Carbon Copy: Kirk Ferentz Potpurri

In this installment of 'Carbon Copy', Kirk Ferentz talks about the rehab of his son, Brian, Bret Bielema as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator, the challenge of replacing a legend and his respect for Joe Paterno as well as his outlook on his 2004 Iowa Hawkeyes. Does he feel it is a rebuilding year, or a time to reload? Ferentz talks about all of that and more...


---Kirk Ferentz on the possibility of his son Brian returning from injury to play this season:

What are the chances that we'll see Brian (Ferentz) play this season ?

It's a coin toss at this point. He's gone over all of the hurdles thus far. That being said, he's got a lot more ahead of him yet. He's going to experience some downs as well as ups. That's just part of the deal. It's not an easy road to recovery. But his attitude has been great. He's determined to get back out there. That's a big part of the battle. So, we'll take it a week at a time. I don't think any of us can count on it. If it happens, that's going to be an extra bonus for us.

Was it difficult to look at the situation as both a coach and a parent?

Yes and no. I try to coach as a dad. That's my obligation with all of our players. The parents have all basically turned their sons over to us for the time that they're in college. That's not to say that the parents aren't involved in decisions, especially big decision like medical situations. But we're never going to put any player on the field and put him in harm's way. Life's a lot bigger than football.

---Kirk Ferentz on his former assistant Bret Bielema taking the defensive coordinator's job at Wisconsin:

How much do things change when you go from being a position coach to a coordinator?

If you're not a good position coach, I don't know how you become a good coordinator or a good head coach. The obvious difference is the realm of responsibility. Some people might not do it this way, but typically you have a unit you're responsible for but you're also working with your defensive staff; organizing meetings; putting game plans together. And on game day, you have some decisions to make.

All that being said, I've always believed that coaches don't fall out of trees. Coordinators don't fall out of trees. In my career as a coach, I've seen very few superstars in coaching or players. There just aren't many. To me it just gets down to paying your dues and working hard and learning your trade. There's a natural progression. Becoming a coordinator is part of that.

Is the change hard?

I don't think any new job is easy at least through my experiences. Usually it takes a little while to get a comfort level down and get your routine down. I wouldn't say it's easy, but it's not like climbing Mount Everest either. I don't think people are born into head coaching jobs or coordinator jobs.

Someone you're familiar with, Bret Bielema, is making the transition from position coach to coordinator. What do you remember of him from when your paths crossed?

Bret's always been a very inquisitive coach. He's always been eager to learn and find out more about how to do things better. This has just been a real natural progression for Bret. He left our program to assume the title down at Kansas State. He entered a great program. Obviously Bill has has a tremendous program there.

Bret, without a doubt, is ready for that challenge. He'll do a great job.

Did you get the sense that he was getting anxious to get more responsibility?

Yeah, and I think that you appreciate that with anybody. I think it's natural for a guy to want more responsibility and want more to do. Bret's a single guy, so he's got a lot more time than those of us that have wives and children. (laughter) But those are all healthy things. It gets back to his inquisitive nature. He's always been a guy that wanted to do more.

Where did your paths cross before you coached with him?

As I was leaving my last two years in the program, Bret was a walk-on. Obviously, I continued to follow the Iowa program. His story is another great walk-on story. He was a captain with Mike Devlin, one of my all-time favorite players at Iowa. Those two guys have a special bond.

My son (Brian) actually went to camp at Iowa back in the ‘90s, and Bret was one of his coaches out there. My son came back talking about him. So, indirectly I knew some things about him. Obviously, when I took the job everybody around Iowa had nothing but good things to say about him.

Do expect dramatic changes in the Wisconson defense?

Yes and no. You're looking at Wisconsin, where they've had such a tradition of success. It's not going to be as dramatic as going into a program that was 0-11 for the last 10 years. So, the dramatic part, I don't know about that. But Bret's going to do an outstanding job. Kevin is an excellent football coach. Barry is a former defensive coordinator. They've got some pretty good coaches on that staff. Bret is just another in the line of a lot of great assistants that they've had at Wisconsin.

---Kirk Ferentz on replacing a legend:

What's it going to be like for the guy that replaces Joe Paterno at Penn State?

I went through that to a certain extent with Coach Fry. It's hard to make everybody happy. That's for sure. It's a heck of a challenge.

You talk about Coach Paterno and you're not only talking about one of the giants in college football but one of the giants in collegiate sports. The only bad decision I know he made was not recruiting me when I came out of high school. (Laughter) No, there's a reason that he's won 300-plus games. He knew talent. But it was my dream to go there. I grew up in that part of the country.

He's just been an awesome individual for the sport of college football, and again, on a broader scale for what he's done for college athletics. It's going to be a tough challenge for whoever takes the job. All that being said, the person that takes the job can't worry about that. They've got to go in there and just coach the best that they can coach.

Is it a comment on society that people might miss that he's the sharpest guy in the room because he's in his 70s?

Probably. Just this past week, I was reading some stuff on Ronald Reagan. Another good example is that if you look through history, there have been a lot of world leaders that were in their 70's and 80's. Those jobs are a little bit more important than coaching a football team. To me, it gets down to the individual.

I'll never forget my first Big Ten meetings as a head coach I went into the room and didn't see anybody any more enthusiastic than Coach Paterno. It was inspiring. He's been a great example for all of us. Coach Paterno is a national treasure.

---Kirk Ferentz on the prospects for his '04 Hawkeyes:

Do you look at this as a little bit of a rebuilding year or do you feel like you can reach the heights you hit the last few years?

I think the preseason part of the polls are just the effect that we've had two pretty good years. Usually, it's based on what you've done the last couple of years.

It goes a little bit beyond that. We don't have a lot of starters back, and we lost two good senior classes back to back. We're probably in a little bit more of a scramble mode than maybe a year ago. I think it's a lot like last year, except year ago we had Nate Kaeding to rely on as well as a very veteran defense.

We've got a pretty veteran defense coming back but we don't have the luxury of having Nate to trot out there when we get inside the 35. But we're confident that we have some guys that are capable of playing good football.

The challenge for us right now is really speeding up the clock with not only our starters on offense, but also our backups on defense. We've got a lot of very young players behind our proven players. We've got a couple of processes in operation right now. It's going to be interesting to see how things go early in the season and certainly in preseason camp.<\i>

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