In my near decade of covering Iowa Hawkeye athletics, I don’t know that I have come across a more unique athlete than former Hawkeye quarterback Drew Tate.
Unique is a word that carries both positive and negative connotations. When I use the word in this instance, it’s that uniqueness stands out above the crowd.
Drew Tate certainly stood out above the crowd during his Iowa playing career.
On the field, he helped lead Iowa to a Big Ten championship in what has been my all time favorite Iowa football season, that magical year of 2004. A team decimated by injuries that changed some things on the fly and went 7-1 en route to an unexpected title.
That same team won the 2005 Capital One Bowl in dramatic fashion. Tate to Holloway is Iowa’s version of Tinker to Evers to Chance. It’s one of the three most dramatic on-field moments in Hawkeye football history.
Though Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz has said repeatedly that one or two plays doesn’t win or lose a football game, a man can still point to two plays during the 2005 season that spelled the difference between another 7-1 co-championship and 9-2 record, or the 7-4 regular season mark that team wound up with.
Narrow is the margin between football immortality and what people perceive as being an average year.
Drew Tate finished his Iowa career with over 8,000 yards passing and 61 touchdown passes. Both marks are number two all time in Hawkeye history. Tate’s career numbers put him among the Top 10 all time in Big Ten history in most of the critical passing statistics. He helped lead Iowa to 21 wins.
He played football with an unquenchable fire to win. At times, that fire spilled over into an area that had some wondering if such outward displays of emotion was unhealthy for team chemistry. I must include myself in that category.
But no one ever questioned his desire to win.
Last week, Drew Tate’s name surfaced in a pair of articles in the state of Iowa. One was published in the Quad City Times, the other published in the Des Moines Register. Click on the links to read each article, if you haven’t already.
I emailed Tate last week after reading both articles, for an interview request. I made sure to say in that email that I had been critical of Drew for his on field displays of emotion during his career. I felt that it was only fair to be honest about it if he was going to consider speaking with me frankly and on the record.
On Friday, Tate, and those closest to him, were wary of his giving another interview, because they felt as though Drew’s feelings on several topics were misrepresented in one of the stories that went to press last week. I respected that and figured the interview was not going to happen.
On Saturday, when I arrived at my office at Clear Channel in Des Moines, preparing to do the ‘Soundoff’ radio program on 1040 WHO, I had a note from Drew Tate in my inbox.
He was the first person to email me after Iowa had just beaten Illinois, and I must have received close to 100 before the day was finished.
The note said, in part, “I am very glad that Iowa won. That was huge.” And he also said that he would grant the interview request.
So what follows is what came from my interview with Drew Tate, former Iowa quarterback, and to put it in his words, “the biggest Iowa football fan that I can think of.”
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Q: I have read both of your interviews from last week. Let’s start with the Register. I don’t know how the interview went, because I was not in on the conversation. But based on what you have told me, you didn’t feel like the portrayal of your words was entirely in synch with what you said. That is your opinion on the matter, and you were on one end of the telephone. Did your quotes convey what it was you intended, or how would you explain it?
Drew Tate: I would say that it was unfortunate on how it was put out there. My intent going in was not what was delivered publicly. If you remember before the Alamo Bowl, these guys interviewed me after practice, and I guess there was some controversy from what I said about Iowa (the ‘Corn Stocks’ comment). But they didn’t put out everything I said. It would have been better understood and taken differently than it was.
Q: I know this is a sports cliché, but being in the business of giving opinions and quotes on occasion, I know that it can happen; Do you feel like you were taken out of context?
Tate: Definitely. These were two similar instances, this recent article and the one last year. It’s unfortunate. Maybe I should have been smarter and just not put myself in that situation.
Q: Do you feel that those quotes, as they were printed, were a complete and accurate portrayal of the discussion and everything you talked about?
Tate: It was selective. Just like before the Alamo Bowl. On some of the quotes, they didn’t put all of my answer to their questions. It was unfortunate. The Quad City writer and I were on the same page, we knew what we talked about and that was a good article. I am probably the biggest Hawkeye fan that I can think of right now. I don’t get to watch much, and the only game I had seen this year was the Penn State game and that was when he (Register reporter) talked to me, so I was frustrated for the coaches and players on offense. It probably wasn’t the best time for me to be talking. What I see is what I read on the computer and some highlights.
But what I saw from this past week, I think it was the biggest win for Iowa since 2005 when we beat Wisconsin in Madison. I think that with the young players that they have, this is a confidence booster. There hasn’t been much success in the past year, and all you need is something like this and that can go a long way as far as effort, work ethic and stuff like that. This is what you need. It only takes a game like this to jump start something. When I was a sophomore, our seventh game was at Penn State and it was 6-4. That was an emotional win because of Coach Ferentz’s father. I remember the five games after that, we played our best football as a team the rest of the season and into the bowl game. I don’t see why this team can’t do the same thing. I saw that they said that Coach Ferentz teared up after this game. I can understand that, because of the circumstances, from all of the criticism about the coaches, schemes and players. It was great to beat a team that was ranked, and the way they beat them was Iowa football.
They ran the ball effectively, they threw the ball accurately, played great defense and didn’t turn the ball over. That is what Iowa’s system is based on. When Coach Ferentz said last week that they were not going to change, that is what Iowa is about. Run the ball, throw it accurately, don’t turn it over and play great defense. All of these people talk about schemes. In the (Register) article, they asked me to comment on schemes. I am not going to do that. Iowa is Iowa; that is the way they are built. They are built to play like they did last week, not put up 40 points a game, or go through a shootout in a game or be down three touchdowns and come back. That is not how Iowa is built, they are built the way they won on Saturday.
Q: You mention the ‘schemes’ aspect of that article. Hearing how you said this right now, there is a different connotation than how I read it last week. When I read it last week, not having heard the conversation, it sounded like you were being critical of Iowa’s schemes. What I hear you saying is that is who Iowa is, and it’s not a bad thing?
Tate: Exactly. It’s also the way Iowa loses, too. Iowa is not built to score 40 points a game. And that is OK. We have won a lot of games, too.
Q: Has there been any fallout with regards to your relationships with the Iowa coaches and these comments?
Tate: Not that I know of. Like I said, it was unfortunate the way it came out, because the way I said it was not like that. My relationships with the coaches, I always loved talking to the coaches. Coach Wilson, Coach Jackson, all of the coaches. All of them. I would think that I still do. I think that they have been around long enough, and they probably know that my intentions did not line up with what was said in the article.
Q: Do you feel that through your time at Iowa that you have been misunderstood? That people really don’t know the real you? I don’t get to know players, so I certainly don’t know you on a personal level, and I am sure that I have probably said a thing or two that had I known you, I might not have said something or I might not have felt a certain way. I guess that is human nature.
Tate: I think so. I love Iowa. I fell in love with Coach Jackson right off the bat. He has a relationship with my father when he was coaching in Iowa, and Coach Jackson was with Coach Fry. Our families have been friends for a long time. Coach Jackson is from Texas. There was always that chemistry there. When I came on my visit, I remember sitting down in the meeting room before going into Coach Ferentz’s office. I fell in love with Coach Ferentz and the way he presents himself. He is a professional and very forward. I liked it all.
Coach O’Keefe, I have always liked him. But the thing that people don’t understand (laughs), is that he is a competitor and I am a competitor. When you put two people like that together, there is going to be some conflict, some differences. I know in my heart, and I know in his heart, that I had his best interest in mind and he had mine.
Do I have anything against Iowa and the fans? Not at all. Our fans are the best fans in the country by far and it’s not even close. I said before, they are the reason we got to the Outback Bowl and the Alamo Bowl. I don’t think that is a secret.
Q: Do you think that is something that people on the outside, like me, the fans who are not on the inside, and all we see is the football games on a Saturday, do you think that is a lack of a depth of knowledge that we should take into consideration more than we do? That we don’t know the dynamic between you and Ken
Tate: Yeah. Like you said, you only see game day. We both had each other’s best interests. The only thing that really destroyed anything about me and the program and chemistry, is that last year, it got to the point where…I have been playing football since I was six years old. I had never been hurt and I have never been on a losing football team. With the injuries and us not winning games, I was not used to that as a player and I know the coaches were not used to that losing, or the rest of the team, at Iowa. It was just a bad time. We didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t cope well with the injury on or off the field, or rather, I didn’t know how to. But then you get into the playing…it got down to the point midway through the season where we had lost a few games, we felt that we had to start winning, we had to start making plays. We didn’t make plays last year. When you are struggling like that as a quarterback, running back or receivers, you force things that you don’t normally do to make plays to win the game because you have that pressure to win.
There were plenty of times where I tried to make plays that I shouldn’t have made or wouldn’t have in the past, just because of what was going on with the season. Eric Page from the Quad City Times, he asked if I was sad on how things ended. It was unfortunate for all of us. We just didn’t know what to do because we had never been in that situation. We had a lot of injuries, but we had a lot of youth at the skill positions on offense. That is always tough. Right now, they have a lot of that too, and that is why they are not explosive on offense yet. That is how things were last year. We kept trying to be (explosive) and we just weren’t.
Q: You talked about your injury, you suffered it in the third week of August with your oblique.
Tate: Yes, that is right.
Q: Were you ever really without pain from that injury.
Tate: The oblique, it went away. The game after Purdue, that was Indiana. It didn’t hurt then, and that was the first time all year. It was completely fine. In my life, I had never missed a practice. I was missing a lot of reps and practice last year due to that injury. Instead of taking 10 reps in 7 on 7’s and 15 reps in team, I was taking zero to eight reps a day. With all due respect to other sports, not practicing in football is a lot different as far as game planning, timing, it is just a lot different. I have played other sports before. Not practicing in football is a little bit harder and anyone would tell you that.
My oblique…I don’t know if you know this or not, but I know that we didn’t know much about it. JP Lohsman from the Bills had one. Albert Pujols had one around that time. Those guys were on a long DL. Four weeks of nothing. I was still doing some things with Coach Doyle, working some parts of my body as opposed to nothing. It was the most painful thing I have ever gone through. When I was dehydrated as a sophomore, that was bad too. We lose the Indiana game, and the next week against Michigan I break my thumb. It was a bad year all around.
Q: You are far away now, in Canada, so one of the ways that you try to keep up with things is the internet. I don’t know if you looked at the message boards when you were a player. How hard is it when you are out there, in the pain that you were in, and also the mental aspects that go along with injuries that people don’t fully appreciate, and pressing on the field because of it trying to make plays… How hard can it be sometimes when the negativity hits you from the outside and you don’t feel that people appreciate how hard it is you are fighting?
Tate: I understand that and see what you are saying, but in realty, and I think Coach Ferentz would say this too; it doesn’t matter what is said outside of the building, it just matters what is said on the inside. But when you are 20 and 21, it’s tough to hear the negativity from the outside. Being a kid and trying to do everything you can and it’s not working, and people don’t understand why. Being a competitor, you want to prove everyone wrong. You know? In reality, the only thing that matters is what is said inside the building. I learned through my experiences; with success, not having success, with the injuries, I have learned how to deal with it. I learned things last year for the rest of my life either playing or coaching, when I get into that, I learned a lot. In college, I was the best thing to ever happen to Iowa at one point and then I went to the biggest meltdown. I have learned from that, and will be better for that in the future playing and/or coaching.
Q: Do you wish that maybe you would have redshirted that first year and had one more year to play?
Tate: I don’t know? It’s hard to say. Right now, I am making money, and the money is pretty good and I am not going to class and I love it. I am going back to class next semester, as I have two classes left. So it’s hard to say, because right now the money is pretty good like I said and I am not going to class. Right now my life is awesome.
But at the time, as a freshman, I wanted to play. What guy doesn’t want to play his first year in college? I talked to Brian Ferentz one time about that. I don’t remember when it was, and I said why didn’t your dad redshirt me? He told me that I was the #2 quarterback, and he said that I needed to get some experience inside Kinnick Stadium. I still remember the first time running out there against Buffalo. I felt that he was right. If I was #2, I needed something in case something had happened to Chandler. Not many people are four year starters. Everything happens for a reason.
Q: 2004 has to seem like a lifetime ago for you. How does that make you feel now thinking of that moment in time now that you are out of college and what it may mean to you when you are 40?
Tate: It’s great to be a part of something like that. At that time, it didn’t hit me, what will it be like in 50 years for the program. But like you said, that was one of the biggest plays in Iowa history, along with the kick in 1985 and Hartlieb to Cook. So I don’t know how people will remember it.
Q: Maybe it’s something you will have to wait until you are 40 to answer?
Tate: That may be. As a player, it’s a different memory than maybe what the fans have. Michael Jordan, he can’t explain hitting a fade away three at the last second to win game six of the finals. He can’t explain it. I don’t know. It was a huge play, it won the game, and it was a big play for history. Maybe ask me in 30 years.
Q: How long have you known that you wanted to be in coaching and why?
Tate: I think since I was six years old. My mom was dating my dad and he was the head coach at Eisenhower in Houston and I was the ball boy. It was a muggy night, there were a lot of people in the stands and I was a young kid running balls in and out and I knew that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Once my mom married my dad, and his being a head coach, just being around football all of the time…watching film with him, practice, games at home and in the office…I played catch with the older guys. Those sorts of things. I really respect the game and how I think it should be played. It’s the only think I know that I am good at, or the only thing I could go into, career wise. I don’t know much of anything else.
Q: When does that start? You are getting a paycheck now. Do you think you will know when it’s time to stop playing and start coaching, and when that day comes who are you going to call?
Tate: I am going to play until no one wants me anymore. If I have a feeling when that day is coming, I will start calling people that I know. I know a lot of coaches in college and that is where I want to start. I was always around my dad when the recruiters would come in, so I know a lot of those guys. Also, the Iowa staff. I would hope if one of them would get a job that they would hire me, but maybe they wouldn’t want anything to do with me (laughs). I am meeting people now in the CFL, I met some people when I was with the Rams. I continue to meet a bunch of college coaches. I think my name, I think a lot of people knew my name in college as far as other coaches. I don’t know where you start or what you get into, but I will start from the ground up.
Q: Now that you are a fan, from afar, and you are following the team mostly online, how has that been for you?
Tate: One thing that really pissed me off is when I read things that say we need to get rid of our coordinators, or play the other quarterbacks and stuff like that. I am speaking as if I was a head coach, which I am not. But, I do know this; when stuff is not going well and you are not doing well, you just don’t start getting rid of people. You don’t start firing your assistants. This has just happened the last year (losing more than winning), from the second half of last year to the first half of this year. You don’t get rid of players or coordinators; you fix the problem. The answer is not firing coordinators. ‘This is what happened, this is how we fix it and that is it.’
Last year, we just turned the ball over on offense way too much. That had nothing to do with schemes, it was me throwing a lot of interceptions, or us not making plays or giving up big plays. You just fix the problem. It always got under my skin when people would say that about Coach Parker or Coach O’Keefe. Iowa is Iowa. They are built a certain way. The way they are built is the way that they played on Saturday and won. The way we played in 2004, 2003 and 2002, and won.
Also, you talk about people want to talk about schemes, there are tons and tons of different schemes. All of them have been proven to be successful at some point. There is not just one scheme that you run to win games. It’s not the Florida offense alone that wins games. Spreading the ball out, yeah you can win that game but you can also win with I Formation. It comes down to how you execute the schemes. That is how you win games. How you execute the schemes you have to the way they are supposed to be executed, then you will win, period.
Q: Do you see a bright future for this football program?
Tate: Oh yeah. As long as you have the coaches like the Iowa staff, that are dedicated to doing everything they can do to win…Coach O’Keefe, I used to think he was crazy. He was always watching film. Always. I thought was crazy. His work ethic, as far as studying the opponent and watching film was better than any other coach I have ever seen. He was always there all of the time, watching constant film, taking notes. So yes, the future is bright with a dedicated coaching staff. This staff understands things; they know how to be successful because they have been successful. As long as those guys are there, they have a bright future.
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With that, I stopped rolling tape for the interview. Drew and I spoke a few more minutes, and the topic of his competitiveness came up again. I won’t go into that, since it was not ‘on the record’, but I will leave you with the last thing he said to me. It sums up how I will probably always remember Drew Tate, the Iowa football player. Even when I was critical of his emotions on the field, which I was, I always knew this about him.
”I just want to win football games.”
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Note: This story is not over. The following is a Q&A exchange between a Des Moines Register reporter and Kirk Ferentz after Iowa's win on Saturday:
Q: Is there anything you want to comment on off the field?
Ferentz: I don’t know, what happened, do you know something I don’t know?
Q: Any comments on what some people are saying about the team, that used to play on the team?
Ferentz: I’d like to wait until Tuesday if that is alright. I have a little game plan for Tuesday, win lose or draw, I have one of them.
Q: You can do that.
Ferentz: Yeah, I will wait until Tuesday (grunt).