Kirk on the Side: 9/27

Kirk Ferentz speaks in depth about the zone running play, the effect of other coaches on recruiting, how to rebound from a tough loss, and much more in this premium transcript.

Q: (On the man offering an 'unstoppable play')

Kirk Ferentz: Who knows, who knows. If it'll get us a touchdown or a positive yardage play, it might be a good deal.

Q: Are you concerned about the mental state of any of these guys?

Ferentz: Coaches, or players?

Q: All of you, but players mostly.

Ferentz: Yeah, I mean, you know you're always concerned about the mental state of players through good times or bad times. That's part of the job. When it's all said and done, whether you win, you lose, you move forward. Really, that's what we all need to do right now. I say 'we', we involved with the football team. I know that's not your job. For us, it's our job to look forward and focus on what we need to do better. It's about as simple as that.

Q: Do you emphasize character and toughness more or execution and Xs and Os?

Ferentz: What would help our morale is all of us doing better. It starts at the top, all of us need to do a little bit better job, that's all. When we do that, that'll help our morale.

Q: You guys put your team, the last couple of years, in the best possible position to win, strategically and stuff like that.

Ferentz: We've blown things. Bottom line is, when the team wins, anything you blow gets overlooked then when you lose, anything you blow gets projected more. Everybody does that. Players do that, coaches do that, that's just how it works. Again, I think what's really important for our team right is just to focus on what's in front of us. That's what we've done in the past. It didn't work so well in 99 or 2000, and it worked a little better the years following that. It still comes down to doing the best we can do this week, and then when the season is over, we'll take inventory where we're at.

Q: This may have been addressed on Saturday, but was there any concern with what's going down in Baytown Texas with Charles Godfrey and Drew Tate?

Ferentz: Certainly there's concern. I mean, it impacted me. I saw Dick Olin after the game, and certainly I talked to Drew and Charles before, whatever day it was, Thursday. If you're human, it affects you. I got to thinking about Dick and his wife, when you jump in your car to pull out. You jump in your car and you may never see your house again. What do you choose to put in the car, those kinds of things that none of us would ever think about. As you might imagine, I haven't wanted a lot of TV recently, but it impacted me the other day I saw a clip talking about people in a nursing home. Things you don't think about if you're young and healthy that's one thing, but people in nursing homes, hospitals, it's all so surreal and unbelievable from my vantage point. Look at us, we're living safely and I'm able to coach football. To get back to your question, it has to impact those guys, you're worried about your family, you're worried about your home.

Q: Have you or Carl had any contact with Babineaux? Anybody on the staff?

Ferentz: Mrs. Babineaux calls every Thursday or Friday nights. I don't know that Carl's spoken to her directly, but I know she's out of harm's way. I don't know what the extent of the damage is at their home< I don't know that.

Q: Where are David Walker and Matt Melloy at?

Ferentz: David had a full week of practice before UNI, partial last week, pretty much full, but partial. Matt's creeping back in there, neither one of them are in great shape, obviously because they've missed so much time. They're trying to stay healthy and trying to get in shape.

Q: What about Marques Simmons?

Ferentz: He's back, he's back full speed.

Q: Is there still competition on the offensive line?

Ferentz: We're 2-2. We're looking at everything right now, it's pretty simple. We're looking at everything.

Q: Is it serious competition, will there be any changes?

Ferentz: You'd probably draw a line at 8 guys right now that we have confidence in them playing. Maybe we need to explore that. We're looking at it and seeing how they practice. Some guys have been practicing very very well who haven't been playing much. Maybe we need to get them in there a little bit

Q: Has Damian Sims moved to the number 2 tailback spot?

Ferentz: No. Uh-Uh. Absolutely not. There are certain situations, but no, he's not.

Q: I don't want to say this for sure, but the zone running game, where did you first see that?

Ferentz: Oh gosh. First see it?

Q: When did you first put the principles together, and when did you start using it?

Ferentz: Twenty years ago? I don't know. Maybe thirty.

Q: Why has it become such a buzzword now do you think?

Ferentz: It's more prevalent and prominent now than it used to be. I think whenever Denver started really clipping along pretty good. Anybody that wins the Super Bowl. It's like the west coast offense, nobody ever heard of that until San Fran won a Super Bowl, then it's all west coast offense. Denver was a great, still is, a great zone running team. I didn't see the game last night but it sounds like they ran the ball well. Then that became a buzzword, things in football, just whatever the soup of the week is.

Q: When did it first click with you?

Ferentz: We fooled with it here. In some pro ball, we ran a lot in Maine, we zoned a lot in Maine. I remember in Cleveland, going over to Notre Dame visiting with Joe and watching, going through the cut up reels from Wisconsin, Bill Callahan had come down to visit with Joe. He had all their tapes sitting there. I remember we went through all that tape and they were doing a great job with the zone counter game. There's always been an interest area.

Q: What's the one block that needs to happen to make that play go?

Ferentz: It depends on how they play it. Somehow, someway you've got to try and cut the defense, somewhere in there. It might be the center's block. Denver does a great job, Minnesota does the same thing, they do a great job of cutting the back side of the defense off somehow. In layman's terms, basically, the players have to have the mentality there is no 'off' side. Even if you're not the point of attack, everybody's role is critical. To get the defense cut and distorted at some point it takes everybody really working.

Q: Is there a godfather of zone blocking?

Ferentz: I don't know who it is. I don't know. It's not Dixie White, I know that. That's one of Coach Fry's guys. He's the inventor of the cut block, according to Coach Fry. That was well before my time, I don't know who the godfather is. Alex Gibbs is one of the more famous guys. The Redskins were doing a good job with the zone counter, Joe Bugle.

Q: What is your running back looking at? I know Wisconsin, they're looking at the left tackle.

Ferentz: The guy blocking the defensive end, if you're talking about the slant play. It's usually the tackle/tight end, that's usually the initial read.

Q: When you compare the situation Coach Zook comes into and you come into versus what he had in Florida, is there a bit of a blessing coming into a program that everybody understands is going to be patient, or not? It seemed like he walked right into the fire at Florida.

Ferentz: Yeah. I guess. To me, it's the difference between taking over at a school where everyone goes into the tank if a team goes 10-1. Yeah. I heard Coach Smith say it was easier to go somewhere that the team's been struggling. Someone asked him that question. Just depends on what you're looking for.

Q: Back the zone running play, what's the objective, what do you want the defense to do on that?

Ferentz: The idea is to get them running laterally a little bit. You just try and get them disordered at some point and it takes a good back that see that and make the appropriate cuts. Most teams have combinations of blocking, it's hard just to zone everything. You don't see as much counter, true counter, playing the OT, it's kind of gone by the wayside. There are other ways to insert somebody in there and take it out of a zone concept and do a man concept if you will.

Q: How do you see your Illinois recruiting shaping up now that Zook's in place and Weis is in place.

Ferentz: First of all, any time you have staff changes, you usually get a real initial push out of it. Hey, the future's bright now, it's like anything, it's a clean start, we're going to win them all, all that stuff. The key factor on top of it also, Notre Dame's always been a home state school in Illinois, especially in Chicago. I learned that we were recruiting a young man named Ron Plants, his brother coaches up in Tama. I wanted him to visit, this is in like 1982. The secretary said "We lost last night in basketball" I said "Gee, that's too bad, who'd you guys play?" I thought they were playing Gordon Tech was playing St Rita. She goes "No, Notre Dame, we lost last night." I said "oh, we're in trouble" and the kid went to Notre Dame. They're just the home. It's always been tough to recruit in there, it's kind of like winning in our conference and recruiting in Illinois has always been a challenge. To me, it just makes it that much harder.

Q: Did your team get a sense of the bandwagonism?

Ferentz: I would imagine. Players are more in tune to that than coaches, because players are out there living normal lives, coaches don't. I think they're much more in tune to the good or the bad. The negative talk, or the positive. That's why, as a coach, you're always trying to figure out what these guys are reading, what are they hearing. If we're doing good, they hear way to much "You guys are great," even if we're not, and when we're doing poorly, I'm sure they're hearing, "You stink." That's sports, that's sports. We just encourage them to try not to listen to too much of any of it because the answer is somewhere in the middle, usually. A lot easier said than done.

Q: Is it easier for the young kids to rebound from this kind of stuff than the guys who have seen a lot of really good things?

Ferentz: Yeah. They don't have as much invested probably, to start with. I don't mean to slight their desire to win or anything like that. Younger guys bounce back, I think, a little bit quicker. I'd expect our older guys to be fine. The thing they know is that the season's hardly over, they have experience in that, they realize that we have the potential to improve a great deal and that's where we need to focus. They've got to help lead us, they've got to lead our football team, and they will.

Q: When you came back on Sunday, what did you want to see out of your team, psychologically? What did you see out of them?

Ferentz: I don't worry a lot about that stuff on Sundays. We don't really practice, per say, on Sunday. If everybody's not feeling a little bit down then they probably shouldn't be involved. TO me, what's really of more concern is what we do from today on. Tuesday is the day we start work, we'll start meeting this afternoon and practicing. That's really, to me, the most important thing.

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