Football Footnotes with Rob Howe

In Rob Howe's latest 'Football Footnotes' column, he speaks with Kirk Ferentz about a range of topics; rules and regulations he lays out for the Iowa players, his reasons for closing off practices to the media and the public, his friendship with Badger coach Barry Alvarez, the straight and narrow path that college coaches must walk in light of the Mike Price & Larry Eustachy situation and Sean Considine as the 'heir apparent' to Derek Pagel at free safety.

A gleam adorns the eyes of Kirk Ferentz when a discussion turns to football. We're not talking recruiting, press conferences and radio shows. We're talking big, sweaty guys banging into each other with force.

That's why the Iowa coach looks forward to next week and the few that follow. Summer training camp gives him a chance to simply teach the game.

"I thoroughly enjoy the preseason," Ferentz said. "Spring ball would be No. 2 on my list, but I think the preseason is the most enjoyable time to be a football coach, mainly because it's just you and the team. We're all in there together. The agenda is football.

"There's a lot of mental work that goes on. Some critical team building goes on. To me, it's the one time of the year where everybody can just turn his or her attention to practicing football, thinking football, eating and sleeping. That's basically what takes place."

The Hawkeyes spend about 2 ½-3 weeks in a local hotel building fundamentals and team chemistry. It is during this time last year that many of the seeds were sewn for an amazing 11-2 season that followed. The true freshmen get their first taste of major college football.

"I think (the freshmen) do OK with it," Ferentz said. "We try to have younger guys room with older guys so they have someone to share their miseries with."

Coaches take the Hawkeyes through so many drills and meetings that there barely exists time for communication with the outside world. It's a self-contained community.

"We don't shut them off from their girlfriends or their parents or any of that stuff," Ferentz said. "But quite frankly, they don't have a lot of time for that stuff."

Players can sneak a cell phone call to a loved one when they have an open minute or two. That is, as long as they abide by their head man's rules regarding the technology.

"They are not allowed to have cell phones in our locker room or in our building," Ferentz said. "They can go to an atrium or they can step outside. I hate cell phones in locker rooms and meeting rooms."

Ferentz also lays a few other ground rules with the freshmen and reinforces them to the veterans. He restricts the wearing of earrings to places outside of the football environment.

"When they're on our time, they're on our time," the 2002 Associated Press national coach of the year said. "But they're college students. I joke about Robert's hair. I could care less. I'm a lot more concerned with what kind of person they are."

Before the end of camp, Ferentz will meet with the leadership group comprised of players. They will present the team goals to their coach.

The session winds down with a presentation by the true freshmen in an exercise as close to hazing as you get at Iowa.

"The young guys do a little talent show at the end of camp," Ferentz said. "That's probably a little misnomer calling it a talent show."

THE SHIELD: Some people called former Iowa coach Hayden Fry paranoid when he closed off football practices to the fans and media back in the 1980s. But it has become more of the norm these days.

Ferentz was surprised by the policy when he arrived from Pittsburgh to become Fry's line coach in '81. The Panthers' workouts were open to whoever wanted to view them.

"I didn't quite understand it because at Pitt we didn't do it that way," Ferentz said. "I soon realized that the interest in Iowa football was a lot different than it was at the University of Pittsburgh at that time. I clearly understood it at that point."

The dynamic that exists at Iowa differs from many other areas in the country. With no professional teams, college football players often become the state's biggest sports celebrities.

That is why Ferentz plans to keep the closed practices in place.

"You worry about college guys leading a semi-normal life and not having to worry about doing interviews all of the time," he said. "They've got a lot of things on their plate. We expect an awful lot out of them. If you can keep it proportioned, no matter how difficult that might be, it's a little bit healthier for the guys."

Ferentz also believes that speaking with reporters is part of a player's growth process.

"It's good for the players to have a chance to interact with the media, be on television, those kinds of things," he said. "It's good for the freshmen as well. They're going to make some mistakes. They may some things they shouldn't say."

GOOD LUCK FRIEND: Ferentz and Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez share a friendship developed while they were assistants under Fry at Iowa. That's why the former felt comfortable commenting on the latter's decision to add athletics director duties to his responsibilities during the offseason.

"I think he's crazy," Ferentz said. "I thought that was the second worst job there is possibly, the first being president. I don't know what you do for fun if you're in either one of those positions.

"I told him "Barry, I thought you were a lot smarter than that.""

Alvarez must believe he can do a solid job wearing both hats or he wouldn't be doing it, Ferentz said.

"Obviously he must have the motivation to want to do it," the Iowa coach said. "That's the key. He's done a great job as the head coach at Wisconsin. I hope he retires out of coaching soon. That would be great."

THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW: When Alabama fired Mike Price several months ago, some observers viewed the case as one that changed landscape of coaches' conduct. Price allegedly spent time at a strip club in Florida and brought one of the dancers back to his hotel room.

Popular Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo said that he reduces his time in public because he worries about getting caught in a situation that could be misconstrued.

Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno said last week that he was concerned about taking pictures with young female fans for fear of how it might be portrayed.

Ferentz said that the Price story has not changed his life at all.

"My life has been pretty boring anyway," Ferentz said. "So, it really hasn't changed things a great deal."

While the Price firing and a similar case with Iowa State basketball coach Larry Eustachy shocked a lot of the country, Ferentz was basically unmoved.

"It's a sign of the times," he said. "There's more scrutiny about everybody now. It's not just the pros. It's the college level as well. If you're working in athletics, there's going to be some interest."

SAFETY NET: Junior Sean Considine opens camp as the heir apparent to Derek Pagel at free safety. Their stories run parallel.

Both Considine and Pagel walked on at Iowa from small towns after colleges showed them little interest following their prep careers. They both earned their stripes, and scholarships, at Iowa by showing toughness on special teams.

Pagel went on to an all-Big Ten senior season and was drafted by the New York Jets of the NFL in April.

"Sean's story is kind if like Derek Pagel's, and Sean might be more talented quite frankly," Ferentz said. "Athletically, he's got a lot of gifts. He's extremely hard working. He's a big, strong guy. He can run. He's got a great attitude, a great love for the game."


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