Howe: Condemning Coach Also Indicts Players

Some Iowa fans want to separate their displeasure with Head Coach Kirk Ferentz from cheering on the players. As HI Publisher Rob Howe writes, if you're condemning the lead dog your indicting the whole pack.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - I've spent some of the Iowa football bye week combing through our message boards here at Hawkeye Insider. I've been reading them since I joined the site in 2003, obviously, but digging in deep during the season can be revealing. And that's not always easy to do during game weeks when I'm producing articles.

While the tone doesn't represent the entire fan base, it provides a pulse of the vocal segment, albeit an anonymous one. Whether that's the minority or majority opinion is tough to tell. Stadium attendance serves as the main measuring stick for public sentiment.

The negative climate permeating from the aforementioned source, as well as talk radio and Twitter, targets the program's leadership, most notably Head Coach Kirk Ferentz. That comes with the territory.

Ferentz took over the Hawkeyes when Bill Clinton was in office. Much like the 42nd president, and every other man who oversaw the country or a major college football team, Iowa's coach has added critics over time, as I wrote about last month after the Iowa State loss.

Ferentz understands the landscape. Listen to his weekly radio show, he hears discontent from some callers, certainly more than he has in the past. The Dean of Big Ten coaches does a good job absorbing the criticism, repelling the vitriol from infiltrating his team.

That's important. Ferentz is paid handsomely to digest critiques. Yes, players receive a free education, but they earn it through year-round hard work.

You can understand why players resent fan rants. And when the volume increases, they hear it.

Consider what Hawkeye Cornerback Reese Fleming posted as his status on his Facebook page Monday night:

Some of yall (sic) hawkeye fans weak, no faith in our program. We 5-2 not 2-5. When we win these last five games don't hop back on our bus.

Old timers might dismiss Fleming's social media thoughts. That would be foolish. Like it or not, that's how his generation often shares feelings.

Don't think so? Consider that people "like" a Facebook status as a form of agreement with thoughts in the post.

Here are the Iowa players who "liked" Fleming's status: George Kittle, Daumantas Venckus-Cucchiara, John Kenny, Colin Goebel, Ike Boettger, Wil Rathjen, Macon Plewa, Peter Pekar, Riley McCarron and Brandon Scherff. Former Hawkeyes Nico Law, B.J. Lowery and Jordan Cotton chimed in by clicking "like."

Other Hawkeyes hear the racket. If not from reading message boards and Twitter, than indirectly through relatives and friends who do.

The angry mob will say it supports the players. It's venom is directed at the coaches, particularly the leader of the pack whom they feel has seen the game pass him by.

But similar to when a crowd boos at Kinnick Stadium and later says it's directed at the staff, athletes find it hard to differentiate. And they like their coaches thus the reason they committed to them. It's unity. When you jeer one, you jeer all. That's how it should be in team sports.

To be clear, coaches and players understand fan frustration. They're invested in the outcome more than anyone. They're their harshest critics. They can handle being second-guessed and chastised after a loss.

Their uneasiness arises from the faction screaming that program is beyond repair. The coach must go. Losing faith is a powerful condemnation of everyone involved.

The players can't wrap their minds around why at 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten with a chance to win the West Division that their followers are washing their hands of them. And that's coming off a 8-5 season with a 5-3 league mark and New Year's Day Bowl. This isn't Indiana or Illinois or Purdue football.

Some folks will say they pay a lot of hard-earned money on tickets and other means of supporting the program. Their investment affords them the right to call for the coach's removal. Well, talk is cheap. And in this case, it will not help you.

If you're really fed up, I mean, if you're mad as hell and just can't take the atrocity that is the Iowa football program under Ferentz, stop supporting it. Don't buy tickets, merchandise, sponsors' products or anything else that might endorse the coach.

I'm certainly not advocating this practice. A cursory glance around the country at programs with similar resources, which includes not just finances but the recruiting base and more, tells me that Iowa is in pretty good shape.

That's only my opinion, however. You're entitled to yours.

Just don't try to compartmentalize your dissatisfaction. The players can't see the difference.

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