Coach Speak

HN.com let the tape recorder roll while meeting with Iowa's Kirk Ferentz at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago last week. We've already heard the coach on a number of topics. In this installment, he talks about Babineaux, Roth, McMahon, beating Michigan, the Hawkeye defense and more.

Kirk on Jonathan Babineaux:

What is Jonathan (Babineaux) like as a person?

Very quiet. The first thing that jumps out at you is that you don't notice him other than the work that he does. From Day 1, he walked in like he belonged. I think his first game was Ohio State in 2000, and he walked out there like it was a day in practice.

His work ethic is extremely impressive. On the field and off of the field, the character that he brings is just...he's just a high quality person. But he does it in a very quiet way. If you're not paying attention, you really don't appreciate all that he contributes.

If Roth brings the attitude, what does Jonathan bring?

That steadiness. That day after day after day, hey, I'm going to show up and I'm going to work hard. He's a blue collar guy. There's nothing flashy about him. There's nothing pronounced about him other than when you watch him the more you appreciate him day after day after day.

He's not a boisterous person when he's in a group, yet he's a guy that everybody looks to. They all look to see what Jonathan is doing. That's because he's earned the respect of all of the players on our football team through his play;, through his rehab; his perseverance.

Respect is earned. He's got it from everybody, including the coaching staff.

Bob (Sanders) was not a very outspoken player, either. But his teammates had tremendous respect for what he stood for and what he brought to the table. I would hope that our team would embody the type of character Jonathan has. I hope that's what we're all trying to grab on to.

How difficult would you catoregize his rehab process?

Any time a player goes through a significant injury problems, which he's had two to deal with now, it's not an easy road back. That's certainly been the case for him. What has been significant is that he's been able to minimize the struggle because of his grit and his positive attitude. He's not going to let anything get him down or keep him down. That's the toughest part of coming back form an injury.

Kirk on his defense:

What's your preseason analysis of your defense?

We lost four starters. Bob (Sanders) being the most noteworthy; but also Grant Steen, a 3-year starter; Jared Clauss and Howard Hodges, both 2-year starters. We lost a lot of years of starting experience. It's not just going to be routine where we put four guys out there and we're going to be OK.

We do have an opportunity to be very good on defense. We're going to need to be because we're pretty young again offensively.

Statistically, we might not have lit it up on offense last year. But the most important stat is scoring. And in the last three years, we've been in the Top 3 (in conference). That's kind of where our focus is.

Kirk on Michigan wins:

Have any of the other Big Ten coaches asked you for the key to beating Michigan?

Nobody has asked me. It's a pretty simple answer. You've got to earn it. You're going to play a good team every time you play Michigan. That's been the case each and every year I've been associated with playing a Michigan team.

Do your guys have a chip on their shoulder because they might not be the high-ranked recruits that are playing at Michigan?

Recruiting is important, obviously. But games get decided on the field by the players. You don't collect how many recruits you had and what the rankings were. The challenge is to get a team ready to play. When you're playing a team like Michigan or Ohio State, you know you're going to be playing a great team.

If I'm still here in 10 years, which I hope I am, I'll probably be saying the same thing.

How important was the Michigan game you lost three years ago? Did that let your kids know that they could compete with Michigan?

It did. The last three games of 2000 and the whole year of 2001, including the game you eluded to, really let our guys know that the field was more level than it had been.

Now, the challenge is that our kids understand that we can compete with the upper echelon teams and also understand what it takes to do that. We can't just walk out there and line up against Michigan or whomever. We really have to work hard to get in that position.

How will your kids handle the respect given to you in the preseason predictions?

The thing that our players understand, at least I hope they do, and I worry about it because we're a little bit younger team than we've been the last couple of years. If they see any of the preseason lofty rankings, it's just the result of us having a good ballclub the last couple of years. We haven't done a thing for this year.

Starting with Kent State, every team we play, they're not going to be real impressed with our resume or what people said about us in August. We have top play well on the field. That's the challenge that we have right now.

Kirk on Matt Roth:

With all of the energy Matt Roth has, was it important for you to channel that in a way that he could use it to his advantage on the football field?

The things that make Matt such a good football player, it did take some refining, some structuring. Bob Sanders was a little bit like that, too. One thing we were sure about with Bob when we threw him out there the first year was that he could up and play the run. He was a little bit of a liability in the passing game. It took a little while for him to learn that he had dual responsibilities.

It's a little bit tricky sometimes for a player to learn his responsibilities yet not take away from his aggressiveness. Matt had to go through that same process. There's a little more to it than the general public realizes to play within the framework of the defense.

That's what experience does for you. We're just looking for great things from him this year. He has a better understanding now than he's ever had about his role. We're going to be smart, too.

Using three words or less, describe Matt when he came into your program.

Intense. Intense. And intense. That hasn't changed.

Kirk on Pete McMahon:

Talk a little bit about Pete McMahon.

Pete was a senior in high school the first time I met Pete. It was the first Saturday of spring ball. He called and wanted to know if he could come down. I'll never forget that I was down on the field in Kinnick and he and his dad were up there in the stands. He basically wanted to know if he could walk on. I looked at the size of him, and said, "Ok, that would be a good idea."

When he showed up the next year, we had no idea what we were about to find out. He, like Jonathan Babineaux, is a quiet guy that shows up every day and works hard. He's extremely coachable. It dawned us pretty quickly that he might have a chance to be a pretty good player.

I point out to be that he played extremely well for us last year. But the rest of the story is that Pete would have been a three-year starter in a normal situation. It just so happened that we had an excellent line in 2002. Pete is a high-caliber lineman. He's as good as anybody else in the league coming back. I don't pretend to be an expert on anybody else's players. But I can't imagine that there are a lot of guys better than him.

Is it foot speed that has Pete as a RT as opposed to being a LT?

Yeah. I think he'd survive out there (at LT) because he has a good knack of what to do and how to do it. But his strengths are playing either of the guard positions or RT. Those are the three positions that he's probably best suited for.

Do you see him being another NFL draft pick?

No question. It all comes down to how he plays this year. That's going to be the determining factor of if he gets drafted or where he gets drafted. In my mind, there's no reason why he would not be a nice solid career in the National Football League.


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