Ferentz Prepares for Strangest Season Yet

October 12, 2020

Written by Rick Brown

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Successful football coaches are creatures of habit. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is no exception.

There’s a routine to their life as predictable as the four seasons: spring practice, recruiting, strength and conditioning, fall camp, the regular season, a bowl game, more recruiting and speaking engagements, and then another spring practice.

But 2020 has turned Ferentz’s comfort zone upside-down. And he’s not alone.

The COVID-19 pandemic took spring practice and face-to-face recruiting off the table. Then came charges of racial injustice in the program in June. The lingering pandemic cancelled the season in August, followed by a Big Ten mulligan in September.

“It’s just..it’s been strange,” Ferentz said at the program’s football media day last week at Kinnick Stadium. “Everybody’s world got rocked, obviously. I think first and foremost there are a lot bigger issues than football that have been more prominent in our country’s existence. And the work that people have been doing in the medical
fields, just absolutely amazing, non-stop. So that kind of puts it all in perspective. Football is really important to all of us certainly, but I think we all realize it’s not life and death.”

Ferentz is now preparing his 22nd Hawkeye team for a nine-game schedule starting later this month. This provides a touch of normalcy after nine months of anything but.

“There hasn’t been any normal in terms of routine or structure in that way,” Ferentz added. “And really for the last couple of weeks we just kind have been taking it a couple of days at a time…three-day block, four-day block…trying to measure out where we’re at and then what are intelligent steps to take moving forward.”

Spring practice has always been an important link in the chain. It gives the coaching staff valuable data on what lies ahead, who can fill vacant positions, who might be better suited in a different position, not to mention the practice reps that are invaluable.

Getting ready for the season ahead in a short window is another challenge, magnified by the lack of work in the spring.

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“It’s been very, very different than anything I’ve ever experienced and I’m sure it’s that way for all of us right now,” Ferentz said. “Our lives have been different. I feel fortunate that we’re actually able to go back to what we do and like to do.”

The football calendar engraved in Ferentz’s brain is something he’ll never take for granted again.

“There are a lot of things that make you really appreciate being able to do what you love doing,” he said. “And this has been maybe as big of an illustration.”

As for the troubling charges if racism in his program, Ferentz was open about the process he’s taken to correct the issues that were exposed. He said his entire staff is committed to doing things right.

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“And one thing about life, we all learn and we all grow, hopefully,” Ferentz said. “And if you’re not, then you’re not really living, in my mind, and you’re not going to survive or do well in life in my personal opinion. So I’m 65, and one thing you learn about life is it’s humbling, the sport’s humbling, what we do can be very humbling. You have to pay attention, you have to listen and then you have to find what works for you.”

Sometimes, following day-to-day routine can lead you to a troubling fork in the road. By all accounts, Ferentz and his staff have addressed the issues head-on and move forward with a better program than the one that existed at the start of June.

As for football, the Hawkeyes have won 47 games since 2015, the most in a five-year period in program history. That includes a 10-3 record last season. Iowa takes a four-game winning streak into the 2020 opener at Purdue.

Those numbers are impressive, but having an improved, unified program away from the football field might be the biggest victory of all.

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As for football, Ferentz has been forced to juke tradition and think outside the box as he prepares for the most unusual season of his career.

“It’s still not the same and it won’t be the same this year, we know that,” Ferentz admits. “We have accepted that.”

His approach these days is to be flexible, make the best of the situation and be smart on a short-term basis.

“It’s good to be back, kind of in a flow, even though it’s a different flow,” Ferentz observed. “But we’re back with our players, that’s the most important thing. We’re back working together and that’s what we all love doing.”

Saturdays that everyone took for granted in the fall will be different as well. No tailgating. No fans in the stands. And not much of a home-field advantage. But the games will count, decided by a series of plays on a 100-yard field.

That’s football.

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