Illinois Week: Kirk on the Side

In this week's frank and detailed 'On the Side' discussion with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, he talks about Illinois, recruiting in that state, how he decides if freshmen will play or not, antics during recruiting as well as his thoughts on the post game interview that ESPN conducted with Mike Klinkenborg last week. That and more in this 'On the Side' discussion

Q: Is Anthony Bowman still around? He didn't see the field last week.

Kirk Ferentz: He is our third z or flanker. Grigsby, then Andy then Bowman. We will get him in there.

Q: Did you try hard to recruit ‘Juice' Williams?

Ferentz: Yeah. Yes we did, then secondly, we never had a lot of interest from him. My recollection, it was Tennessee and Illinois and for whatever reason he didn't have much love for us, but we liked him and thought he was a very good prospect and still think so.

Q: Do you like nicknames?

Ferentz: I never, uh, well, yeah you can do what you want. Bob Sanders' real name was Demond. Yeah, what ever works.

Q: Why have you been successful recruiting in Illinois?

Ferentz: Team success is where it starts I think. We really had a hard time recruiting the Midwest, or any Big Ten area back in 1998, 199 and 2000 because our team was not so good. There is a residual effect there. The more you succeed, players from the Midwest are more interested. That was one of our goals, because we are under 3 million in our state so we cant solely exist on Iowa players. If we could we would be Ohio State, but we are not. SO we work the Midwest, particularly the Big Ten. We don't do northwest or southwest, but we try to do a good job of a five or six hour radius if we can.

Q: What was the thought process to put Lester Erb in charge of Illinois recruiting?

Ferentz: That was long ago. Lester is a hard working young guy that has a lot of energy and is an excellent recruiter. It made sense. Reese works our state hard and does well and Lester does well over there. We have had discussions about two guys over there, but I think we are getting it done the way we want to get it done, and sometimes its better to not muddy the waters. Maybe one guy having ownership is better and we feel good about what he is doing.

Q: Did he take over Chuck Long's territory?

Ferentz: Probably. When I was here in the 80's we split it. It used to be Route 5, it's 88 now. We went north and south. I am trying to remember when Chuck got here if he did the whole city. He was in there, I know that. We have had discussions a few years, not every year, but a couple of times, should we put two guys in there, our answer comes back to we are doing it the right way right now. It makes sense. You can drive to the west suburbs and back by the time you can get to Sioux City. We have a lot of students from our student body from there, so we recruit hard there.

Q: Are you surprise that you are minus five in turnovers and have a perfect 3-0 record?

Ferentz: Yeah, but if you really look at that closely, the surprising thing is that we had four at Syracuse and won. Pull those four out and the stat is not as relevant. But I will say that we turned it over four times and won. We don't want to try that again. I knew that would not work last week. That to me is the key thing. It's kind of like those scores; we are early in the season where I don't look at stats right now. Someone puts them in my box now, and I throw those away. I will look in about three weeks maybe.

Q: Do you ever come out and say who you want running the ball at certain situations in the game?

Ferentz: I don't say typically. Carl comes to me and tells me his plan. I say that sounds good to me. I can't ever remember overriding Carl. I have never been around a finer running back coach at any level than Carl Jackson.

Q: Shonn Greene played well, ran once for 18 yards. Do you have to say things to him to keep his head up?

Ferentz: I am not big on that, but with Shonn I want to let him know he is doing a great job. I tell guys to be patient. It's a dilemma, but a good dilemma. He is doing great things on special teams. We are really lucky.

Q: He did well at Milford Prep for a year, then he doesn't have a flashy role here. Is that hard for a player?

Ferentz: I have talked about Albert being better than I thought and Shonn is the same way. He works hard, he is low maintenance, I don't have to grab him and talk to him about something. It's ironic in this game last year is where he took one on the shoulder. He was sore there. I was hoping last year in October he could get going. He got nailed good, we didn't advertise that. It's hard to tell a player to be patient. But that is really our situation. It would be different if Shonn thought Damien and Albert were not good players, but they have respect for each other and they keep working together, but he has been a delight and a model in a lot of ways.

Q: Is he one of those ‘football players' you refer to? The way he plays special teams, and does everything/

Ferentz: He would be an awesome linebacker. Gosh, would he be good. Don't think that Norm hasn't sniffed around on that one from the day he walked in. That wont happen . It's kind of like Greenway or Babineaux, if you had three of them, they would all be out there. Shonn is that way. He is no nonsense on the field; he works hard and likes playing.

Q: So the offense got Greene and the defense got AJ Edds?

Ferentz: Yeah, for right now. Shonn would be good in the box. He would be all over the place. If he comes to me on that we will entertain it, but I am not waiting for that either.

Q: It doesn't seem like you have to do much ego massaging on this team.

Ferentz: No, not at all. We have good guys. I can't say that enough. Where the problem starts if you have a guy not playing well on the field and you have good players behind them. If you get stubborn or silly, that is when you have moral problems on your team. It's pretty hard to criticize Albert and Damien. Every guy that touches the ball wants it if they are good. If you are running back, you want to run it. I go back to Fred Russell. The guy never came in, never asked a question about carries or anything. He never once did.

Q: Do conversations amongst the coaches regarding wanting players take place much?

Ferentz: Not often. Passing comments in the hall or whatever. Every now and then I bring things up in the meetings. Hey norm said this, that type of thing. Not that often.

Q: What do you look for when you decide to play a true freshman?

Ferentz: It's based on two things. The team situation at that position certainly, and then most importantly that player. Can you project him going out there and playing successfully and not having it ruin the rest of his life, too, where he will be a mess academically. Putting too much pressure on. You really have to make sure that the player has made the transition to college life and then also can handle football on top of it and that is a tall order. Just transitioning to college is a big challenge. I tell recruits the same thing, we are more interested in a guy's last three years being the best years of his career than him coming in and making a first year splash. That may hurt us in recruiting, but that is how we look at it. To me it's about the big picture and that is our job, to make sure a guy has a chance to play the last few years of his career.

Q: A few years ago, after that big class, you stopped letting freshman talk to the media. We haven't spoken with Dominique.

Ferentz: You have a better memory than I do. He has enough on his plate right now, all those guys do. I would be happy if they go to class. If they can play well on top of it that is better. That is really the deal.

Q: Was Hayden the same way?

Ferentz: I know Penn State, they (freshmen) are not in the press guide. They will get to it soon enough.

Q: When you are recruiting a kid you let them know about that?

Ferentz: We don't talk about it. I don't know if that would have an impact. A lot of places regulate when NFL people can come in and that doesn't hurt the schools doing it. That to me is really silly.

Q: A lot of people are saying Maurice Clarrett had too much as a true frosh, right out of school.

Ferentz: I would rather error on the other side, because I do think in this day and age, there is so much adulation and so much publicity. Our society, if a guy does one thing well, boy, it's a big, big thing. It's such a long race, especially to be a college student athlete. I don't chuckle, but its unfortunate when a highlight of a players career is his recruitment. The press conferences an the announcement and the limo and all that. Half of those guys never surface as players in college. I hope that is not the highlight of their life, the day they pulled four hats out and made their announcements. If that is the highlight, that is unfortunate thing. That is where we are heading right now as a world. Nobody is there to take pictures when a guy gets a diploma, or plays his 14th straight game.

Q: Is that what makes Dominique's story unique? He came here with no fanfare and with his mother.

Ferentz: We have had our share of those. But even if he had been highly recruited, the way he conducts himself is nice. He doesn't seem to be affected from where I am looking. Usually that shows up in practice where guys get distracted. I have not seen it yet.

Q: Do you shy away from players that hold the press conferences and do the hat thing?

Ferentz: We don't fish in those waters too often. I did pose a question to our staff last February. I wish someone would do a study on the guys that do that, how many of them really hit it big. Kevin Jones I know pulled it and had a nice career, he had the Penn State stuff and did the chango thing. I would like to do a study on that if I had free time. If anyone wants to volunteer. I can't imagine Tom Brady doing that. I can't see Bob Sanders doing it. The guys that we have had. I think it tells you some thing. I don't fault the individuals I fault the adults around the individuals. I don't want to be a party pooper. Its an exciting times

Q: What about the players putting on a hat, then changing it to another one?

Ferentz: If it were my kid? He would be in some serious trouble. But again, someone needs to guide them. Some parents need guidance sometimes.

Q: One thing about the media in Iowa, it's not big, but its intimate.

Ferentz: It's what's so good about Iowa, what makes it so good to be a player or coach here. But it's a double edged sword, it can work against us if we are not careful. I tell our guys, not frequently, that you don't even have to do anything. You just wear the gear, and everyone thinks (you are special). It is special to be on the team, but you have to do things every week. You don't get a diploma by being good once in a while. You have to work for it.

Q: Do you think more turnovers will come?

Ferentz: It's kind of like our running game. We are so early right now. Four turnovers at Syracuse were not takeaways, obviously. I think our whole team right now three weeks into it, we are doing some things OK. The key thing for us is to continue to make progress. IF we do the turnovers work themselves out. The run pass yardage, yards per carry, they will work out. But they are related to each other.

Q: Getting pressure up front is a important.

Ferentz: That is a part of it, no question. We have had opportunities in the kicking game, you can get the takeaway there too. It's a big picture thing. Going to the secondary part, don't give up the easy stuff right now. Let's don't hurt ourselves.

Q: How do you assess the first three games?

Ferentz: So far so good. We are climbing the ladder. We have a chance to get better and that is important.

Q: Were you more impressed with your coverage in the second half against Iowa State?

Ferentz: I will say this, going into the game, as you might suspect, we were all a little worried. That was a pretty good corps of receivers. You get Blythe on anyone, I am not saying it's the same as, but it's like Edwards and some of the guys Michigan rolls out there all the time. We will see more of those this year. That is always a concern. You can't double cover everyone.

Q: What would you say about the post game interview on ESPN with Mike Klinkenborg?

Ferentz: I think the interviewer, based on my experiences with him, seems like a great and good guy. My guess is, and you guys would know better than I do, is that those questions, kind of like headlines, I know those come from a different place. I am guessing that those came from a different source probably. Had I known those questions would have been asked…I was not thinking at that time. But if I had known, I would have not let that interview take place, either. That is a tough thing especially for a guy Mike Klinkenborg's age. That is a tough day, period. I know it made great TV, but I thought it was inappropriate.

Q: There are a lot of people that agree with you.

Ferentz: Yeah, it was inappropriate. I am guessing that Jimmy had to ask the questions. I felt bad for him, too. I doubt he wanted to ask that question, especially the second one.

Q: Mike did a good job.

Ferentz: He really did. You can argue the other side and say that is a part of growing, but that is a hard one.


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