Kirk on the Side: Live from Chicago

Kirk Ferentz met with the assembled Iowa media on Monday after addressing the national scribes. As has always been the case, Ferentz is more candid and open when talking 'off podium', so you will not want to miss 2005's first installmet of 'Kirk on the Side'

Q: Do you kind of smile a little bit when people talk, "You couldn't run the ball" but the way you did it, with a lot of short passes, it was still ball control, the philosophy really hadn't changed had it?

Kirk Ferentz: You just have to improvise based on your personnel, and that's that situation that were confronted with. I think the staff and the players really did a great job of improvising, but certainly, all that being said, our production wasn't what we wanted it to be in terms of yardage, all those things.

Q: I know you've rather flown below the radar, but you're picked number 3 in the conference, is that good thing or a bad thing?

KF: I don't think it's a big factor right now. With all the preseason publications that have come out prior to this announcement, I think everybody's kind of grown numb to it all. I hope they have and I think most importantly our players realize it doesn't mean much, just like it doesn't mean anything when we were never selected. It's all pretty much good preseason talk.

Q: What about Drew, specifically on him as offensive player of the year?

KF: I think same thing, he certainly had his share of accolades last year, and rightfully so. But I think Drew would be the first to tell you he has a lot of things to improve on right now. Based on what we saw this spring, he's aware of that, I think his attitude is where it ought to be, I really don't see it affecting him. He's going to have to learn to live with that, because he's a pretty good player.

Q: It's preseason, is that something a player really gets into, or enjoys?

KF: I don't know how much it means exactly, other than it's nice that he's being recognized. Rightfully so, he really did some amazing things last year, but again I think his attitude is where it ought to be. He's focused on what he needs to do if he's really going to take another step forward, but if he continues to improve, he's going to have to live with notoriety, and that's something players have to learn to deal with.

Q: What's Ed Hinkel going to show people this year?

KF: To me, he's right in that category, he does fly under the radar screen. If you study a healthy Ed Hinkel, when he's been healthy, the contributions he's made, the little things that tend to go unnoticed by the casual observers, that to me is the beauty of Ed Hinkel. That's the value he brings, the work ethic, the toughness, the fearlessness that he plays with, he's just a really extraordinary young guy. Just so unassuming when you see him. You'd never guess. I think defensive guys look at him the same way, maybe that's part of the secret. He's a heck of a football player, he's had quite a career already.

Q: So with the offense, it was still ball control, still possession, do you think it's been overblown a bit, "Can they run the ball this year, can they do things?"

KF: It's nice to be able to run the ball, and that's something we're more comfortable with, if we can at least have the threat of running it. Our statistics in the bowl game, for instance, or the Wisconsin game, weren't what you want them to be from a rush standpoint, but at least we were able to threaten the defense with the run. If you can't do that, if you become one dimensional, I just think you play into the hands of a defensive football team. We don't want that, but we'll do what we have to do to try and win a football game.

Q: With the renovation, did you have an input, did you have any requests? Did they come to you for anything during the renovation?

KF: There was nothing specific, I think before the process ever began, in terms of the actual construction, I think everybody was interviewed or surveyed. Everybody, coaches, coaching staff had input, the equipment staff, training staff, and medical people. Basically it was kind of an idea of 'best and worst 3 year experiences', and I think the engineers and people responsible for making decisions tried to compile that information and make a decision. I didn't have a lot of input, to say the least, I was hoping for a big wide open locker room from our standpoint, and maybe one that wasn't quite so wide open on their side. I definitely was in support of continuation of the pink tradition, that was good. We let the experts do the work on that stuff.

Q: The way things are going, it seems everyone has done a re-do. Did Iowa have to do this, in your opinion?

KF: I never had that feeling. That being said, I think the players are going to be excited about it. Just driving by it, it's a really different feel. It's exciting to see the project underway, and obviously the completion of it is going to be great. I think really it's more for the fans. Not that I've ever seen a game at Kinnick, other than from the sideline. From what I understand, it's a little like going to Wrigley Field or Forbes Field, we had some work to do in the internal parts, and just widening the seats, that alone has been received very well in the I-Club. It's going to be a more fan-friendly place, a better place to watch a football game, and it's already pretty good to start with.

Q: You warned the guys about the last time they got big-headed, do you think they've fully grasped that concept now?

KF: My sense is yes, but we'll keep reminding them, all of us, we'll keep reminding each other about that. I don't envision us ever being to the point where we can just take things for granted. I don't think that should ever happen to you, regardless. I certainly know we're not talented enough to do that or operate that way.

Q: You haven't seen the team yet together, any position where you see a hotly contested race?

KF: I think there are going to be a lot of them. Our RB situation right now is totally fuzzy and cloudy, the DL situation, I'm not really sure. That's the good thing about preseason, it gives you a chance, instead of just to speculate, and it gives you a chance to make some evaluations and determinations. Knowing that that's going to change too, especially with younger players, they usually get better a bit more dramatically than older guys. Those two areas for sure are really of interest. The return game's the same way, I'm not sure who our returners are going to be, that all factored in with the injuries. So those areas, and the punting race, those are very obvious areas that we're going to watch very closely.

Q: Are there any freshmen that could play for you?

KF: I think it's wide open. It's early to say, in the middle of camp, we'll have a better idea. We're going to have an open mind. We're always going to try not to waste a guy's year, but if some guys can help us, we're going to be wide open on that.

Q: Do you still feel like you're in the clear, academically with those guys coming in?

KF: I think we're in good shape, everywhere around, I think. I guess we had summer school, but we really haven't been sweating too many people. Looks like we're in pretty good shape.

Q: Any injuries?

KF: Nothing major. Chris Brevi's had an on again off again with his ankle, Marcus Paschal is coming along well, I don't know. He had an ACL repair after the bowl. I think we're pretty well clear there, I'll know next Monday.

Q: At 36, never having run a program, how tough a spot is Bielema going to be in next year?

KF: It'll be a challenge. It's your first head coaching job, no matter what your age, where you're at. It's like anything, anytime you change your responsibilities; you have to learn through experience sometimes. The good thing for him is I think he's got Barry (Alvarez) there to mentor him in a real positive fashion. And Bret's prepared. I'm sure he'll do an extraordinary job with it. It'll be tough, yet I'm sure he'll be doing a great job with it. Head coaches aren't born, they don't fall out of trees, they're not born into that position, there's always training and you're always in training. He's got a great mentor there in Barry.

Q: Can you put in context a little, inexperienced defensive line, great group of linebackers, which would you rather have, line or backers?

KF: I'd rather have both. I'd rather have both, but we just don't have that luxury. I don't know which is better or which is worst, but I think the good news is we have a good, veteran surrounding cast.

Q: How much can that pay dividends to give them a learning curve on that? They are still the front line of defense.

KF: They are, and I mentioned in the spring, the second half of spring I thought they started to bow up a little bit, show some signs. I think we're going to be okay. It's like last year's line situation, we can't afford any injuries, we can't afford any setbacks, we need to make progress on a daily basis.

Q: Is it a physical aspect, or making the right reads, doing that?

KF: It's both. There's no substitute for experience, and we're sorely lacking that right now.

Q: (..back to a previous question)

KF: I think there's an amazing parallel, Barry had one year experience as a coordinator at Notre Dame, then became the head coach at Wisconsin, I'm guessing he may have seen some of that in Bret. Last year was Bret's first time with both hands on the wheel, so Bret's got two years experience as a coordinator, Barry only had one.

Q: What kind of things does (Bret) not know right now that he'll know two years from now?

KF: It's more things away from football, just trying to manage your time, put all the pieces together in a logical way. That part is a little bit of a challenge. Probably the strangest thing I remember from my first time at Maine. Instead of communicating with a group of 18 or 22 people, all of a sudden having 100+ looking at you when you're talking, that's a little different feeling. Bret's a little more extroverted that I am, so he'll do fine with that.

Q: When Bret left to go to Kansas State, was that all amicable?

KF: Yeah, totally. My approach has always been, if a guy can better himself, that's a great thing in coaching. In retrospect, that's why Barry probably left Iowa. Barry loved Iowa, but I think he saw himself boxed in a little bit with Coach Brashier. At Notre Dame, it worked out. A year later, he was a coordinator after one year as a LB coach. I think Bret was probably thinking along those lines too. It gave him a chance to be a co-coordinator, next year he was a coordinator at a Big Ten university, and now the next step is taking place. You'd have to ask Bret, but that probably was his thought process.

Q: What do you think about the people who say, "The defense is fine as long as Norm Parker's in charge, regardless."

KF: Norm would probably be the first to say he wishes it was that easy. Certainly his expertise and guidance is a big plus, just like I don't know if there's a better teacher than Ron Aiken. That's a real plus too. All that being said, we'll have work to do. We'll have growing pains to go through, but we like the group of guys we're working with, and I think everything's in place for us to have success eventually.

Q: The last three years have been three of the four best run stopping units in school history. It almost seems like plug-and-play.

KF: We're hoping we can continue that trend. I'm not taking anything for granted, but I'm not staying up at night worrying about this, I think we're going to be OK. It's not going to be overnight, we're certainly going to be better in October than we are in September, and if we're not, then we're going to be in trouble. That's a big thing, we're going to have to get better with each week.

Q: With Ohio State and Michigan being picked ahead of you, is that extra motivation for you guys?

KF: Not at all. As I said out there, probably the only team missing there is Purdue. If you look at the whole picture, the schedule, the amount of good players coming back, all that, I'm not sure Purdue's not the favorite, I really believe that. I think they have as good a chance as anybody right now to win the conference. To separate the three of those schools would be tough. Penn St. is not far out off the best with their defense coming back, a pretty good coaching staff, and a good group of players, they've got a lot of experience coming back offensively, I look for them to make big improvements. Wisconsin, Minnesota, you go ride down the road, Northwestern with Basanez. It's going to be another challenging year, for everybody.

Q: Whoever wins the conference, do you think they have the capability of challenging for the national title?

KF: If they can get through undefeated, and that's going to be a heck of a trick. We only play in-conference games, and that's a tough road. That doesn't happen very often, if you look at the records, if you can't get through undefeated, you have to be lucky, I think, to end up in that championship game.

Q: You talk about those other teams, but do you think you belong in the mix too?

KF: I think we do. I'm not sure where, I wouldn't know how to handicap it. We're certainly one of the top 5 (in the conference), at this point. We haven't played a game yet, so hopefully we can stay in the mix. It's going to be an interesting race, hopefully we'll be right in it.

Q: Does the Big Ten have the best trio of linebackers when you throw in AJ Hawk?

KF: I thought you were throwing in Ed Miles. (laughs). It's a pretty good group, AJ Hawk is an outstanding football player. I'm a little biased, obviously, but I wouldn't trade our two for anybody I've ever been around.

Q: Is there one common thing that they all have?

KF: They're all excellent football players, they get to the ball, the make plays. It's hard for me to talk about AJ Hawk other than what I see. The guy plays with great passion, enthusiasm, energy, but I know our guys so, so well. To me, it's so much more than what they do on the game field. That's the best part about Abdul and Chad, all the things they do outside of what you see on Saturdays. That part is really going to be tough to replace that when that time comes.

Q: You talk about continuity in your coaches staff, what are one or two of the keys to your consistent success the last 3 or 4 years?

KF: I think the most important thing is just the work that our players have done. The effort they've put in as players, and the attitude they've had. We couldn't ask for anything more there, so to me, that's what it's been about. Our best players have really symbolized why we've had success. You look at the Gallerys, Clarks, Sanders', Babineauxs, those guys have been just great young guys, Brad Banks, Kaedings, not only have they played extremely well, but they've been great guys to work with and coach, great guys to have on a football team. When your best players conduct themselves the way those guys have, it's a great benefit.

Q: Because of the success those guys have had, do you feel you can recruit nationally with Michigan, Ohio State?

KF: Yes and no. We'll go knock on doors, but realistically, our knocks don't get answered near as much as the guys you talk about.

Q: You still don't feel you're there yet?

KF: Not yet. It depends on the individual, it depends what they're looking at. If they're just talking based on a name, we're still not in that category, we've got a long ways to go there.


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