NOTE: March 21st will be the first press conference for the spring; there will be a Spring Game in Kinnick in April as well, similar to how the open practices have been in recent years.
KIRK'S OPENING COMMENTS: Welcome to everyone. As Phil said, it will be great to have Coach Fry back (at Fanfest). He will add a lot to that, and Rob Gonder and Bob Brooks being there will be great as well.
Also, just on the news front, I want to congratulate Dallas Clark and Bob Sanders. That was exciting to have those guys involved in winning a world championship. Two other Hawkeyes, Tom Moore and Jim Cardwell, they are on the staff at Indianapolis. I think at one time, I read an article in the Fort Lauderdale paper, about Bob Sanders on Sunday. It kind of struck me, and its pertinent to recruiting. He gave credit to his parents and to his high school coaches. That speaks volumes about the kind of guy Bob is, the kind of kids we have had here. You tie that into recruiting, players need to realize where they come from and the support they have been given. If they have a chance to move in in the football world in college, and in professional ranks, its rare to read an article about Dallas where you don't hear about his background. It's great to see two guys like that who have been great representatives to our program to have the success they have had. We are very happy for those guys.
We feel great about this recruiting class. Normally, I don't get too enthusiastic about comments, but we really do feel good about the class, our whole staff does, especially about the group of individuals we were able to put together. We like them, their families, the areas they came out of. It's impossible to predict the future. Based on the information we pulled together and the visits we had with them, their coaches and their parents, we feel good about them. As far as rankings go, I have no idea. I have a stack of material to look at tonight, but to me, I have always felt that preseason rankings are a lot like recruiting rankings. They don't have value. You have the usual suspects who are easy to identify, but like preseason rankings, things don't count until November. As far as recruiting rankings, they don't count until two or three years down the road. We are very confident that we have some guys in this class that will help us next year, who they will be we will know better in September. But we are excited about getting them on campus. We like the intangibles an the character of the group, and it's a real athletic group. 20 of the 22 guys were captains, 20 were multiple sport participants, which is important to us and 19 of them have playoff experience at the high school level. They are coming out of programs where they are used to having success, and doing things the right way.
If you look at the numbers, we put an emphasis on defense and we tried to do that. We have a lot of senior and junior starters next year. We felt good about the group of tight ends and offensive linemen we put together. And then the other position where we came up short was running back. In a perfect world we would have signed two, but it wasn't a high stress thing for us, because in the back of our mind we know we have Shonn Greene, and based on what we saw in December, he will stay on offense. I think we will be fine there.
I think our staff did an outstanding job, a lot of time away from their families. They did a great job. Recruiting is always extensive; it's a 12 month a year job now. There are a lot of people involved in making recruiting a success as well. It starts with our players; they do a great job of hosting them. Our support staff on campus is outstanding, our professors and administrators give up their free time during the year when young people come on campus. There are a lot of supporters that help us get around the country and chip in and I am appreciative of that.
The last thing, a lot has been said about the early commitment thing. That has been of interest for our program and everyone right now. That is a topic that will be out there pretty good. The text messaging thing, I have a strong opinion on that, and it has been reinforced during the last six weeks of the contact period. We live a sheltered life during the season as coaches, in our offices or practicing. Unfortunately not many of our guys carry our phones on the field. It's amazing right now how that has become a part of the way our young people are growing up and I am concerned about it to say the least. I think its one of the silliest rules that the NCAA allows coaches to text message young people. I would be for increasing phone calls, anything else. I will tell you this, I have a son who is a junior in high school right now and I don't have a hard time envisioning him sitting in English or Math class, glancing down at his text messages. I have a hard time seeing him taking a phone call, which is not realistic. We need to look at that one a little bit. I am amazed by this. It's a big part of our life right now, I watched a little bit of the playoffs now, and was it a ketchup commercial, that one where they pass the ketchup, that is where we are at right now. Not only in recruiting, but also how we are raising our kids. That is our soap box.
The other good one I had…a story got back to me a few weeks back. A pretty prominent college coach was out recruiting a junior, and we are not allowed to have junior contract. And rather than talk to the prospect, he took a prominent ring off his finger and asked the high school coach to take it to the kid to look at it. That is extensive, too. TO me, I don't wear jewelry. We have won some rings around here, but that seems excessive. Send the guy a picture of the ring if it is that impressive. Write a note about it. I don't think we need to ask high school coaches to carry our jewelry around. That one gave me a chuckle, too.
Q: Are you in favor of an early signing period, like they have in college basketball?
Kirk Ferentz: My guess is there will be a lot of conversation about it at upcoming meetings. At some point, it might be very, very helpful. There is a lot that will go into it. When would you do it? For my money, the most realistic possibility would be at the end of the first contact period, before we go to bowl games. Basketball has one in the junior year, spring time. I am OK with that too, but you need to make it possible for prospects to visit officially. That would take a whole reworking to do it. It's easier to talk about than to nail down, but it will be a topic.
Q: You mentioned that some players might have to step in next year. What positions do you see where it might happen?
Ferentz: That remains to be seen at this point. One thing in recruiting, and this hurts us, we don't make any promises other than opportunity. We tell them they have a chance to get a great education, play in a first class program and live in a college town. We point to our depth chart, but we have guys on campus right now. I can't remember us every recruiting any incoming player who was going to save our program. That being said, we tell them they have an opportunity. And I have said before back in December, we are of the opinion now as a staff that we will open our minds more to freshmen, or first year players coming in. Making contributions for depth purposes, special teams and if they can work their way in to start, that is great. But that is in their hands. Realistically, its easier on defense. It's easier away from the football. Receiver, things like that. Then special teams opportunities, that got the ball rolling for us last year in our thought process. Our special teams last year were underwhelming. We need to do something to find a way to get some juice back in those things. One of our most prominent players is Bob Sanders…in his true freshman year, Dallas Clark in his red shirt freshman year, they were great special teams players for us in those years. We will open our minds that way.
Q: Did you get your last recruit today?
Ferentz: Correct. We got a phone call yesterday. It was a real surprise. We pretty much had written it off. I made a token phone call Saturday night. I knew this prospect was on a campus visit, but the bottom line is that the father called yesterday morning and said the son wasn't acting the way he normally does, and seemed put out by something and it turns out that he had made a decision to stay based on what his mom and dad preferred, or what he thought they did, and the dad told him to go where he was happy. That was great for us. It points out that prospects and parents don't always communicate the best way. They find out how coaches do, they read it in the paper.
Q: Were you pleased with your instate group from this year? You didn't have many last year.
Ferentz: That is a great point. Last year was a tough year, a little disappointing. Julian Vandervelde, we are high on him. He did a great job in singing the theme song from Phantom of the Opera at the talent show, which was impressive. You talk about courage. Texas team gave him a standing ovation to start with. Last year, the numbers were not where we had hoped. This is more typical of what you are hoping for and we are excited about all six of the kids from our state. Jordan has garnered more national attention, but they all fit the profile of what we look for and guys that have had success in our program. What I have learned through my years here, the numbers are not as big as some other states in the country, but the players from Iowa give us our nucleus and provide great leadership and teach kids from around the country what our program is about.
Q: How do you handle the late decommitments?
Ferentz: First of all, when I went to Maine, I went home one night and told my wife that if you ever hear me say I am surprised by anything, just hit me. Grab a bat and hit me in the head. That was 20 years ago, or 15. The word commitment doesn't mean a lot in some cases. I think recruiting is like anything else; every case has to be handled individually. For the most part, things were pretty predicable. You can tell if someone is wobbly. We had one that decomitted on us recently. There was a little indication that it could happen in December. To say I am shocked in February would be naïve. Were we expecting it, no. Surprised? Absolutely not. Those things happen. We had four or five guys being pecked at by other schools to jump the fence and they held their ground. They had great support from their parents and coaches. Our view on this thing is don't commit unless you are really ready to do it. Be thorough. That is not the way society is in general. Don't say you are going to do something unless you really mean it. Every now and then you have some. We had one a few years ago on signing morning; the young man chose to go to Miami. He lived 30 minutes from there and we were a little further. Those don't surprise you. When I got engaged to my wife, and it took me a while to get there, but when we got there, I never worried about her going on a date with anyone else.
Q: Do you have a greater sense of admiration for Brian Bulaga then, since he had a lot of schools coming at him as he committed to you back in May?
Ferentz: That is one of the downsides. Brian committed fairly early. The downside was the target was on Iowa at that point. But it gets back to the process. He committed early, yet he had done his homework. They were here four or five times before they got to that decision. I always worry about early commitments when kids don't get on campus much and do their homework. We see more and more of that and it's a concern, and that gets back to the early signing date. The prospects have to get on campus, and talk to people, and not say they like a helmet or a flashy game. When they do that, they stand strong. It was the case with Brian and the other guys too. That is why we feel so good about the intangibles and the character of this group.
Q: What do you remember about Dallas and Bob in recruiting?
Ferentz: Dallas was a walk on and after he got done playing, we pulled his film to find a secret to finding a Dallas Clark. We found a guy that was 6-2, 195-pound and a good high school quarterback. But that was it. We didn't see greatness. Bob Sanders was a short guy and he didn't hit the measurables coming out. He tested at pro day off the charts. He could jump 44 inches in the air, it doesn't hurt to be 5'-8". Bob developed his skills, but he had a great passion. We had good inside information from his high school coach, Coach (Joe) Moore. Robert Gallery is training with us for the next month. I was talking to him upstairs. He was a guy we felt great about, with great upside, but he wasn't a knock it out fie star athlete coming out of high school. He was recruited by Midwestern schools, but not prominent schools. I look at our guys all the time, those that have had success. My guess right now is that this group would have more stars next to their name, and our whole football team does, than did the group of 2004, but they figured out what it takes to win a championship. That is what this is all about, getting there in November and have success as a team.
Q: You landed two more kids from Glenville, Ohio. Talk about your relationship with that program.
Ferentz: I have said publicly, my respect for Ted Ginn. That has not changed. We have great respect for what he does as a coach, but more importantly what he does in the community. He is a tremendous person. It all began when he brought his son here for a visit. They drove out here knowing Ted was going to Michigan or Ohio State. But that told me a lot about Ted Sr. When you see him work, he is in it for more than putting a winning team on the field. He is big in his community, about giving young people opportunity and does a great job in terms of educating his players what team play is all about. When you get players from programs like that, it's a great asset. We are very excited about that and both Lebron and Bruce. They have the intangibles we are looking for and they will fit nicely.
Q: Going back to ring thing, is it hard to resist those tactics, especially when they work on some people?
Ferentz: You make your own decisions. I am probably a fair recruiter at best. First of all, I don't wear jewelry, that is one strike against me. We have cards like everyone else, showing our championship rings and trophies and we are proud of those. Our players have earned those. What it shows to me is what it stands for is the opportunity will be there if you come, but no school can guarantee that kind of success. We have had some guys getting individual attention and NFL careers, but our job is to provide the environment for that success, just like it is for our guys to come in here and get degrees. That is a tough sales pitch for 18 year olds at times. That is our job. We are realistic and clear in terms of what our expectations are going to be when they come to campus. Our guys work hard and we don't sugar coat that. We are proud of that and hopefully that continues. We don't want anyone to show up and be surprised a year later, that they didn't know it was going to be hard. To earn a college degree is hard, like it is to win a championship. We put that information out there and we are looking for guys like that. You won't see me sitting around text messaging. I haven't stooped to that level yet, but I probably will need to if we are going to survive. I struggle knowing our staff does that. We should be investing time with our kids on campus. I would still prefer to talk to someone on the phone or looking at them face to face to visit. I know its part of what we have to do. As a staff, we are not dinosaurs. I am not suggesting that. We are not the best at embellishments or come here and it will be peaches and cream. We don't do that. We don't want to have people looking at us funny next year and not realizing how hard it is. It's tough to be good at anything.
Q: If you sense a player can be lured by that stuff, does it send up a red flag to you?
Ferentz: Through experience, and wherever you are at, you play your strengths. I think during recruiting, certain players will work and certain players won't. For the most part it works the other way, where kids realize that it won't be a good fit. It's good if they sense that to go somewhere else. That is what recruiting ought to be about. Some folks like blue cars, some like red ones. We encourage people to investigate. All we can ask as recruiters, is give us an honest look, spend some time and get the information that will count, not the periphery stuff. Make a good decision on that. Jeff Byers is one of the most impressive young men ever to come on our campus. He and his dad did a great job and looked at all the right things. We came up short on that one, but how can you feel bad about that./ They went about it the right way, as do a lot of people. But the kids reaching for one hat and putting on another, they get written about it. I am still waiting for someone to do a study on the ultimate success of those players. I don't have the time right now.
Q: What do you expect from kids that are committed?
Ferentz: Before we accept it we try to ask them if they really mean it, have you really thought it out? Then we don't worry too much about it. We continue to recruit those guys. We are not naïve. We know others will keep knocking on the door. If they leave the door open a little, people will knock. X amount of sales are made after customer says no, right? I know recruiters know that, so they will peck away a bit and that is part of the deal. We caution them to that, and really all you have to do is say thanks but no thanks.
Q: What do you think about kids taking visits after committing to you?
Ferentz: If we are engaged, we are engaged. None of this stuff if we are engaged, you are going out with Joey Smith. That is not a commitment. If you want to go hold hands with someone else, that is fine but we are not committed anymore. Commitment is 100 to zero. That is commitment. A soft commitment, that is another buzz word.
Q: What about players that are committed to other schools but call you?
Ferentz: You talk to them. I think you have to feel good too about that individual. What are they telling you, why they are looking. There may be a reason. Those things happen, too. There is a small chance that they may find out that school A wasn't telling me the truth. That happens every now and then in recruiting. There is a lot of misinformation out there, too. If that happens, you can't hold that against someone.
Q: Is focusing on the instate kids still a big priority?
Ferentz: We had a tougher time recruiting instate eight years ago. It's not even close. We are not taking that for granted. We don't assume anything on the field or in recruiting. I can't give you any science, but being here 9 years in the 80's and being back now, if you look at it traditionally, a lot of our best leaders come from within this state. I can't give you a reason for that. There are so many great coaches and programs in this state, and the values the kids are taught. There is something about our state that is very unique. That is where it always starts for us, and every coach says that, but it does. You are silly if it doesn't. In a state like ours, it would be ridiculous. You look at Joel Hildenberg, one of the best players I have ever coached. What a great football player he was, he wasn't a big recruit. The Croston's, the Mike Haight's all the way through. We have had a lot of great players from the state and it's a big part of our success.
Q: Has there been an added emphasis on speed in last two classes?
Ferentz: With the emphasis on defense this year, defense, speed and athleticism are really important. That is more important to us than size. We don't have one of those height sticks. Bob reemphasized that to us. It's not like the amusement park to be a certain height to get on the ride. We are unconventional with our thinking about how big guys have to be to play certain positions. I think our lines are smaller than anyone else in our conference. Guys like Gallery throw it off, but he was not a monster coming out of high school. We are looking for athletes and competitors and that fit the way we like to do things.
Q: Your running back, he had some very good statistics. Why weren't there more schools interested in him?
Ferentz: I can say two factors here and Jevon would not be mad at me. First of all, he is not the tallest guy in the world, but he did have injuries in his junior year. It didn't hurt his production as a senior. The other issue is his academic work that he has done. We discriminate on that and we are trying to be careful. The factors that we were looking for, we felt good about. His transcript and test score and we felt comfortable after doing that that it was a case of immaturity and lack of focus at a young age in high school. We feel that he will be successful in qualifying and earning his degree. It doesn't do anyone any good, the team or the prospect more importantly, to put him in a situation where they won't realistically have a chance to graduate. That is how we look at that. That probably was a factor. We felt comfortable with it. We had a few other players we looked at where we didn't feel comfortable, and quit recruiting them.