Ferentz: SEC Creates Gap
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Ferentz: SEC Creates Gap

Kirk Ferentz "not surprised by Bielema" and notes gap SEC has created in college football.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is a soft spoken guy, but he had some interesting thoughts in a radio interview with Bo Mattingly on Tuesday. Among them, he covered Bret Bielema's path to be head coach at Arkansas and the journey A. J. Derby has made from Iowa to Coffeyville and now Iowa.

One of the keys to understanding Bielema, the new Arkansas coach, is to understand his path to becoming a team captain at Iowa after starting his career as a walk-on. Ferentz was offensive line coach when Bielema arrived in Iowa City and worked as a scout team defensive lineman against his group.

"Bret had done a great job every step of the way," Ferentz said. "He walked on as a scout teamer and actually rose to be captain by the time he was done.

"He paid his dues as an assistant, a coordinator and as a head coach. He worked hard. Nothing comes easy if you are a walk-on defensive lineman. You start out as a scout team defensive lineman and that's not easy. It's take some courage to go into a major program without a scholarship, so you know he had that."

The story of the walk-on has been impressive both at Iowa and then at Wisconsin where Barry Alvarez was head coach. Alvarez had worked under Hayden Fry and then copied his walk-on program with the Badgers.

"I'm not as familiar with your program (at Arkansas with walk-ons), but I can tell you that here and at Wisconsin it's kinda unique," Ferentz said. "There have been a lot of walk-ons at both places.

"Both programs have had those guys that came in and made it (as walk-ons). I'm not sure that you can identify them so much as it is you give them a chance to surface.

"I think what you know is that recruiting is not an exact science. It's not even easy for those in the NFL to (identify) the best players. So it's probably even harder in college to do it. In college, a lot of good players are overlooked. The intangibles and those type traits are hard to measure."

Ferentz said he's not surprised that Bielema is at Arkansas, or that Alvarez immediately named him head coach at Wisconsin after he retired.

"I told my wife when I was head coach at Maine that I was never going to be surprised by anything," Ferentz said. "Maybe a little surprised. It definitely worked out and I think (the Arkansas move) is going to work out the same way. I think Bret -- or I'm guessing because I haven't talked to him about it -- was ready for a new challenge. And I think that Arkansas was probably attractive to him. I'm guessing that's what happened."

Derby is the Arkansas backup quarterback. He started with the Hawkeyes as a quarterback, but left after one season as a backup linebacker and special teams player.

"A. J. is a tremendous young guy and comes from a great family," Ferentz said. "His father John played with Bret at Iowa. He's a Wisconsin native who settled in here in Iowa City.

"He came here a couple of years back and at that time we had some other players ahead of him (at quarterback), so he played well on special teams. I have no doubt he was going to be an outstanding linebacker, but I don't think that's to say he won't be a great quarterback, too."

Ferentz was asked about the SEC's dominance with seven straight BCS national titles. He admitted "clearly there is a gap" with the rest of college football and the SEC. He pointed to Alabama's Nick Saban as one of the keys to that gap. He said he knew Saban well from their days together on the Cleveland Browns staff under Bill Bellicheck.

"I worked with Nick a couple of times and coached against him when he was at Michigan State," Ferentz said. "He's had some good teams at LSU and at Alabama and the one he had his last year at Michigan State was very good. He can build a team.

"Notre Dame had a very good team and won a lot of games this year, but there was a pretty gap in the national title game," Ferentz said. "Everyone is chasing the SEC right now. You go back a couple of years and there wasn't a gap that was this wide. But there is now."