Ferentz Under Siege

January 30, 2011

Written by Jon Miller

Jon Miller

Kirk Ferentz has been under siege for the past four days, and it’s tough to watch, or read.  At least, it is for me.

Given the response to national columns and opinions as well as some locally, other Iowa fans don’t care for it, either.

I don’t know their reasons or rationale and can only express mine, which is what I am about to do.

First, I don’t think Kirk Ferentz is some sort of lower case ‘g’ god.  He’s just a guy; a flawed human like the rest of us.  I don’t know Kirk personally but I know several folks who have a personal relationship with Ferentz, people who have gotten to know him a great deal away from the cameras and sidelines.

I also don’t think he’s perfect or beyond reproach, the same as any man.  I didn’t see eye to eye with his decision to leave Adam Robinson in the game in the fourth quarter of Iowa’s game against Michigan State this year that resulted in Robinson getting a concussion, I openly spoke about how I felt he underutilized Derrell Johnson-Koulianos in his career and thought their ‘issues’ had more to do with a generation gap than anything else and I have recently stated my opinions on how his not being at a press conference this week was not the best idea from a symbolic perspective.  Those are just a few of the criticisms I have offered up over his career at Iowa, and I have been covering Iowa football since the day he arrived in Iowa City.

I will also grant you that there aren’t but a handful of other instances or issues where I have been critical of Ferentz.  For those who want to say I will never criticize him, you are wrong because words like ‘never’ are easy to deconstruct.  However, it’s fair to say I am slow to be critical because of his track record with me and what I have observed through the years.

That latter point is why it does bother me to some extent, seeing Ferentz’s name get dragged through the mud by some in the national media as well as some in the Iowa media.  I certainly can’t and won’t tell another person how to do their job.  Everyone has a different style, none of which is truly right or wrong.

The sentiment I am most bothered by is the one painting Ferentz as someone that doesn’t care for his players, or as a man who is not concerned about their well being.

That’s a load of hot garbage and I don’t mind saying so.

As Marc Morehouse of The Gazette pointed out this week, whenever you see Ferentz break down on camera in post game interviews, it’s typically when his players are mentioned.  I know enough former Iowa players, some of them well, to know how much they care and respect their former coach because of the care and investment he has made in their lives and continues to make in their lives.  When they need something from Kirk, he is still there for them.

The job I have allows me to come into contact with hundreds if not thousands of Iowa fans each year, either on the message boards, via email, about town or other venues and situations.  I cannot count the number of emails or stories I have been told by strangers that have been touched by Kirk Ferentz.  I would guess to have received 20-plus emails through the years from families that Ferentz has impacted.  People that had a family member in a bad way health wise, people that lost a family member to a disease that needed some sunlight brought into their lives…Kirk Ferentz was there for them, when asked if he could lend a hand.  I have heard even more stories like this from the mouths of strangers, and even more second hand. I have even relayed some requests for people to his secretary. I don’t do this often, I typically tell people how to write the football offices. But in some instances where the heart strings were impossible to ignore, I have passed the messages along. In every instance, that person got back to me telling me how Ferentz had come through for them.

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I have heard numerous stories where Ferentz had been in Des Moines a night earlier at some charity function or cause, having driven himself over, taken the time to lend his name to a cause, and then slipped out of town not looking for any personal glory or attention.  These instances are not covered in the press because Kirk doesn’t want it that way.  He is not a pharisee on a street corner saying ‘look at the good I do’ because then, it’s glory for self.

That’s not how Kirk, nor his wife Mary, live their life.

They live it away from the spotlight whenever possible; they walk the walk privately and have done so for the past 12 years…and likely much longer than that.

Given all of this evidence, all of this consistency of action, all of these humble and mostly silent contributions to the lives of the people in this state, I am all of the sudden supposed to believe that Kirk Ferentz doesn’t care about the players on his team that were admitted to the hospital early last week, the way he is being painted by some in the press?

Not hardly.

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These people don’t remotely know Kirk Ferentz. They don’t have the direct or second hand knowledge that we do as it relates to his character.  Much of it is hit and run, ready, FIRE, aim material.

I am hardly perfect, and I will screw up again.  My criticisms as it related to DJK proved to be hollow a week after I spoke them on ‘Soundoff’.  My 2007 diatribes about Iowa’s offensive philosophy not matching up with its offensive personnel looked pretty foolish in 2008.

But that sort of stuff seems silly in comparison to the situation now facing Ferentz and the kinds of things being said about him.  Kirk Ferentz doesn’t care about the players that were sent to the hospital?  Iowa has some punitive strength and conditioning program all of the sudden, when Kirk’s own son is a member of this program at present and another one of his son’s was a past member of the program?

Do people realize how ridiculous that sounds as they say it or write it?

Yet, the way things were handled this week from a public relations perspective did not do Iowa any favors from the national perspective.  Had they waited one more day and allowed Ferentz to be the representative from the football program that took the dais only to say he could say very little, it would have taken a few arrows out of the quivers of some of the national scribes as it relates to assertions that Ferentz was hiding our, or didn’t care.   I have not nor am I of the opinion that he neccessarily SHOULD have flown back to Iowa City right away.  I understand those that feel that way, but as Biff Poggi said at the press conference, he had spoken with Ferentz at least four or five times since his son Jim was admitted to the hopsital on Monday.  I highly doubt Mr. Poggi was the only parent Kirk spoke with.  Here is a part of Ferentz’s statement released on 1-28:

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“I have been communicating with each student-athlete and their parents, or guardians, since learning they were admitted into the hospital.  Members of the football staff have also been communicating daily with this group.  This communication will continue until each student-athlete is able to resume their academic and athletic commitments.”

Words like ‘each’ and ‘daily’ are absolutes, easy to deconstruct if there is even just one exception.  Words like that should never be thrown around unless they are 100% accurate.  There have been stories where unnamed sources have said some family members lit into Ferentz saying he should have been back in Iowa City the minute he learned that some players were admitted to the hospital.  I can see that, and I can also see that Ferentz was in contact with everyone the minute he found out players were admitted to the hospital.  He said he was and he said that members of the coaching staff had daily contact with this group.

For some, that’s not going to be enough and for some, like Pat Forde of ESPN, it means Ferentz doesn’t care about his players.

That column was the biggest pile of garbage I have seen written about someone of whom I have some level of understanding and it made me fighting mad.  In reading 779 comments from Forde’s column, it seems I am not the only one.

Being that this article isn’t being written on ESPN or CBSSports or another national venue, it likely won’t see the light of day outside of preaching to the choir of Iowa fans.  Not all of those will agree with me and some of them will blast me as a homer.  That being said, most of those people don’t have the access I have had to the program, its past players or the platform to hear from so many people whose lives have been touched by Kirk Ferentz, so please keep that in mind.

Until there is evidence that shows the Iowa football program has acted incompetently and has done so from a positon of premeditated malice or has fostered a dangerous environment or anything of the like, I sure as hell am not going to all of the sudden disregard the consistent actions a man has shown for more than a decade.

At least in this little corner of the world that I occupy, I’ll stand up for the integrity of Kirk Ferentz, even though this evidence will not be heard on any mountaintops.

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