Was I suddenly in the bizarro world of the Tuesday Kirk Ferentz press conference? This had to be a parallel universe in which the question was asked. No way was it reality.
Question: Could what Coach (Ron) Zook has done at Illinois be held up as sort of a blueprint for the one or two Hawk fans that appear to be near the ledge as to what can happen?
Ferentz: I don't know. I think we're just trying to follow the blueprint we've been using. It worked pretty well in the past. I don't think there's anything wrong with our blueprint.
All that can be said is “WOW.” What in the Wide, Wide World of Sports is going on around here?
Unfortunately, it was a bizarre inquiry, but all too real. It was asked of Ferentz in his press conference Tuesday in preparation of the Illini coming to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.
Zook has taken his team from the depths of the Big Ten basement to a first place tie with Ohio State at 3-0 in the league. Ferentz rebuilt the Hawkeyes into a Big Ten power with two conference championships and three Top 8 national finishes from 2002-04.
Iowa has fallen on hard times of late. Last year brought a 6-7 record and a 2-6 Big Ten mark. It’s currently on an eight-game conference skid after losing 27-7 at Penn State last weekend.
The natives are getting restless. Media and fans want answers. A stop on our Hawkeye Nation message boards will confirm this.
On a Monday night sports talk radio show on which yours truly is a panelist, a caller questioned the media’s ability to ask the coach tough questions for fear of losing their spots in the buffet line. Well, the food isn’t that good, and if you’ve been paying attention, hard questions have been asked and will continue to be asked.
At Tuesday’s press conference, most of the issues being heard around town and on the message boards were addressed. He spoke about recruiting, schemes, youth and injuries.
Ferentz has touched on these things before. People that have been waiting for him to change his answers or his approach might want to pack a lunch. This is the same guy that was hired in ’99, a calmness in the storm.
This will not be an attempt to belittle fans who vent or those folks who want changes, demand changes. People are entitled to their opinions, and you’re reading some of mine.
As a public service, I would like to supply Ferentz quotes to some frequently raised questions and comments being posed on Hawkeye Nation and beyond
So, here we go:
Q: Last season (2006) lent itself to a lot of arm-chair quarterbacking. Iowa needs to change its scheme. The game has passed Norm Parker by. Things like that. I’m not sure you hear or listen to that stuff, but do you guys look to tweak things? What changes do you make going into this season?
A: Anytime you have success, whatever you’re doing is great. That’s coaching 101. When you hit a little turbulence, the first thing people want to do…it’s either scheme, quarterback, whatever it may be. There’s always going to be a target. I’m not Pop Warner, but I’ve been at this a while. That’s just the way it goes. It’s so predictable. We didn’t approach (the offseason) any differently than we ever have every year, 2002, 2004, last year or 1999. We always go back and study our system. We always do research on other people and find out what we can do to tweak our system to help our production and also tweak our system to help our personnel. We’re pretty convinced our main problems last year were based on execution and attitude. That’s probably what needed more tweaking than anything. So, will we do some things differently this year? Yeah. We have a pretty stable foundation. That’s been our goal since Day 1.
Q:I think it was a few years ago when Green Bay drafted better corners to deal with Randy Moss. Each year there seem to be more spread offenses, like Minnesota switching to that this season. Do you guys do things to try to counter that?
A: That’s the flavor of the day right now. It gets down to you can never be too athletic on defense. There was a run on big receivers for awhile. That became an issue. But you can never be too athletic on the defensive side of the ball. It’s easier said than done. We said that in the ‘80s, too. At the end of the day, it’s gets down to whatever it is you’re doing and whoever you’re doing it with they have to use great technique and they have to use great effort and great consistency. That’s still the bottom line.
Q: Has the game passed Norm (Parker) by?
A: I don’t think it has. If you talk to people that know the business, nobody else seems to think it has either. Norm is an outstanding football coach. Norm is as current as anybody in the country. He works extremely hard at it. We all talk to people that we respect for ideas and what have you. But to just change a scheme or to change an approach, you know…and I’ll say this. I’ve never been totally hung up on that we have to be a four-man line or a three-man line and all that stuff. You do what’s best with your personnel.
Q: Another one that pops up a lot is that Kirk doesn’t play young players. There are fans out there convinced that you had a Big Ten championship team on the bench last year. What do you say to that one?
A: Yeah, I agree and disagree. As I said last fall, we are all in agreement now. It’s a fair statement now in that it probably detracted from our special teams play. It was mainly because in years past we’ve had some older guys that have really stepped up. This was probably most reminiscent to me of 2001. We had some holes in our special teams. In other years, we’ve had guys emerge as great stories. We fell a little short. The thing that I probably learned from last year was that we probably should have or could have dipped into our freshmen class maybe to supplement that. As far as playing extensively offensively and defensively, I’m not sure that was it outside of the guys that did play. You look at a guy like A.J. Edds, he didn’t start last year but he’ll play better this year because he worked as a No. 2 last year.
Q: When you're out recruiting, do players nowadays look at the school, the coach, the program, or the system?
A: It depends on the player. I think first and foremost, maybe as important as anything, if it's not one of the "elite" schools, if everybody was honest, it probably gets down to how their playing time might shake out. That might be as important t as anything. That'd be a starting point. We all have our preferenc3es. Personalities of the program, all the Big Ten schools are pretty good academically.
Q: Where does the system fall in there?
A: I'm not sure. It probably depends. A receiver probably wants to hear 3 wide or 4 wide. That might be a fair statement. Ironically, one of the better guys we've had here was Dominique Douglas, who really went unknown. (Ed) Hinkel, kind of the same way, he wasn't a big recruit but ended up having a pretty good career. A lot of that stuff, for some players, that is important. Others, it's not so important. It's more about how I fit in the system. You could be a team that plays 1 receiver, but if that guy is the receiver you throw to 25 times a game, which is what everyone is selling in recruiting, they still may be interested.
Q: Is it fair that some people hold such high expectations for the program in part because of how well you're compensated?
A: I think there's a certain percentage of the population that would. I knew that when I signed the contract. I knew that for a certain segment, it would be a factor. It's part of the territory.
Q: Because you are highest paid Big Ten coach, do you feel more pressure because of that?
A: I would like to think that I have done my job the same way from day one until today. I worked 20 months without a contract to start with. Now, I have a contract that I am grateful for. I try to coach the same way I always have. I am proud of that. I was raised right.
All of the above questions have been asked of Ferentz since the Big Ten media days in Chicago. I found plenty of others throughout my research for this piece.
I’d suggest reading today’s On The Side. Ferentz touches a lot on recruiting. And you go back and read his press conferences from the last year, you’ll find that he’s saying the same thing, staying on his message.
I’m not sitting here trying to defend the media against those saying it doesn’t ask the tough questions. Some folks will believe what they want to believe during times likes this and many of them want a pound of flesh from everybody around the program. I understand that.
I just hope these handful of these questions and answers illustrate that many of your wishes are falling in deaf ears over at the Iowa Football Complex.
Ferentz believes in Norm and his other assistants, he has tunnel vision when it comes to running his program in that he won’t compromise his beliefs and ways of doing things.
It’s fine to vent and add your two cents, but know that it’s not upsetting the apple cart inside the Hawkeye facilities. They might tweak things, but on a whole, this is how they do business.