In Part One of a three part transcript of Kirk Ferentz’s time at the interview table from Chicago, he talks a lot about recruiting at Iowa in addition to the three-quarterback race he will oversee in a few weeks.
Q: Are you guys doing any different jerseys this year?
Kirk Ferentz: We are not really planning on it. No. I kind of like our black and gold, get black to looking like we should look, hopefully. There is nothing in the works right now.
Q: You have had a hand in putting together Iowa rosters for 24 years. What is the crux of an Iowa roster? What is your strategy?
Ferentz: It’s true in any program, you have to get players who are going to fit into what it is you are going to ask them to do. That is the key. It is true of any program and probably the biggest thing I learned in the 1980’s was that some schools have certain parameters they use. They have absolutely standards and make few exceptions about size. We don’t have that luxury. You think back to a center like Joel Hilgenberg; he weighed 235 or 240 his senior year and he might be as fine of an offensive lineman as I have ever coached. Mark Sindlinger might have been six-feet tall. He backed up Hilgy in 1983 as a true freshman and started three years on three very good teams. One thing about coaching is your learn from your players. you fast forward with us in the Orange Bowl in 2002…after we did our first joint press conference, Pete Carroll and I were talking. He was talking about Palamalu being the last guy they took. Pete wasn’t there when Troy came to school. His uncle was on the staff, they had a scholarship pop open late and they drafted him. You had two of the best strong safeties in the last few decades playing in that game with he and Bob Sanders, who wouldn’t pass the size card most places. We can’t be a size or speed team, a combine team. . I think about the Giants in the 1980’s. their defensive linemen looked like offensive linemen. Every team has their personnel quirks. I just saw a film on the Steelers..it was not at our house, as we don’t have the NFL Network at our house, which is a sore subject. We were at one of our kids houses and they had a film on the Steelers defense one of the best of all time. You look at how teams are formed. At Iowa, you need to keep an open mind. It’s more about mentality and personality and perseverance. You have to have requisite skill and ability, but the mental part is more important because it’s a hard race to run. It;s not for everybody.
Q: How much does that color what you do on the field and the players you get. If I recall correctly, you wanted another player and then wound up with Bret Van Sloten. It seems like you can just go find them.
Ferentz: We had our eye on him for some time. Once you meet him and his parents and his sisters happened to be with him the first time I met him, you met the whole family and you knew he was a winner. He is an exceptional young man. I have told people in the private sector that I don’t know when his career will be over, but I would hire him in a heartbeat. If he can’t outsmart you, he will figure out a way to win somehow, someway. He is a tremendous purpose and great student.
Q: Was Iowa his only offer?
Ferentz: I think we were then some other people got involved. With him, it was more about intangibles than anything else. We had heard a lot of good things prior to meeting him. It was kind of like Mike Elgin. that happened later and we were ‘supposed’ to offer him a scholarship, but sitting there with his mom and dad, we couldn’t not offer him.
Q: The theme here seems to be Iowa guys..
Ferentz: Something about them conveys to you that they will find a way to be successful. They did it in the classroom at a really high rate. On the field, they were not the most gifted for athletic of guys, but boy they were determined, smart, physical and tough. Those guys have a chance…they find a way to rise to the top.
Q: You have had some Cadillacs thought…
Ferentz: Adrian developed into one, Christian walked in as one. They don’t walk in here often like that. The bottom line, I learned from our wrestling program in the 1980’s, it’s not where a guy is when he gets here it’s where they are when he leaves. To be a good college football player, it takes a lot. It’s a sacrifice time wise, energy wise. It;s not for everyone. To be really good, you look at Elgin; he carried a 3.85 in Engineering and started three years in the Big Ten. That is not your average bear.
Q: This day and age, do you find four and five star players who are overrated?
Ferentz: All the time. The NFL blows it on draft picks and they have a lot more invested. They get to do a lot more research. They have so much information and they blow it on picks. People change. College aged students change. they change as students, people and athletes. Wherever you may be when you get there, it’s what you do once you get there that determines things. It happens frequently. In basketball vs football, in football you don’t see a guy from Decorah compete against a kid from Chicago or Ohio, because they don’t play them. Decorah doesn’t play St Ignatius in Cleveland. You don’t get that opportunity. Whereas in basketball, you see a kid from a small town compete against a kid from a bigger town. In that sport, you have a chance to make more of an educated projection I guess, as to how a guy will be. But even then, Drew Ott when he came to our camp a year ago, June, 14 months ago, I think we had offered him. We really liked him, but he got destroyed in our camp. But no kidding, you weight 207 pounds, would you mind getting in a three-point stance and going against a tackle. No kidding. We put him in an uncomfortable position and he didn’t look good, but he showed up last year and worked hard every day and the reasons we thought he would be a good player, we saw that every day last year and he is not 207 pounds anymore. We made that projection and they are not always right. Just like Ike Boettger, he is a quarterback in camp and we asked him to put shoulder pads on and blocked and he looked terrible, but he ran like AJ Edds. We do more projecting. There are ten schools in the country where you can pick guys. There is nothing wrong with that, that would be OK. But they don’t all pan out.
Q: Could you coach them?
Ferentz: I think I could coach anywhere, but I like where I am at.
Q: I think you like that challenge.
Ferentz: It’s a part of our challenge. The guys we are talking about, Bob Sanders, Nelson, Clark, those guys were fun to coach. Someone made a point yesterday about a walk on carrying something extra throughout their careers…same way with someone injured…they have a different appreciation for being healthy than someone who has never missed time. Those things can be advantages. I don’t pretend to know all of our wrestlers, but talking to the Brands’ and Dan (Gable), it sounds like they have had a lot of guys who have done their best wrestling in college. That is the whole idea of anything you do in collegiate sports; a guy improving, striving to push his boundaries and seeing how good he can be. You can get some unique stories
Q: What is the verbal clock now like what it was in 80’s and 90’s
Ferentz: Back in the 1980’s, early verbal commitments came much later, as a rule. you might have a guy who grew up in Iowa City and wanted to play at Iowa his whole life, but as a rule everything happened so much later. It wasn’t always peaches and cream then, either. Those were the days of four or five coaches sitting in a kid’s house on signing day. I remember spending at least four days in Marceline, Missouri…myself and another coach. It was comical…we were at an eight unit hotel, it was like spy vs spy for the first day…but after a few days we were eating every meal together, thinking “will this kid make his mind up?” I bought two shirts at the Marceline clothing store because I ran out of clothes. He didn’t come to our place and a year and a half later he called and wanted to transfer to Iowa and we said thanks but no thanks. That was in late January. I could have been home with the wife and kids. It’s never been perfect. With earlier commitments, there will be more decommitments That stands to reason. Consumers have all the rights. It’s true in recruiting, too.
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Q: You talk about a leap of faith in recruiting..as the commitment clock accelerates, does that leap gets larger?
Ferentz: As coaches, you have to be careful about writing it down in ink. Where it really gets tricky…lets say a quarterback would commit to you and you are not 100% sure he is totally committed..it gets tricky to try to recruit other ones. It’s a new dimension that has been added to the game. It is interesting. Things can happen. teams have bad seasons, a guy might jump off the ship. Coaches change jobs frequently and guys might jump off the boat then. It will be a fluid process, but that is a good reason for early signing period. Everyone in our conference is totally in favor of that.
Q: Do kids want that?
Ferentz: Why wouldn’t they? It’s an industry now. This is hard for anyone to deal with. Flattery and attention is nice but it can affect people. Parents have most definitely changed. Any high school coach would tell you that who has been in it for 20 years. Any high school teacher would tell you that…any teacher, any level. The world is different. There is a lot more…it’s all about me kind of stuff. That is the world we live in, too. If you are involved in team sports, that is one of the challenges you have in coaching.
Q: Is that more of parents wanting their kids to star, they’ve invested a lot of money in the process?
Ferentz: Best way I could say it, there was a time recently where I would tell you most playres if you give them truth syrum and read their minds, they want to know when they would hit the field and how much will they play and where will they end up. taht is what they were thinking. You could count on the parents to ask about the education, what are the graduation rates, etc. Parents are still saying that, but there are a lot of them more inetersted in the playing ttime than education, and that is just my opinion and in generalities. There has been a shift. There is ore ‘what is in it for my son as a player’. We should all be interested in careers, but there is so much more involved here.
Q: Do you have to be more careful with projections?
Ferentz: They don’t all work out. I would counter it and say…I can’t compare percentages but when you draft first rounders, sometimes they don’t work out, either. A lot of them can disappoint you. My second year in Cleveland, we drafted a linebacker at 19. He wasn’t on the roster two years later and wasn’t a good special teams player. The one thing in the NFL, when you draft a first rounder the one rule is they better play. If you want the owners to be patient with you and believe in you, they are not happy when first rounders don’t play. that happens a lot. In our case, we are further down the line in development. Sometimes kids peak earlier and things like that. There are a lot of variables. I just read an article recently, I think they had a series on the basketball draft, recruiting classes from the last 15 years, it’s amazing how many of those guys you never hear of and they were can’t miss coming out of high school. There is no fool proof system. No 100 percent. When Christian Ballard came in, he could have gone anywhere in the country. Adrian didn’t have that chance, he was more of a Midwest recruit. Four years later, Adrian is a 1st round draft pick. Riley Reiff, Nebraska hit him late. He wasn’t heralded and if he would have stayed he would have been a top five pick. He still made a good decision to go, I am not saying that. There is no absolute.
Q: You know the players you can and can’t get. When you meet the parents, how much of that goes into the decision?
Ferentz: When we came here 14 years ago, we had a good idea of who and what we wanted to be and how we wanted to do it. That hasn’t changed much.
Q: What shaped that?
Ferentz: 30 some years of coaching….
Q: But at Iowa, when you came here as a head coach, you knew what the challenges were here, the kind of players you could get…
Ferentz: In general terms, I will double talk here a little bit…we have not had an extraordinary about of NFL receivers. In the 1980’s we didn’t have any NFL backs or D-linemen, but we have a lot of guys in the NFL now who have been in the secondary or defensive line. There are certain things we thought were important and certain things you look for in players. The bottom line, we know we are not going to start on the inside lane year in and year out. That is not how we are. Maybe there were some exceptions in the 1950’s. you know where you are going to start, so you have to figure out how you are going to get to the front of the pack.
Q: Was this a longer out of season? Do you look harder at things, any bullet points you wanted to change?
Ferentz: I don’t know if it was longer. I guess it was, because we had a lot of free time in December and January relative to things I would normally be doing. We did our player personnel evaluations prior to Christmas last year and you don’t do that when you are in a bowl game. Everything got moved up a little bit. We tried to pretty retrospective on everything we do, every segment of the program. I think the clear thing we had to do was what factored into our lack of success you can’t do anything about and what are the things you can do something about and spend your time there.
Q: You have said Greg Davis will be a better Iowa coach this year. What does that mean?
Ferentz: We had two transitions, with Norm and Ken leaving. The difference being that Phil was already in the program. He knew the program and payers and we didn’t wholesale changes things defensively. That was a modest transition as opposed to Greg not knowing anyone; the players, the staff. Things were moving faster. I was committed to not wholesale…a very high percentage going his direction, with the terminology and all that stuff. So there was a lot of learning and teaching going on. That was traumatic for everyone, coaches included. Those of us who had been here, it was all new. Brian hadn’t been there, and it was all new to him too. This year, we are all a little more comfortable with everything and Greg is more comfortable with our personnel with what we can do and can’t do. that will show up. Greg is an excellent coach, teacher and human being. He fits the profile of the guys we have had as coaches and coordinators. He is right in there with the class of people we have.
Q: Chuck Long brought up a point yesterday, bringing Bobby Kennedy in, someone Greg knows, could make a world of difference.
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Ferentz: They are not quite like a married couple, but it’s close. They go back and forth pretty well. There is a real comfort level. That is what happens when you are with someone you have been with for a long time. They have a great relationship. That is an advantage.
Q: What do you see as Chris White’s secret in recruiting right now? He has been away from game a few years and has hit the ground running.
Ferentz: I am smiling..he has a great personality. I am laughing at a text he sent out on his first or second day of vacation. It centered around a lobster they were getting ready to eat…but anyway.
Q: I think he tweeted that picture
Ferentz: That was a classic. I have a flip phone, so I was trying to figure out what it was. I did see it on an iphone, transferred it over. I was entertained. He has a great personality. He is a real intelligent guy. Our players have taken to him very quickly and that is our backs as well as the guys involved ins special teams. They enjoy his demeanor and it seems like some have been receptive to him as well.
Q: Are you surprised to see recruits committing without a campus visit?
Ferentz: yeah, that is concerning, too. What if they show up and don’t like it? I think we have given them a good framework. When I came out there in 1981, they used to have the college blue book. What I knew about Iowa was a lousy record and the head coach was a square jawed ex-Marine from Texas. that is what I knew about Coach Fry, because the blue book said it. I got a haircut and a tie and came out and interviewed. Now, there is so much information out there so it can happen more. Kids didn’t commit early back in the 80’s and 90’s. They didn’t get an offer from Coach Fry until the end of the weekend. The dating stuff is gone, this is all mail order stuff now.
Q: You seem to place an emphasis of the student in student athlete, you have a few guys here taking summer classes..how much pride do you take in your program’s graduation rates?
Ferentz: I was talking with Bret Van Sloten yesterday. Both of those guys were studying in the car and they were studying yesterday morning. People throw numbers out in recruiting visits and people don’t check the numbers. I’ve told a few young people that they might be talking about their women’s basketball team, but I know their football numbers. We are really proud of what our guys do. Our players get great support when they get on campus from the get go. We think it’s important. I have had three kids in the program. The most lasting accomplishment a player will achieve in college is to get a degree. Football will end at some point but that degree is there for a lifetime. In this day and age, if a player doesn’t get a degree it’s because he chose not to. That is where coaches and support folks have to step in, because when you are 22 years old that is not #1 on your list, but we have to emphasize that. That being said, there will always be a player or two who chooses not to finish. It’s sad, but you hope they come back at some point. Dallas came back after they won the Super Bowl and got his degree after the Super Bowl. Andre Tippett did it, Mike Titley did it too. He was doing well in his professional life, but he had a young family and he didn’t want to be a hypocrite with his kids. He came back and got it. Those are good examples of the way things should be done.
Q: There are three QB’s in the running here. Have you thought about practice structure and how you want to let them have the same looks and all that?
Ferentz: That is what we did in the spring. Everyone got an equal opportunity, good and bad. What I mean there, a mix of first team and third team. We will start out that way. There is no blueprint for this thing. You have to be fair to the players in the competition and fair to the team. My suspicion is things will look a little different in August than they did in April. The entire team will. We assess that as fast as we can and work it accordingly. Having three in the race, it’s not easy. It’s easier with two, but that is not the case.
Q: What do you expect to see from them?
Ferentz: 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.
Q: Does that include wide receiver?
Ferentz: I am including everything. Still our biggest question marks outside of QB is our receiver position. We are young, we don’t have the depth or the firepower we need. But the good news is we have a fairly veteran line, a group of tight ends that are veteran and runnings backs we didn’t have last year. there is a chance on the whole to have a better starting point than we had last year.
NOTE: These transcripts were a collaborative effort between Marc Morehouse of The Gazette, Brendan Stiles of Hawkeyedrive.com and me.