three guys. It’s like when we had Stanzi and James in the room together. You felt if either one of these guys takes the ball, you’re going to be OK. They act like Big Ten quarterbacks. Jake, C.J. and Cody, they all handle themselves well. They have different personalities and all that, but I could envision all three of those guys playing for us. That’s a good thing. All we can judge this August is what they do on the field.”

That’s a very good thing and will make the ensuing battle all the more intriguing if Kirk really does feel that way.  He might be saying it because he knows this stuff gets back to players.  You want a player, especially a quarterback, believing that you believe in him all the way.  George Brett is my favorite baseball player of all time.  He just stepped down as the interim hitting coach for the KC Royals and said there were times over the past few months where he’d flat out lie to the players in the cage: “Sometimes guys weren’t (swinging the bat well) and we tricked ‘em. We’d tell them in BP, ‘Your swing looks great.’ And it was terrible. Just so they believed they could get a hit. … Because if you believe in yourself, it’s amazing what you can accomplish. If you have no confidence in yourself, you have no chance.”  Do I think Kirk can envision all three of the QB’s playing for Iowa this year?  Yes.  But does that mean he would be equally confident in each?  No.  This is going to be fun to watch play out in August and September.

EARLY SIGNING:  Ferentz and the Iowa staff have long been proponents of an early signing period in college football.  More and more coaching staffs are coming around to this notion, including unanimous support from ACC coaches.  Here is what Ferentz said on Thursday:

I think as a conference I think we’re all in agreement the best time would be that December signing, when junior college kids sign, that third Saturday in December. Right during that dead period, right after the three week contact. To me, that’d be the perfect time. I still don’t understand the resistance. All it is is an opportunity to sign. They don’t have to sign. I don’t think anyone is going to lose a scholarship. It just gives everyone a chance to lay their cards on the table and say I’m 100 percent sure now or still not quite there. That’d be great for both parties, I think.

I would guess the resistance has been from the ‘have’s’ in college football.  Those who can swoop in and poach verbal commitments from other schools based on their helmet.  However, the link above quotes FSU coach Jimbo Fisher as being for an early signing period and they have been one of college football’s ‘have’s’.  Then again, they have over 20 verbal commitments and the #1 class in the nation right now, so they’d love to be able to keep them all in the live well.  As Ferentz said, it would be a choice to sign, or not.  Just like in college basketball.  Players do not have to sign in November, during the early signing period.  They can wait until May, which is what the best high school senior in the world did this past year (Andrew Wiggins).  I think it will happen within the next five years, given the growing support for it.

That’s good for Iowa.  The Hawks have had numerous early commits the past two years and being able to sign some of them in December would be great, as they’ve lost some commitments in January in past years.  It’s also a ‘heat check’ of sorts; if someone doesn’t sign with you in December, their mind may not be made up…which gives a school time to go out and start recruiting to replace that commitment.  Ferentz also thinks the early signing period could get moved up into September one day:

I think down the road that could happen. I could see this thing moving up farther and farther. I would be in support of official visits in June. With the way it’s going right now, I think that would be a good thing. I think we’d all like to see one parent involved if not two or guardians involved in the process on official visits.

BACKING JAMES MORRIS:  Ferentz was very supportive of current linebacker James Morris.  Morris has taken his share of criticism over the years and last year it was pretty pointed.  I am not saying he doesn’t have room to improve, because he does.  I am not saying he doesn’t make a misread here or there, because he does.  That said, he hasn’t been playing behind the 2003 & 2004 Iowa defensive lines the way Abdul Hodge did, or the 2008 & 2009 defensive lines the way Pat Angerer did.   He’s played behind two of the most challenged Iowa defensive lines of the past 12 years.   When asked about the criticism Morris has faced, Ferentz didn’t hold back:

FERENTZ: “I don’t get that. I’ve gotten some feedback on that. I just don’t get that.  I can’t think of anything negative to say about him.  It started with his first appearance, the Penn State game [2010]. It was pretty phenomenal really. He’s an outstanding football player. If there’s anything negative being said, I don’t get it. What’s the knock on him?”

 (Reporter)He hasn’t taken his game to an all-Big Ten level, based on his reputation coming out of high school.
FERENTZ: “I read the preseason watch lists. There are like five Ohio State guys on there. There is a good group of linebackers in our conference right now. I’ll go back to when I was here in the ‘80s. In the ‘80s, for awhile at least, every year Michigan had three offensive linemen on the all-Big Ten team. I told our guys your all-Big Ten will come in April when the draft comes. The best evaluators in football are the NFL people. They’re they best evaluators of college football players. And I’ll put an asterisk by that, you can be a great college player and not be a great pro prospect. The objective is to be a great college player if you are a college player.
James Morris is going to play for a long time when he gets out of college. He’s an excellent player, he’s a great athlete. His attitude and the things he does where the fans can’t see and the media can’t see, he’s over the top. He’s in an elite category.  The last time we brought two linebackers to media day it was Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds. Certainly, two very different personalities now we’re talking about. Two totally different personalities, and yet in a way very similar. Edds plays a position, as you guys know, that position is invisible in our defense, pretty much, but we don’t play very well if we don’t have a good player at that position. Chris is as talented of a guy as we’ve had at that position since I’ve been here. You guys have met him. Tremendous young man, unbelievable attitude. And then James, I mean this guy is a really good football player and he’s a tremendous guy. Pat was a great leader and he had his own delivery. James’ delivery is certainly different, but I listen to James talk and the depth of his thoughts, (whistle).  What award did he win?  That political science award?  I was definitely not a candidate for that award. He’s just on a different level. I know this, I wouldn’t trade him.”
To say that Ferentz thinks highly of Morris would be an understatement.  In some ways, he probably views Morris as a nephew or member of the family, as James has been around the Iowa football complex since he was in grade school as his father Greg is Iowa’s equipment manager and has been since before Kirk came back as head coach.  Ferentz comment about Morris will play the game a long time, which was preceded by his comments about the NFL draft being your ‘All Big Ten’ award, that was telling.
FERENTZ & BASEBALL:  Kirk has used baseball analogies a lot through the years.  When he was asked about the sport, he gushed:
“I love baseball. I loved it when I was younger. My dad coached it. It was to the point where I almost played that in college… There’s carryover in all sports. I wasn’t a great basketball player and I didn’t wrestle. Baseball was something I enjoyed. I don’t follow it closely, but I just like baseball. It’s part of my DNA. (Question: Do you follow the Pirates much?  they are in second place?) FERENTZ: Clint Hurdle is an excellent manager. He’s got one downside and it’s that he’s a Michigan fan. That’s a downside. So is Jim Leyland, by the way. I got to meet Tony LaRussa through Cal Eldred. That’s one of the thrills of my life to get to visit with him a little bit. All three of those guys would’ve been great football coaches, too. They’re great guys.”
The part from this that stood out to me, or intrigued me was him saying that meeting Tony LaRussa as one of the thrills of his life.  It reminds me of how ‘everyman’ Kirk has always seemed to be, which fits in so perfectly for the job he has in a state that is full of hard working ‘everymen’.  This was not the end of his baseball talk.  He went on and on, talking about his favorite player (Roberto Clemente) and how he will never forget where he was when he learned about his tragic death.
FERENTZ ON CHANGE.  This question and answer is chock full of talking points:
Q: How much do you feel like you’ve changed over the years? I think the speculation outside is Kirk Ferentz is conservative with play-calling, stubborn, doesn’t want to change with the times, things like that. How much of a misperception is that?

Ferentz: I think everybody evolves. In any profession, you have to do it. You know, we work with a young population and particularly in recruiting, things change and have changed just really dramatically. You have to evolve. I don’t know if you change because you don’t want to lose, I don’t think … not that you don’t constantly evaluate your core beliefs, but I don’t want to change those everyday. I don’t think you always want to change your identity. But things evolve and things change each week and all those types of things. But you know, I would just suggest this: Not to make this too general, but in sports, when you’re winning, whatever you’re doing is pretty good and when you’re losing, whatever you’re doing is the reason you’re losing.   So it really kind of boils down to that. You know, whether a coach is stoic or demonstrative on the sidelines for instance, if that coach wins, you need to be more stoic and that’s the answer. Or if you’re a very demonstrative coach, ‘Hey, that’s why that team’s winning. The coach is very demonstrative.’ And then when you lose, it’s exactly the opposite.

You know, it’s interesting. If you watch NFL teams and they fire coaches, which happens, you know, 6-10 times every year, if you read the stories, typically, you know, ‘We need a player’s coach.’ So they hire a player’s coach and then two years later when they go to the next guy, ‘Hey we need a guy that’s stern.’ You can write the scripts and the bottom line is there’s a lot more upside when you’re winning. Everybody’s happier and everything you’re doing looks a lot better. Case in point, up-tempo offenses, spread offenses, that’s what you got to do. So ironically, that in our first championship game in the history of the Big Ten, you’ve got two teams that didn’t get the memo. ‘Oh my gosh, how did that happen?’ We’ve had two teams go to the Rose Bowl, or emerge as championship teams out of the Big Ten championship game, that didn’t get the memo. ‘How could that be?’ So it’s simple as you got to do what you do and do it well.

The takeaway:  Some 0f what is said on message boards or call in radio shows gets back to Ferentz, somehow.  That, and he’s right and summed up the human condition as it relates to fandom.

PRIVATE EYES:  I will leave you with this exchange…

Question: I know you’re not out on social media…
FERENTZ:  How do you know that?

Thanks for reading, Kirk.




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