On The Side: Kirk Ferentz Quotebook

The latest edition of a standard Tuesday feature, <i>exclusive to HawkTalkOnline subscribers</i>, that we call: On the Side. After fielding questions in an open forum (that transcript below), Kirk Ferentz meets with reporters on the podium side. Questions get deeper and the coach gives out some of his best information. <b>This week, he discusses allegations made by a recruit in the KC Star, the health of Albert Young and Bob Sanders, the upcoming game with Michigan State and much more.</b>

Did you do any backflips or get cards congratulating you for being up to .500 at Iowa? Is that a big deal?

KF: Not really. No. For obvious reasons I've never worried about my career record a heck of a lot. One of my idols, Chuck Noll, I think was 12-30 his first 42 games. I've got that written down somewhere, I guess. He still managed to have a decent career.

Did anybody mention it to you?

KF: Yeah, somebody did somewhere. It wasn't at my house. I can assure you of that. It's not that big of a deal. I'm more worried about being 4-0. I was happy about that.

Does it almost feel like you're snakebit at wide receiver?

KF: I haven't looked at it that way. But if you want to take that approach, it's really been true since camp. I mean we came into camp limping. Mo has had three serious injuries since August. Ed, this is his first bout with something. But Ramon has been hobbled. That's just the way it goes, I guess. Sometimes things seem to run in strings.

If Chris Smith wasn't playing well, would there be more of a rush to get Bob back in there?

KF: No. We don't look at injuries that way. To me, with an injury, you have to do what's best for the individual. Period. And really, the only time we've even entertained putting a guy out there probably when he's not ready is if it's a guy's last game. Like (Scott) Boleyn last year probably shouldn't have played in the bowl game. But it's his last game ever. And when he pulled that gun on me that was kind of a little extreme (laughter). Generally, when a guy is ready to play, we'll put him back out there, regardless of what's going on.

Knowing that he's probably your best defensive player, are you concerned about the chemistry when he comes back?

KF: Yeah, I've thought about that a little bit. But, you know, we have a team right now. I think our guys have a team attitude. I'm real confident things will work themselves out whenever that time does come. That's going to be a great problem to have. I'm looking forward to that day. But it's something we'll have to address.

With Michigan on the horizon, would you like to get him in this week just to get him a little work before then?

KF: I'd like to get him in just to get him going again, period. But I always look at injuries from the other standpoint. I always assume that the worst is going to happen. And then if we get a guy back earlier than that, then it's a bonus. I always like to take a real conservative approach as a coach, just so nobody's hanging on waiting. You know, "Bob's going to come in and save the day this week or that week." I don't like guys thinking that way. In my mind, when a guy's not out there performing, and I don't mean to be callous, but we have to really focus on who's playing and everybody has to take that mindset. Whenever that guy is able to get back, he'll get back. And then we'll work out the routine from there.

Is he practicing now?

KF: He's actually just been rehabbing aggressively. Last week, it got pretty aggressive. So, we may let him do some things on the field. We may not. It just depends on how he's feeling day to day.

With how Chris has played has it changed how you're thinking about special teams with Bob at all?

KF: Well, yeah, it might. But the only factor there is you don't want to push the envelope, especially initially when he gets back. When he proves that he's ready to go, and he's 100 percent, then yeah, maybe we'll entertain some thoughts that way and get him a little bit more involved. Whenever he gets back, we'll be very cautious and protective about what we ask him to do.

Is Albert's situation more of a confidence thing now than it is physical?

KF: I think the thing is pretty well healed right now. But, it's like anything else, there's still soreness involved. From a medical standpoint, he's pretty much out of the woods. But there's soreness and scar tissue you have to work through, and that takes some time. The way I look at injuries, there's a point where the medical people say "Hey, this guy is OK to go." But there's a point also where the coaches have to say, "Yeah, he is ready." And you can tell from a way a guy performs out in practice, he's letting it rip or he's still holding back. And if a guy is holding back, you can't put him on the field. I've never had much luck with that as a coach. I think you're asking for bad things to happen.

Are the younger guys a little more apprehensive when returning from injuries?

KF: Yeah. I mean every year it's a new step. It's a new step in general, and then you factor in an injury, it makes it even that much trickier. I think that's a fair statement, for the most part.

Coach, there was a story in the Press-Citizen this morning kind of springing off a Kansas City Star story about Tony Temple. For you, first off, is this a kid you're excited about or is he not even on your radar here?

KF: He was a guy we were recruiting. We were recruiting a lot of guys. We thought he was a very good player like everybody else did. I read that article. I think anybody in a sane, logical mind that read the article would have some questions. They called and asked if I wanted to respond last week, and my response was that if you respond to that then you have to respond to a thousand...You know, to me, you're talking about an 18-year-old young man, claiming that some nameless person made a statement. Nobody seems to know who the person is. Nobody knows that person's background. There was a recent legal case, I think in our state, where some of the participants at ...How do I want to say this without getting into trouble?...Anyway, they pointed the finger at Iowa players when it wasn't Iowa. All I'm trying to say is give me some hard-core statistics or names and then maybe we'll have something.

Is there any concern though? You have a lot of momentum going right now. You don't want your boosters getting too excited saying coach has got a great year, I'm going to get in some better players.

KF: I really doubt that's going to happen. I really do. And you may have some nut out there that's doing something on his own. But the bottom line is this, I think I have a pretty good job here. I have figured that out. I have five kids at home that I'm trying to feed and provide for. That's my No. 1 responsibility. And I doubt I'm ever going to take any chance. And I would hope that anybody involved in our program would never risk their careers or their livelihood for...I've never seen a prospect that good, quite frankly. So I would hope that we'd never do that at Iowa. And I'm pretty confident that we won't. But what people do out there roaming around, you can't control that. But my first question would be, who is that person? How legitimate is the claim? It sounds like the National Enquirer to me, and that's what that article read like to me. I don't know if people like reading that crap. But it read like the National Enquirer to me. Did you read the article?

Reporter: Yeah.

KF: Would you agree?

Reporter: Yeah, I mean, it could have been anybody that made the claim.

KF: How about the article, just itself? With all due respect, that person could be named. I'd really like to see some hard evidence. If there is, then let the NCAA deal with it. But it just sounds like much to do about nothing. But the piece sounded like the National Enquirer, not that I read the National Enquirer. I don't (laughter). I read that article, and I was like, "Who reads this crap?"

Is the program now to the point where consistently Iowa can be mentioned along with the top two or three teams in the Big Ten?

KF: I don't think so. The way I look at it, those tops teams are top teams. We're just trying to prove ourself yet. If we don't have that attitude, we're going to get knocked down real fast.

What are you lacking then?

KF: Ohio State has got Chris Gamble, right? We've got Jovon. Chris Gamble. A two-way player. One of the top five guys in next year's draft, maybe one of the top three. We've got Jovon and we stole him from Kent State. OK. Michigan has got Braylon Edwards, right? Before that, they had Terrell. We've got Ramon. I mean, do the math. I like Ramon and I love Jovon. I love both of those guys. I wouldn't trade them for the world. But that's who we are. We can't ever forget that. And I don't mean that in a degrading way to those guys. I think they understand what they have to do to be successful. I know they do. That's why they are successful.

There were a couple of things that kept popping up on Saturday. It's a statement game. Freddie got a little ornery on a national radio interview.

KF: I missed that one. Fred, like in Fred Barr or Fred Russell? (laughter)

Fred Russell.

KF: OK. It might be a carry-over effect though. (laughter)

Don't worry, Rome doesn't work on Saturdays.

KF: I can't wait to send him a Christmas card. (laughter) Three more months.

Do your players have a chip on their shoulder, feeling they have to prove themselves?

KF: We have to. We're Iowa. We're not...look at us. Just look at us out there. We have to operate that way or we're going to be in trouble. It's the only chance that we have. I hope our guys understand that, and understand it every week, like especially this week. We ain't going to win the combine events up in East Lansing. I'll promise you that. If we go up there and do a combine, we'll get are tails kicked.

Why are you able to win then?

KF: Our guys play as a team. And we're not bad. I'm not saying we're bad. Our guys have done a great job of preparing. They care about each other. And they play hard. That goes a long ways. They've worked hard. I mean on a yearly basis. So much work has already been done before we ever got going in August. Our guys take it all to heart.

Is it easier that way not being Michigan?

KF: I've never been there. I don't know. I've never been at Michigan. I've been through there, on their campus. But I wouldn't know what it's like to be at Michigan.

Is there a model in sports that is or was in the same situation as you are?

KF: Georgia Tech was in that situation. I always admired Bobby Ross when he went there. There was a guy at Iowa that did a pretty good job named Hayden Fry. I think Barry has done a great job at Wisconsin, Bill at K-State. Dan has done a great job at Iowa State. The guys in the family tree have done well. You look at a Bobby Ross, to me that was a great story to win a national championship at Georgia Tech. The first two years, they didn't win a (Division) I-A game. They beat Furman or somebody, I-AA. I grew up in Pittsburgh. I always admired Chuck Noll. That's a great story. They wanted to fire Chuck Noll after three years. Mr. Rooney's son wanted to fire him. Mr. Rooney either had great faith in Chuck Noll or was too cheap and didn't want to buy him out for that last year.

Did you think that your head was on the block?

KF: I never felt like it was on the block. But my popularity ranking wasn't so good. I know that. But that's OK. That's sports. How could it be after we were 2-18? Unless you were sick, I wouldn't be popular.

What did you learn from that game in '99 at Michigan State?

KF: We suspected that we had a lot of work to do. That one confirmed it, I guess. That was a Big Ten outfit there. I would venture to say that was one of the better teams they've had in recent history. That was a very talented team. It could have been 100-3 instead of whatever it was. It was a reminder of how much work we had to do, physically, the whole nine yards. Not that you're going to go out and find a Plaxico Burress. He was a freak of nature.

You can lose players or have them buy in on a day like that. How did the team go?

KF: Any loss or tough experience, there's two ways to go. One great thing about adversity, it's cliche, but you really find out who is who when things are tough. The one thing I'll say about the '99 team, and I've been proud of every team we've had here, the '99 team never gave up. That Minnesota game I thought was great evidence of the character those young people had. And I think as impressive as any team we've had here is the '00 group. That was when we really could have folded in my mind. We were 2-18, and quite frankly, it was a kick return and a screen pass against Michigan State. It wasn't like we really beat them. For that group to stick together the way they did, those seniors, they'll always be etched in my mind.

I know you were pals with Nick Saban through coaching. He was pretty frank in his comments that day about Iowa. Did that wake you up?

KF: He didn't say anything that I didn't know. I just appreciate that he didn't score a 100 because he could have. I thought they were very kind to us in the way they called plays and all that kind of thing.

Do you look at the 2000 win over Michigan State as the one that kind of got the ball rolling here?

KF: Yes and No. It was a great win. But it wasn't like we just went out and beat them.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from recruits after the weekend?

KF: I think everyone is warm and fuzzy. You couldn't have a better environment. The best thing you can do to help your recruiting is to have success on the field. That will always be the same. All of those other things are important, but playing well sure helps you. I think everybody had a great experience this weekend.

Did you find that a lot of guys that weren't here were watching as well?

KF: Yeah. We're making our calls now. But it seems like a lot of people tuned in and enjoyed it. It's still not the same as being in the stadium, but it's still good.

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