Howe: Iowa Football Alumni Invaluable Resource for Creating Change

July 23, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Head coach Kirk Ferentz has described not understanding the magnitude of racial bias allegations in his Iowa Football program as a “blind spot.” The soon-to-be 65-year old felt his program was healthy when offseason training concluded in March.

The dean of college coaches, a man in charge for the last 21 seasons, learned during the last year and a half that everything was not OK. First came a diversity task force report with Black student-athletes asking for change early last year. When not enough was done in their minds, they took to social media last month demanding progress.

They have Ferentz’s attention now. He’s listening. He’s learning. And there are no better teachers out there than his former and current student-athletes.

These guys intimately understand the program’s inner workings and what would make for a more inclusive environment. Combining that with Ferentz’s football knowledge and ability to develop players on the field creates the potential for a model program.

The student-athletes still can benefit from the coach’s disciplined approach and attention to details. Football fundamentals continue mattering a great deal. This isn’t a call for players being allowed to do whatever they want.

Ferentz stated that the approach must be demanding without demeaning. Up until now, the line between the two has been too blurry.

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The newly formed advisory committee of former players can better educate the coach on differentiating between demanding and demeaning. Those guys have a unique and valuable perspective.

Iowa did well in picking David Porter as committee chair. The former Hawkeye offensive lineman from early in Ferentz’s coaching tenure has built a successful real estate company in Chicago. As he told HN in a recent podcast, he was committed to creating a network of former Iowa players supporting each other before recent events.

What’s been brought to light has rallied and galvanized Hawkeye football alumni perhaps more than any other event. While discussions between the former players during the past month and a half have been uncomfortable and heated at times, it’s become clear and should be no surprise that these men have committed to helping.

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Ferentz’s resources here stretch well beyond the advisory committee. That group is connecting with hundreds of former Hawkeyes reaching back through the decades, collecting input on how to make Iowa Football the best it can be.

Anybody who truly cares for the program should want that. For all that Ferentz has put on his resume, the school’s all-time winningest coach can add an accomplishment worthy of topping that docket – Flipping an environment that felt oppressive for some players into an inclusive one for all of them.

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It won’t happen overnight. Several current student-athletes who have spoken out publicly recently are encouraged by changes made to date. A open discussion about anthem protests that occurred recently probably doesn’t happen before last month.

The cultural shift needed here is foundational. Based on beliefs and perceptions of Black student-athletes revealed in the diversity task force report, Ferentz and his staff must alter their way of thinking when it comes to these players. That mindset can become deeply ingrained over the years.

Should Ferentz and his coaches be provided the opportunity to fix Iowa Football? That’s not for any of us outside the program to decide. Let the alumni and current players answer that question. They have the clearest lens and can provide the most help.

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