CHUCK HARTLIEB: In talking with fans leading up to the game, I think there is a misperception about bowl games and its relevance to teams and to players.
Coaches hold this lofty goal throughout the year of a January Bowl game. It is tough to create a mental picture of it being a final step for a championship or a tremendous reward for a great season.
I think a 20 year old really looks at it as a one-week vacation where you have tremendous entertainment, great atmosphere, awesome food and great times with you best friends and teammates. To be able to combine that with great focus is a tremendous challenge for a coaching staff. I think that is what you were hearing from coach Ferentz the last few weeks. With the Orange Bowl, it was really difficult to get a focus. I think if you see a lot of bowl games, its tough to get a feel for how a team is going to perform because you don't know what their mindset is going into the game.
I think the Texas game in the Holiday Bowl was a perfect example. Texas had a lot going for them, but they did not show up in that bowl game. Bowl games are a funny animal, and I think we all probably should have had it click with us a little bit better that this was going to be a Hawkeye year in a bowl game, because you could see in coach Ferentz that this one was extremely important to he and his staff and he created great focus for his team. I think the game was won prior to kick off just because of that.
The shoe could be on the other foot next year. Iowa could dial it down a notch or two and their opponent could be more focused and things could go the other way. The second aspect of all this is conditioning. The conditioning factor is so hard, because all it takes is a player adding five or ten pounds of bad weight to their frame and their legs just go on them in the second quarter and from then on, they are worthless. I think that is why you see so many high scoring games in the bowls is because the weight the kids put on because of the food they are eating really makes it a challenge on game day.
HN.com: I have said that the Outback win was one of the most significant wins for the Iowa football program in the last 10 or 12 years, just behind last year's Michigan win. Would you agree with that?
HARTLIEB: I agree with you completely. I was turning it off on Thursday and I almost wanted to say that was Kirk's most impressive win, but it's tough to beat the win at Michigan last year. But I would certainly put this at #2 for Ferentz. And then over the last 10 or 20 years, this was probably in the top five. Just for the fact that it was a January bowl win, it was against a nationally renowned team in Florida and you were really on their home turf. Plus the fact that it was a complete victory in all facets of the game, I thought that it was really amazing.
HN: Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe has taken more than his fair share of criticism of the years…some fans think the offense is too conservative or predicable. But it's a high percentage, low-risk offense that plays to the strengths of the players he has to work with and it sure looked good on Thursday.
HARTLIEB: One of the things that I really appreciate about coach Ferentz and the entire staff, I would really label them with the word ‘consistent'. I think they really have decided what kind of team they want to be, both offensively and defensively and they really stick to what they are all about. I think that came through again on offense. They want to have a balanced, conservative attack, they want to control the line of scrimmage, they want to have great time of possession, and they want to win the field position game.
They are not going to be flashy or do trick plays; they are just going to smash you in the mouth and hope to put 20 to 30 points on the board and let the defense do their job. I think win after win, season after season, this team is very consistent from an offensive and defensive theme standpoint. I think that is a great attribute to have and something that is a perfect way to build a foundation of being one of the top programs in the country, something Iowa is right now.
HN: How impressive is it to you that virtually three first year starters have done so well three years in a row? Does that bode well for QB's down the line?
HARTLIEB: First, it goes back to my previous comments on consistency and what the program is about. I don't think this is ever going to be a quarterback-centered team. I think coach Ferentz is showing us that it will be a team that is led by a tremendous offensive line, a great defense and well rounded special teams. That way you don't have to rely on one guy. You can have a guy that is able to get the job done and you can plug a guy into that position and get the ‘W' on a consistent basis.
I think it is awfully impressive that these guys, for the most part, are doing it in one year with their fifth year. It goes back to what the coaches have set up offensively from a plug and play standpoint.
Next year, you will still be dealing with a lot of inexperience, but you will be doing it with a younger player. If that younger player can get a year or two underneath him, Iowa will be that much stronger.
HN: Nathan Chandler shined in his final game. Talk about that.
HARTLIEB: We spoke all year about Nathan Chandler and the stress on that position, fans being pretty luke warm toward him. I think you and I were pretty consistent with our thoughts on Chandler. The loss of Mo Brown and the (lack of) speed at tight end created a tough spot for any quarterback at Iowa this year. I thought on Thursday that the impact Mo Brown had was probably greater than any other player on offense. Just the threat of him out there, I thought Florida had to respect the passing game more. Maybe Mo didn't have any huge plays, but he certainly had his presence felt throughout the game.
You could see how Iowa was able to integrate him completely into the offense because of his abilities. Sometimes that 18-yard comeback is just as big as that 60-yard post play because of what it sets up for the rest of the offense. I thought it was a great ending for the offense, because you were able to see them at 100-percent to close out the season and that mean that Mo was near the top of his game.
HN: I said earlier this year that it was a rebuilding year, something you disagreed with and you pointed out the success Iowa has had after having championship seasons in the past. Now that this year is over, what are you thoughts about continuing this momentum? Is it too much to ask or expect that this team can win 8, 9, or 10 games next year?
HARTLIEB: I think there are a lot of factors that play into that, but the first thing that comes into my mind in looking ahead, and what I thought about for this season before it began, is senior leadership. I didn't see how you could call this a rebuilding year or a step backwards when you had kids like Gallery, Kaeding and Sanders as your senior group. So I was not going to allow anyone to call it a rebuilding year. There was great talent on the team and they played to their potential.
So where does the senior leadership come from next year? Who is this team going to rally around? Maybe there is more of a challenge from that standpoint. When you look at the team, the core group might be in that junior class. Leadership can come from the younger kids, but it's hard for juniors to step up sometimes when it is not their last year. It will be interesting to see what coach Ferentz does? Will you name Hodge a captain? Usually that is reserved for seniors. Do you rely more on the younger kids to provide the leadership?
If you heard the post game comments last night after LSU won, that was all coach Saban talked about; leadership and character that was critical to the teams success. That is where it all starts.
I think it will be a more challenging year to see where that leadership develops from, but there is certainly enough talent next year that I will not say it is a rebuilding year whatsoever. A rebuilding year in my mind is when you are looking at winning only four or five games. This team next year has talent all over the board and can certainly win seven or eight games at a minimum again.
HN: Chuck, any final thoughts that you would like to throw out there on this year for your ‘last words' on the 2003 season?
HARTLIEB: You and I talked about this a few times before. Coach Fry, in 20 years, I think you can name four or five special players. Dwight, Long and some others. (JM: I said that you could throw in Hartlieb, to which Chuck laughed and said no.)
But the uniqueness of some of these guys that have come out of the Ferentz era is amazing to me. Looking to next year, I think Hodge and Greenway could be the best set of linebackers in the country. So when you go from having players like Dallas Clark, Robert Gallery, Nate Kaeding, Bob Sanders and some others…I guess that is what I am thinking about, having a few kids headlining the program each year for the legacy of Iowa football…I think that the potential is there for Hodge and Greenway to get to that level. I just hope Iowa fans can appreciate that going into next year.
We should probably start sending letters to both of those guys and beg them to stay for two years. I don't think that everyone has appreciated the strength of our linebacking corps. It is just amazing. I think they will be a cornerstone of what Iowa does next year.
I would like to thank Chuck Hartlieb for the time he has given to me and the Hawkeyenation.com subscribers over the past two years. His insight into Iowa football is certainly appreciated by me, and I have received more positive feedback from our weekly conversations with Chuck than any other feature we have ever done on the website. I know that I speak for all Iowa fans when I say that we can hardly wait to hear from the Iowa legend again next fall.