IOWA CITY, Ia. - Kirk Ferentz says he tries not to let the critics get to him. When you work as hard as he does at his craft, that's probably wishful thinking. Human nature is powerful.
Through the years, he's heard the media and fans call for changes in the coaching staff and philosophy. Those ideas came forward again over the weekend following a loss at Northwestern that ended any chance for a Big Ten title or BCS bid.
Coaches and players can relate with fan disappointment. They struggle with suggestions that there needs to be significant change.
"I know a lot of people in the media a few years back were clamoring for a spread offense," Ferentz said. "What I have learned is if you are struggling, the flavor of the day is what you should be doing. But if you look at the teams in contention now, in our league, you can assess them yourself.
"Defensively, if we are not winning we don't blitz enough. It will always be that way. If we do win, we don't take chances, they bend but thy don't break. I could have written these stories in July, both to the good or bad. I am sure you do the same thing, keep them in your pocket and tweak it a bit. That's how it works. Who's zooming who?"
Many of the critics of Iowa's conservative philosophy took a timeout since the Illinois loss in early November of 2008. Since that time, the Hawkeyes have won 22 of 27 games and two January bowls, including the Orange Bowl last season. That was tough to criticize.
Saturday's loss at Northwestern dropped Iowa to 7-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten, not exactly in the basement. It was a far cry from the 12-0 and 11-1 predictions and possible national championship talk from some fans and media. When their expectations went unmet, it was time to get back on the "the system is too easy to figure out" train.
"We were getting ready to put Oregon's offense in, but when thy only scored 15 I felt that wouldn't cut it," a continually sarcastic Ferentz said in reference to the high-powered Ducks, who won 15-13 at Cal last week . "We were going to do that this week, but that isn't good enough."
Again, Ferentz wants badly to let the criticism roll off of his back. It is easy to tell from Tuesday's press conference that it strikes a nerve. It wouldn't matter if he made $30,000 a year instead of the $3 million he makes annually. He's passionate about his profession.
"If you lose, everything is amplified and if you win "good thing they do that."" Ferentz said. "Norm (Parker) was an idiot in 2007. After that Western Michigan game, he was too old and the game passed him by. After the Orange Bowl, he is a guru. That is how it is. It was that way 20 years ago. Or 40 years ago. People thought Amos Alonzo Stagg made too much money."
Fortunately for Ferentz, the outside critiques have not altered his focus. The stability in his coaching staff and philosophies have served as the backbone for his success.
"If you get caught up in that you should get another job," he said. "Marv Levy said that. If you spend too much time listening to the fans you will be sitting with them. If I spend too much time worrying about what the media people think I may end up with them. I don't think I would be accepted."
While he'd rather not hear it, Ferentz has accepted criticism in the past. He stated that he felt the questions after some late-game decisions proved costly against Wisconsin last month were fair. But in terms of coaching credentials and their system, he feels he's proven himself and so has his staff. He's defended that.
They're not perfect, but it's tough to argue with the results. Four Top 10 finishes In the last nine years are nothing at which to sneeze.
"If your whole way of judging yourself is what the score says at the end of the game or how much money you make as an NFL player, you will live an empty life and a disappointing life," Ferentz said. "You have to see the big picture and you have to understand anytime you go on the field you run the risk of losing. Just like players can get hurt and coaches can get fired. That's reality. You keep it all in perspective. You have to. If you can't you will be tight as a drum and won't be able to take three steps without having a fall."
An informal poll of several Hawkeye upperclassmen Tuesday showed they believe in the coaching staff and the philosophies they teach. These guys were around in 2006 and 2007, when Iowa compiled a combined 12-13 record and misses the postseason one year. Of course, weren't going to come out and bash their mentors, but they believe what they say.
"It's a little weird. It's a little crazy," Senior Guard Julian Vandervelde said. "It's the most bizarre thing to me when sort of thing happens. You look back at Coach Ferentz's tenure. You look at what things were like when he got here and he's built this program that is one that is consistently in the top half of the Big Ten, that is consistently having 8-, 9-. 10-game winning seasons, two Big Ten championships, almost one last year."
Iowa already has clinched its ninth postseason appearance in the last 10 campaigns. The Hawkeyes were bowl eligible in the other season, but were passed over by teams with seven wins ahead of their 6-6.
After this season, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin will be the only three Big Ten teams to have played in nine bowl games in the last 10 years.
"Right now, we're happy to be where we are," Vandervelde said. "You look around the country, and shoot, we could be Texas. We could have gone that way also."
While some followers might call Iowa's odds against No. 9 Ohio State on Saturday long, at best, Las Vegas only has the Buckeyes as a 3.5-point favorite. As bad as things might seem to some folks, Iowa still has a chance to win nine or 10 games.
"At 7-3, I don't think people should be doing that (calling for coaching and philosophy changes)," Iowa Senior Punter Ryan Donahue said. "But, hey, that's my opinion. Obviously, we have a good coaching staff here. We have a good core foundation. It wins games. We haven't lost a game by more than seven points in like three years.
"Of course we wanted to win all of those games, but it doesn't always happen that way. You just have to bounce back."