Outside Influences

Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa coaches used to wield greater influence on players looking to leave school early for the NFL Draft. The times, they are a changing.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - I had a feeling that Kirk Ferentz wouldn't like the question before I asked it here on Monday. However, I wanted to know. And that's what I've learned press conferences are for, within reason.

The inquiry was inbounds. The Iowa coach had the right to react however he saw fit. That's always been the setup.

I asked for his opinion on two Hawkeye juniors - Marvin McNutt and Tyler Sash - who said on Sunday that they filed paperwork with the NFL Draft advisory group. I also wanted to know if Shaun Prater had done the same thing as a day earlier he referred questions on that subject to his coach.

Ferentz started his answer by acting like the question was without merit.

"I should make it dramatic and wait before kickoff to announce that news, because I know the whole world is waiting to hear that one," the coach said sarcastically.

Then, he went on to answer the question, sort of.

"I think it has really become a common practice for any junior that has played at all basically," Ferentz said of applying for the evaluation which returns an estimate on where a player might be drafted, if at all.

"So it is a resource that the NFL has made available to players. I think that's wonderful. It is better for them to get information from people that do this for a living as opposed to people that might be advising or, you know, offering advice that really have no idea. So it is an advice resource for players. And we encourage it. We have no problem with it."

He then danced around the second part of the question, which was if his three juniors were ready for the draft.

"At the appropriate time, we'll deal with that," he said. "I imagine they have to get the feedback fairly quickly. I don't know when that date is. I have been thinking about some other things right now. It is a player's decision, and if a guy has a great opportunity, then they make that decision based on their situation."

I then followed up by asking the former long-time NFL assistant if he felt they were ready for the next level.

"We'll let the committee do their work on that," said Ferentz, who has been back in the college game the last 12 years. "I'm out of that business right now. I'm not a NFL personnel guy. Let's see what they say, and we'll go from there."

I've been around Kirk long enough to know when he's annoyed and have played the annoyer enough in the past. I'd say that the losing streak on the field and the arrest and suspension off of it have made him a bit tense and a lot less humorous the last month.

I also think he's concerned about the influence of family and friends on Iowa players leaving early for the NFL. The coach was against Bryan Bulaga and Amari Spievey leaving early last season.

Spievey's mom was quoted in the Des Moines Register during the year saying that her son was leaning that way. The coach then asked players' parents not to talk to the media anymore.

The game and components around it have changed in Ferentz's 12 years back with the Hawkeyes. While players still look up to him for advice, his word does not carry as much weight when it comes to these NFL decisions.

Robert Gallery came back for his senior season in 2003 and ended up winning the Outland Trophy and being selected No. 2 overall in the NFL draft. The coach paralleled Bulaga's situation to Gallery's during the process last off-season. Bulaga jetted.

Granted, each guy is his own man. While there are parallels, Bulaga and Gallery's cases are not identical. But in the end, Bulaga is in the league instead of coming back on the advice of his college coach.

Ferentz boasted in the past that he used his NFL connections to help guide his current players on their decisions to leave early. Monday, he said he'd let the committee do its work and that he was out of the business.

I'm sure Ferentz has offered his advice in recent years when asked. He also has realized that his influence over those decisions decreases with each passing year, for the most part.

If we throw out the first two years of the current Ferentz era because of rebuilding, the coach saw two juniors - Dallas Clark and Fred Russell - from 2001-2007 leave for the NFL with college eligibility remaining. Both guys had been out of high school for five years and were older than their class.

Guys like Gallery, Matt Roth and Chad Greenway returned to school during that period. I remember them saying that they would be better prepared for the NFL with an extra year of coaching from the Iowa staff. They listened to Ferentz.

After the last two seasons, a total of thee underclassmen - Bulaga, Amari Spievey and Shonn Greene - have left for the draft. Bulaga was chosen in the first round. The other two went in the third.

Greene fell into the category of Clark and Russell in that he was old for his class. But Iowa won the Orange Bowl without him last season and could have maybe done more with him. And he might have gone higher in the draft had he come back.

The trend of underclassmen heading to the NFL hasn't changed much either during the last decade. We mentioned that Iowa's curve has increased with three in two years.

If one or more of these current Hawkeyes throw their hat in the ring at the January 15 deadline, it's something to which the program will need to adjust. This team would look a lot different with Bulaga and Spievey on it this year. McNutt, Sash and Prater leaving this year likely would alter the outcome of 2011.

Maybe that's why Ferentz played nine true freshmen this season. He might realize there are influences much greater than his when it comes to these decisions.

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