IOWA CITY, Iowa - You can call him Consistent Kirk. Iowa's Coach Ferentz likes the routine that has served him well during his 15 years running the Hawkeye program.
Last year at this time, Ferentz opened spring practice focused on player improvement. The Hawkeyes were coming off a 4-8 season that led to some in the fan base and media to question whether or not the Dean of Big Ten coaches had it anymore. He didn't flinch.
Ferentz was pointed in the same direction Wednesday while kicking off spring ball 2014 here at the Hayden Fry Football Complex. Good or bad, win or lose, he builds his teams through a process starting when the previous season concludes. He aims to do more with less through development.
Proving the doubters wrong with last fall's 8-4 mark wasn't going to win any games this upcoming season. The opposite record the year before didn't define the Hawkeyes.
"Last year was a positive step, for sure. And it was disappointing two years ago. We moved on and went back to work was kind of our theme. And really that's what we have to do now," Ferentz said.
"The games we won last year, with a lot of close victories, but those things can turn so quickly. You look at the NCAA basketball stuff, too, it's such a fine line, I think in most college sports right now, that you've got to start first things first. We have a lot of work to do with this team right now to even think about taking on our schedule right now. So we've got to focus on that," Ferentz said.
The Hawkeyes leaned on a stingy defense led by three senior linebackers (Christian Kirksey, James Morris and Anthony Hitchens) in '13. Nobody could say for sure on Wednesday how that trio would be replaced. All-Big Ten cornerback B.J. Lowery, three-year starting free safety Tanner Miller, dangerous red zone tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and rock solid right tackle Brett Van Sloten also finished up their eligibility in January's Outback Bowl.
"It's going to be fun to see who emerges. We have a lot of guys that are trying to grab the wheel a little bit and take that role. It will be we'll know a lot more after 15 workouts. It's something we're looking forward to seeing," Ferentz said.
The Hawkeyes embark on the spring with the same coaching staff it employed the previous season for the first time in three years. The continuity could help in developing replacements for the outgoing talent.
"Philosophically, I don't think we're looking for our identity," Ferentz said. "We have a good idea of who we are and what we want to do. To keep everybody in the coaching staff and support staff being on the same page, we're here to try to help (the players) get some things accomplished."
One thing that is different between last spring and this one is how people on the outside view Iowa. With last year's success comes expectations that weren't there a year ago. That's a different dynamic.
While the staff could motivate with players being home for bowl season in '12, coaches now must convince them that it will take even more work to continue progressing.
"The good news is we have an opportunity, I think it's been that way most years since I've been here, we've had an opportunity to have a good football team. But the important thing for our players is to understand we've got a lot of work to do. There's nothing we can assume," Ferentz said.
MEDICAL REPORT: The Hawkeyes appear healthy heading into spring drills.
"Nothing really dramatic. Injury wise have a couple of guys with nagging stuff," Ferentz said. "Some guys are limited, but still be out there working, at least."
QUICK-HITTERS: Ferentz said that some of the redshirt freshmen could be involved in the return game…There weren't any position changes of note, the coach said…Michael Malloy, a redshirt freshman running back from Sioux City, has left the team, Ferentz said. Malloy sat out all of last season and never played a down for the Hawkeyes…Iowa will hold a coaches clinic this weekend during which former Penn State and current Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien with be the headliner…Ferentz said there hasn't been any discussion about moving members from his deep stable of running backs to another position.