Chuck Hartlieb: It was extremely impressive. These guys have to feel good about being able to turn it around like they did. It's rare. You can look across the college football landscape this year and see a few teams that were able to bounce back from midseason setbacks and finish strong. The reason is because it takes focus and concentration to do that. My hat is off to the coaching staff and the players.
Q: How do you think the seniors feel about this year, even though 7-4 was not what they wanted? What kind of legacy do they leave behind?
Hartlieb: I hope that those seniors understand the big picture and know when they look back at their four year playing careers, that they accomplished more success in games and bowl games than any other four year class to ever play at Iowa. At a Sun Bowl level or lower, they might have had some disappointment. But I have heard from families and players in the past that they have appreciated the Alamo Bowl as much if not more than the Florida bowls. I think they have to feel great about it. What they have accomplished is just unreal over the last four years.
Q: When you look at team as a whole from game 1 to 11, which unit impressed you the most with their improvement?
Hartlieb: I really think it was the offensive line. I felt like they were coming off of an average year last year and had the same talent or lesser talent back. You lose Lee Gray and Pete McMahon, two of the most important positions on the line. The addition of Albert Young helped, but here was a group of guys that clearly were mentally focused, they had great toughness and they rarely made mistakes as far as missing a blitz pickup or the nose guard sliding off the center and getting that five yard loss. How many times did we have a tackle for loss in the running game, let alone the sacks? Drew helps you there with his mobility, but the offensive line, I thought, had a wonderful year from both the passing and running perspective.
Q: Which unit surprised you the most, be it from what they did or did not do?
Hartlieb: I think the wide receiver corps is a group of guys with a lot of talent and a lot of heart, but I am sure that Coach Erb and that group is disappointed in the number of drops this year. An area of focus in the off-season has to be going to the JUGS machine, or find a way to catch 50 to 100 more balls a week. There were an inordinate number of drops on the season. I really think you look back and take two or three away in key games and we can execute that much better and maybe put another three or seven points on the board that would have made a difference.
Q: What do you say about the improvement of the defensive line? Their performance against Minnesota was hard to believe.
Hartlieb: Congratulations to Coach Aiken. I was very impressed after the Wisconsin game, but Wisconsin had lost two very good starters on their line, so I was a little concerned that there was too much momentum coming into the game against a tremendous Minnesota line. To do what they did to that running attack was the icing on the cake for them. You feel so good about the next couple of years with this group of guys and I really think that both from a rush defense and a pass rush standpoint, they are going to be able to adjust to now the inexperience on the linebacker side next year and be leaders and help the linebackers go through some of their growing pains early on.
Q: Are there any other things that stick out to you when you look back on this year?
Hartlieb: We have talked about it in previous years, and I have had fans come up to me over the last few weeks saying, ‘boy, if we only would have had Ed Hinkel for those other games we could have gone 9-2'. I have corrected people and just said that Chris Doyle, the coaching staff and the players really showed again what work ethic and toughness is all about. We had a tremendously lucky year with regards to injuries. That stuff does not come through luck alone; it comes through preparation, focus, commitment…there are so many factors that come into play to have a year like that.
Iowa fans need to look and see how many starters missed games on the Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State teams. You look at our defensive line, they started the same front four all year. The offensive line did the same, the running backs stayed healthy, our defensive backs were fine and Greenway and Hodge were there each week. You can't moan during the years you have injuries. You have to be appreciative when you have a year like this. Just that we lost one guy, it could have been a lot worse and it has been in the past. I would rather shift the attention to Coach Doyle than talk about Ed Hinkel missing three or four games.
Q: What do the young players get out of a bowl game and the preparation leading up to it?
Hartlieb: It's important. Every coaching staff is going to approach it differently. Do you try to find that second or third stringer that you want to step up and give them more time? Do you add another scheme or two, or a twist, maybe not for the bowl game but for the upcoming year and work on situations with Ed Miles maybe in a new position, or new cornerbacks having to step up off the bat next year. I think they get some valuable experience heading into the spring. More than anything else, it's back to momentum. They have a lot of pride going into another great bowl game and when you have that kind of pride, it carries into your off-season from a work ethic standpoint. It's a lot easier when you start talking about tradition and consistency, to talk about your last four bowl games that you have had versus it being a Sun Bowl or a Music City bowl. This would be a great thing going into recruiting and the off season work.
Hartlieb: I really enjoy the bowl season, because there are eight or nine weeks where we get a lot of teams rising to the top or getting hurt inside their own conferences. You really have to wonder if it's the team or the conference? I personally believe that Texas had the easiest road of any team in the Top 10 from a competition standpoint over the last eight or nine weeks. I could be wrong, but I just don't see the level of play being as strong in the Big 12 this year as it is in the SEC, the Pac 10 or the Big Ten.
With that in mind, I think we will match up favorably. What we have going for us, when we come to bowl games we come with the mindset of toughness. I think that we could get after these guys on both sides of the ball regardless of who we play and let the rest take care of itself.
We will speak with Chuck Hartlieb two more times during the course of the year. Once we learn who Iowa's bowl opponent will be, we will talk with Chuck and have him break down the game. Then after the bowl game, we will have a season wrap up with a look towards the 2006 season. Chuck will be joining Hawkeyenation.com on its bowl charter flight and we will have a special chalk talk session with Hartlieb for those who will be going with us to the bowl game. Look for more information over the coming days. For more information regarding our bowl charter trip, CLIK HERE