Given all of the obstacles you have overcome this year, is what you accomplished this year more rewarding that last the last few years?
It really is, and that is one of the neatest things about sports. Every season is different and they are always adventurous. This one got real adventurous at times. All of the things that happened during the course of the season…you go back to March, the guys just played through things. The attitude that our players showed speaks volumes. It's really rewarding to work with people like that. For anyone who is just a casual observer of football, if you watch our team play, especially coming down the stretch, you have to like the guys. That is the bottom line. You never know how a season is going to go, and I promise you that none of us were predicting 9-2. If you had given us some truth serum two months ago…
That is the thing about sports; you never know. That gets back to the people that you work with. What these guys have accomplished, it has been very, very impressive.
Is there one game that stands out the most as a turning point?
I think it goes back to Arizona State. I don't know how it could have been any worse, or how any of us could have been lower. It was hard to find much good out of that thing, and that got us in gear. We found a different gear after that game. It did not become visible immediately, and we were never a dominant team this year.
I think the guys just pulled closer together and found more commitment, and good things resulted from that.
Do you think without that game, you would be sitting here talking about 9-2 right now?
It might have been the next week. The bottom line is that we played a good team and we were not ready to go. If you play a team that is not quite as good as Arizona State or Michigan, sometimes you get away with that and you fool yourself.
One thing in sports, is that winning can make you overlook some necessary details, and you get a false sense of confidence from winning, if you are not careful. Sometimes you just need to get taken to the woodshed, and we did. They did a nice job of that, too. It as pretty thorough.
The key thing is how do the guys respond? We are around quality people here, and when you are around quality people, usually you get the right responses when unwanted things happen. I have always believed that. Good people respond in the proper way.
Does that mean that you are going to go on and win a championship? No. There are no guarantees, but at least you move in the right direction and have the right response.
How important was the first drive of the Michigan game after the ASU game? You score a TD on an 80 yard drive.
Tony Jackson makes a great catch early. We carried ourselves much better from Sunday on that week. I think it showed up. If you take the turnovers out of that game, and it's a different ballgame. Our defense played pretty well, but you can't pull turnovers out. But that is where we were at that point. It was the best we could do at that day. I felt that our guys played with really good effort, but we were not good enough to beat Michigan at that point. That is the way it goes. That is when we played them, we knew that a year ago, but we were not good enough that day. At least we were on the path of becoming a football team, and that showed up more so the next week in terms of results, but at least we were on the path.
It's all about being on the path, to me. Results take care of themselves.
Do you think you have had more guys on field doing things this year who came out off of your developmental teams?
Guys that don't get a lot of work on Saturdays, yeah.
Do you think that happens more at Iowa than at other programs?
It may be, I don't talk about that a lot with other coaches. From the first day, the guys are in the weight room with Chris. We coach everybody. Anyone that is on our team is on our team, and we coach them all. That paid off for us this year. Due to the nature of the kind of year we had, we joked during the season that things went well beyond the ‘Next Man In', it was ‘Any Man In'.
When you get a guy like Sam Brownlee…I can tell you right now, I never once had a concern with Sam protecting the football. This year, that was critical to our success. Did I think he was going to pop a couple of 70-yarders? Probably not. But the one thing that I knew, he was going to be ready to play and he would be reliable and trustworthy. The way we played football this year that was really important. He accepted that, and that is just how he is built.
To have guys like Aaron Mickens stepping up big and making plays at the end of the Penn State game, it just seemed like every week, someone was stepping up and doing something for us and helping us out.
Are those things that you see, and that you are not taking a chance?
It is not fun putting guys on the field that you don't trust, and we have tried to avoid that. I think our players understand they earn trust through their preparation on the practice field.
Damian Sims is the same way. I never worried about him. I thought one of the big turns in the game the other day started with Damian's kick return. It was a great scheme by Lester, we talked about how important that was during the week.
We thought that we would have a chance; we were down at the bottom of the Big Ten in kickoff returns this year, but we have not had many good opportunities. We felt last week that we would have a shot at it.
They score and make it 7-7, and then we bring that thing right out to the 40 and Damian was the guy with the football, and Drew took over from there.
That was a major key in that game, to answer their touchdown. Little things like that get hidden, but that was a big, big play in the football game.
There were a lot of fans wearing t-shirts that read, ‘In Kirk We Trust'. What do you think of that?
I did not see them, but I read about them. I am glad they do. I am glad that they are not throwing things. As long as they are wearing t-shirts and there is no profanity, right? We have gone through that stage. I am glad they are cheering for us and not throwing things at us.
Was this the most draining year that you and your staff have ever experienced?
Yeah, we were forced to be more creative than we have in the past. When it was all said and done, everyone in that locker room was tired the other day, but boy, what a good tired. We have a lot of slogans floating around our place, none of which I started.
Norm started one that said ‘Empty the Tank'. This was the year that we had to empty the tank. I think we got our best out of everybody involved, and that is really gratifying. Our best guys, our defensive line, we needed them to play and they played. The Sam Brownlee's, the Paschal's, the guys that have not played a lot, they did a great job. Miguel Merrick coming off the bench, he did a fantastic job. For us to have success this year, that is what it took and that is what ended up happening.
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