Q: You mentioned Hinkel in the same breath as the three linebackers, what about Hinkel makes him fit that mold, not his physical size, obviously.
Kirk Ferentz: Yeah, although when he got here he was under 170 right now he's about 190, he doesn't look it. I'm sure you guys feel the same way, he looks like he did five years ago. To me, he's one of those guys who flies under the radar, he's a sneaky good football player. He's made a ton of big plays, some obvious great ones, up at Penn St, Iowa St, the Michigan catch. He's made a ton of big plays for us that maybe don't seem too big at the time, but after the game's over you go back and look and they were critical. This year we start out with two interceptions against Wisconsin, and he made that grab on a 3rd down conversion, or else we're punting. It wasn't really a pretty pass by Drew, he makes a nice snag on it, for a non-dramatic first down, then we took it down and scored. If we had punted there, who knows what would have happened. I think it was really critical at that point. That to me is Ed Hinkel in a nutshell. He does things that allow you to keep yourself alive, keep yourself going, yet it's usually not a headline. If you track him, you can ask him how many losses he's been involved in since 7th grade, and it's not many. He always seems to win. It's nice to have guys like that on your team.
Q: You talked about your recruiting class and the accolades helping with that, is it just now getting a little easier?
Ferentz: People are a little more receptive to us now, I guess. We're able to go into some areas or visit with some prospects that five years ago we couldn't have. All that being said, we still have our challenges, we still don't necessarily have the name of some schools, we don't have the weather, we don't have the exotic location, and that's OK. I think the whole thing works because we sell what we have, and for the most part it seems to attract someone who's going to do OK in our program.
Q: Your players seem to be OK with the fact that it's looked at as 'Ohio State and Michigan'.
Ferentz: It should be. I don't see a problem with that because it should be. If we could put ten more seasons together like we've had the last three, then maybe we'd be included in that. I don't know I'll still be around then, that's a long time from now. They've earned that right, along with Penn State. You look at the tradition and history of those programs, the consistency, there's a reason why they're in that upper echelon. All that being said, it doesn't mean you can't have success, that's something I learned in the 80s at Iowa.
Q: Are you looking forward to a year where you actually have a returning quarterback?
Ferentz: Yeah, we don't know how to act right now, it's been really a lot of fun. The good news is that it's a good quarterback coming back. He's a lot of fun to be around, most of the time. Drew's an energized player.
Q: Chad said that he didn't think you guys got the best Ohio State team last year. Talk about that challenge with Ohio State this year.
Ferentz: That was an aberration. I would like to think our appearance, or lack of appearance at Arizona State was similar to that. Not to take anything away from them, or taking away from our game against Ohio State. Bottom line is we all saw what kind of football team Ohio State was last year, especially at the end of the season. They've got as many good players coming back as anybody in the conference. Playing at Ohio State's never been easy, it never will be and part of that is because they always have a good team, and this is no exception. It's going to be a real task for our team.
Q: There was some discussion yesterday about Purdue not having to play Michigan and Ohio State.
Ferentz: We have the same rotation in two years, so I'm totally against any rule changes at this point. (Laughs).
Q: Might it be not wise from a PR standpoint, or might it be an insult to some of the other teams, but in your opinion, should the Big Ten consider breaking up that rotation? You've got the two traditional powerhouses in the league, no matter who draws that rotation, you can't argue it's a huge advantage.
Ferentz: To me it seems like our conference is the champion of tradition. To me, it's worked well, luck of the draw. I think we've opened up on the road in our Big Ten schedule, I can't think of the last time we didn't open up on the road in conference. It's going to be that way next year as well, so I'm not quite sure where this computer comes from, but anyway, as a coach I don't worry about those things, I really don't. The only way to do it totally fairly and equitably would be to do a round robin. If our conference had nine teams, I think it would be a great idea, maybe if we had 10 playing 12 games, but I really think non-league games are very important. It's a different subject, but in 2002, us and Ohio State didn't play each other and both ended up going undefeated. Every now and then things like that are going to happen, and if they do, they do. Last year you could argue Wisconsin had a pretty favorable schedule. To me, the challenge is you take what's in front of you and make the most of it, I don't worry too much about what gets laid in front of me.
Q: So after this two year period, you will not have Michigan and Ohio State on the schedule?
Ferentz: Last two years we play Indiana and Northwestern, this shift we don't play Michigan St or Penn St, and then Michigan and Ohio State the year after. It's been different every mix. We've benefited, my first two years at Iowa, we didn't have to play Drew Brees, he was a lot of fun to watch on film, knowing we didn't have to line up against him. Or the quarterback from Michigan, Drew Henson. We didn't see those two. Not that it mattered, we couldn't win games but I almost think that's part of the intrigue of this whole thing.
Q: I was walking past a Nike store, and out in the front of the store, there's a big display and it's Michigan and Ohio State, just those two teams. Do you ever see a day when Iowa will be there?
Ferentz: That would be a dream situation. I said earlier it would probably take about 10 more years like we've had. If that's the case, I'll wheel up there in my wheelchair and maybe buy an Iowa jersey, a jacket. To me, I don't have any problem with it, they've earned it, they've been dominant in the conference. Maybe dominant's not the right word, but they've been very successful in the conference since the late 60s. They've done very well, typically in the top 2 or 3 teams in the league. To the victors go the spoils, they've earned that.
Q: So you're not on par with those programs, yet?
Ferentz: If you start talking about longevity and tradition, you go back to the 60s, just do the math, those two have really been extremely successful.
Q: With the recent seasons that you've had, do you feel like your program is starting to get the respect you deserve?
Ferentz: I think we've gotten everything we deserve. We weren't very good 6 years ago, there wasn't much good to write about at that point. They last couple years we've been fortunate, we've played well, and I think everybody's been more than fair to us. The coverage that we've received has been very flattering and deserving, I think our players have earned that right. That's the way life is, you have to earn what comes your way, and typically you get what you deserve.
Q: You were talking a bit about your recruits before, getting into some places you didn't. Do you think you've got a higher grade of kid that looks at you and says, "I'd like to go to Iowa someday", or having Iowa on their short list?
Ferentz: It's improving, but the danger there is that we can't fool ourselves and start thinking that our percentage is going to be as good as some other schools that we're talking about there. We have to be very wary of that. Also we have to make sure we keep recruiting the way we have been recruiting, looking for the same traits and attributes, making our own decisions, not going off of publications, what an expert may say about a player. I think we've done a fairly good job of trying to come to our own conclusions on prospects and I think it's real important we keep doing that.
Q: How has the bar been raised in your program?
Ferentz: We don't look at it that way. Our goal has been to be in the race in November, that's our goal, it's pretty simple. Obviously we'd love to win it. There are ten other teams trying to do that as well. We just look at every season individually. That wasn't a realistic goal in 99, 2000, 2001, we knew that. We still held it out there and focused on more tangible, more attainable goals. It's probably more realistic to think now that we're a team that can compete in November. That being said, if we don't do well in September, we won't be there in November.
Q: These kids that you've just recruited, would you have a shot at those kids 5 years ago?
Ferentz: No, absolutely not. For the most part, we're fishing in different waters. We had some guys in this class that were not heavily recruiting, some didn't have any major scholarship offers. Jonathan Babineaux was a guy who just graduated who was the same way. I remember 1987 Michigan State happened to be my team to scout when I was at Iowa. If the columnist was accurate, they won the rose bowl that year, they had 17 starters that didn't have a big ten offer anywhere else. We try to make our decision based on the information we have in front of us and what we learn about a player. We've had examples of guys that weren't recruited, walk-ons, that have done very well. We've had some guys who were highly recruited that did very well and some that were highly recruited and didn't do very well. It's one phase to the next, once they get into college it's a little different.
Q: What kind of guy fits the Iowa mentality?
Ferentz: It's pretty simple, we want to recruit guys that want to get a degree. That being said, I think all of us remember what it was to be 18, 19, 20, and I think classes might not be number one your list of likeable things. But we want guys who are serious about that, guys who are going to be good citizens in the community. Our players are very visible in our community, so that's important. We want guys that are really committed to being the best they can be as football players, trying to maximize what they have and do it within the framework o a team.
Q: Ed Hinkel commented, and he's a guy that can relate to this, for the staff getting guys on campus might be difficult, but once you get them there, you've got a great chance because people are going to like Iowa City and the campus. They're thinking Iowa, small rural state, thinking they're going to live in a barn or something.
Ferentz: I went there in 1981, coming from Pittsburgh. I was amazed, I really had no expectations, not really low expectations, no expectations. I was just so surprised by the community, the campus, the Iowa City community, but most importantly the people. There's something in the air or something I don't know what it is, they're just very unique. If we get a prospect on campus and he's got an open mind, our chances increase.
Q: You said your margin for error is still not as big as someone like Ohio State and Michigan. Is it still that same way?
Ferentz: No question. Just do the math, our bottom 20 or 30 players aren't going to match up with theirs. It's really unusual if we have a freshman phenom. We had Bob Sanders who could cover kicks as a freshman but he couldn't backpedal. That's how he made a name as a freshman, but he had to learn how to play defense. Typically our guys are better in their last three years, our teams get better as the year goes on, so that's just kind of the nature about our program.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about Norm Parker as a person?
Ferentz: First of all, he's an outstanding defensive coordinator and an outstanding coach, but I always say he's a better person. I can't say enough about it, that was one of the things that really stood out when we were trying to put a staff together. His wisdom, his experiences good and bad, he hasn't coached at all the glamorous schools, that really appealed to me, he's a very positive guy, not to mention witty and funny and all that. A very positive guy, he's dealt with his share of hardships off the field, and that's continued. To me, a guy with that background, that expertise, just how lucky were we to have him on our staff. When times were rough, things have been bumpy and he's been a great stabilizing force on our staff.
Q: What was it like when he was going through his hardest part, then have him recover, what was it like to get him back?
Ferentz: It was such a tough year as you might imagine personally for Norm, and that affected everybody. We all feel so strongly about him family, and Jeff, that was tough. He persevered, he never got down, the only thing was he felt like he was letting us down. That's how Norm thinks, and that was hardly the case, so it was great to get him back in the flow of things, it really meant a lot to our football team.
Q: He's got a sense of humor, it kind of keeps everyone else going?
Ferentz: He's got one second to none. He's always got the quips.