Q: You mentioned a couple times that the team looked up Jake. Is that something that you guys are putting more of a finger on that pulse this year?
Kirk Ferentz: After the season, good, bad or indifferent, I was sitting down with our players. One of the questions I asked was who did you see as our leaders right now. Jake's name was mentioned prominently, that was good to hear. That's telling me he's doing the right things behind the scenes, away from us. That's an important part of that position, so it's good to hear.
Q: What are your thoughts on the term chemistry and how that plays into the success of a team or maybe failure of a team?
Ferentz: I think Jim Leiland said it last. All good teams have it, basically. Winning teams have good chemistry. Not always, but sometimes bad teams don't. You can draw your own conclusions. I know this,. To have a successful team, it's pretty much a given you've got to have good chemistry. Chicken or the egg, that kind of thing, but it's a part of the equation.
Q: Do you have a gauge on that, can you sense that?
Ferentz: Yes and no. Sometimes it's very blatant, very obvious, sometimes it's not as clear. Ultimately, like a lot of things over the course of a season, things come out. Good bad or indifferent, things tend to surface and become more evident.
Q: In retrospect, did you have chemistry last year?
Ferentz: I think we did. I think we did. Was it as good as 2004 or 2002? Probably not. That's part of the challenge. That's part of the challenge is to get that and build that. Part of it I think you can build and part of it ends up happening. It's part of the deal.
Q: Are you trying to keep a finger on the pulse of that, so you don't get surprised? You're right, you're not there all the time, you're not at apartments, you're not in the locker rooms.
Ferentz: You try to all the time. I've tried to 8 ½ years, that's part of my job, using your various sources. The players are one of them, there are other ways to get information, too. Certainly you're trying to stay current with what guys are thinking. I don't read the website stuff, is that what they call it? Dot coms or whatever. I try to read every article, everything where players are quoted, I try to read that just to get insight, maybe a little different angle on how guys are thinking, what's in their mind.
Q: Is that something you needed to hear from the players? Is that better evidence for a guy like Jake?
Ferentz: I heard a lot of names, which is really good. He's one of the guys. That struck me a little bit, for a guy that hasn't really played to be respected like that, it's a good thing. It tells me he's doing the right things away from us. When they go out and throw around, 7-on-7s, that sort of thing. Guys could be saying, "This guy's a jerk out there." Or he's really doing a good job of holding everybody together.
Q: From your experience, what's the nature of upper-classmen dealing with new guys that are coming in and maybe moving into different roles?
Ferentz: It was this way when I was here in the 80s. Traditionally, the older guys here have always been really good about younger guys regardless of position, feeling threatened, whatever. Traditionally, our veteran or experienced players have been really good about looking out for younger guys, making them feel like they're part of the team. ItwasItwas that way in the 80s, I can't explain it. IT's been that way here. I think our guys want to get the best guys out there. For the older guys, it's their job to ward off the younger guys, I tell them that. Bryan Mattison, shame on you if someone beats you out. You've got to earn the job, too. It's your job to earn it. If somebody can unseat him at this point, that means he's really screwing up or we've got a hell of a guy behind him, you know? It'd be a good problem to have.
Q: Are you settled on the defensive line? All the guys are back, the last two years.
Ferentz: I think we're settled with 5. We have 5 guys that we feel good about. We include Ryan Bain, we look at those 5 guys like they're starters. If we started any of the 5, we'd be in great shape. After that, the next 2 guys we're really looking hard at right now, Adrian's a guy that's played well on the scout teams, he's had a good spring in these two days. He's got a great attitude. Chad Geary's a guy who caught our eye from day 1 like Greenwood, you know? First time we did what we call a blocks drill, he'd strike people, playing middle linebacker. He doesn't really have the mobility you want as a linebacker, so we asked him to move down and he did that a year ago. He's up over 260 now and he's got a good attitude. He's going to be fun to watch, we're curious to see what he does this spring. He's one of 4 or 5 walk-ons that have a chance to enter into the 2-deep derby. Those would be the top 7 guys at this point.
Q: Adrian, is he one of those guys you talked about maybe being able to help you last year?
Ferentz: Probably. Especially if we had known what was going to be Alex's season. You can't predict an appendectomy. If we'd known all the things he'd go through, we probably would have brought him along, got him up there and brought him along.
Q: How important is it that Jake doesn't feel like he's entitled to the position?
Ferentz: We haven't sensed it at all. First of all, he knows he's got a lot to prove. What's he played, 1 game? It dawned on me yesterday that if he starts the first one, his first two starts will be against Northern Illinois. I think he's going to get enough competition to keep him honest. That's still the best way to make guys practice hard and play hard is to have somebody who can take some playing time away from them. That's always been the #1 motivator, the bench really works well. I think he's built right, thinks right, and I think these other guys are going to keep him on edge.
Q: Does he have the same fire in him that Drew had?
Ferentz: I think Jake's extremely competitive and tenacious. Drew has a totally different personality, but both are extremely tenacious and competitive guys. And mentally hard, mental toughness is important.
Q: When you're talking about freshmen coming in early, is that part of the lesson you learned last year with James?
Ferentz: Yes and no. The first thing, they don't really have a peer group when they show up. That's one thing we learned. They're really not in the freshman class that showed up in August, and they're really not in the next class. It just kind of throws them in there. Most cases, you wouldn't do that with a normal student, so why do we do it with football players? I don't know.
Q: They can practice?
Ferentz: Yeah, they can practice. What's even more ridiculous is that there was a time when they were eligible for bowl games. I'm still trying to figure that one out. I don't think you'd do that with a normal student, so why do it with a football player?
Q: But you guys are so big on getting as much practice as you can...
Ferentz: We have no respect for their private lives. We have no respect for their high school careers. Kids ought to go to the prom if they want to, they don't have to. They ought to be able to go through the senior doldrums everyone goes through. We've had guys come in the summer, their choice. We have other guys that don't show up until August when we start camp, that's their choice. Ultimately, how many guys are going to go out there and save the team that fall? I don't know why we're in such a hurry. If everybody operated under the same rules, I think we'd be better off.
Q: We got you in soapbox mode. There's a proposal out there for the 9th guy, moving things past Thanksgiving. That's not one of your favorites.
Ferentz: I'm not happy about the post-Thanksgiving, but ultimately i won't have much to say about that. The 9th game, I'm really curious to see how the equation gets worked out. I didn't read the memo, but when the 12th game got passed, I'm guessing it was revenue-motivated, with a chance to generate some revenue. It's going to be a tricky equation, i can't imagine anyone wanting to give up their 7th home game. If you are playing a series with Iowa State, or 3 of our teams play Notre Dame, I don't know how you do that. A lot of schools like to play 8 home games, I can think of one in our conference. It's going to be tough to have 4 Big Ten games at home, how do you get three more? How do you figure that out? People a lot smarter than me will figure that out. They ask for input, but there's not listening. It'll get decided by people in a lot higher places than where I live.
Q: Do you see it happening?
Ferentz: I could see it happening if they can make the money work out. That's the tug right now. I know there's a flip side too, because there's all of a sudden competition to get people to come play in your stadium, that market's changed. I don't know how you're going to get everyone to the point where they can have 7 home games and still play 9 game conference schedule. I guess we could expand to 13 games. Is that the answer? Maybe h'm smarter than I thought. I don't know where it's all going. I'm not too worried about it right now.
Q: You want a bye week in there?
Ferentz: In a perfect world, I'd like a bye week in there. That's the perfect world, for me.
Q: So you'd want to start in August?
Ferentz: That's where I'd rather. At least last May, we were pretty close to unanimous on that one. 10-1, 9-2, something like that. I think we were all for it. That ain't gonna happen.
Q: You're not buying into the whole theory, getting over early...?
Ferentz: No. Here's a question. I get to ask a question. This year it was the 8th? What was the reason for that, just TV? To me, that was the dumbest thing ever. I don't know why they didn't just play it on the 3rd. When did they play 2 years ago, 2nd or 3rd? I was in Utah. Southern Cal and Texas. The third? That's the right time. Get everything done and then play the game. Ohio State, they had a pretty significant gap in 2002, they played pretty well in that game. I don't think it was the gap. Or problem in 2002 wasn't the gap. It's what we did in that gap. Not going to blame it on the game.
Q: Getting back to the fire_____.com situation, is that embarrassing?
Ferentz: I have absolutely no opinion.
Q: Is it stupid?
Ferentz: I did read the article yesterday. It sounded like a good idea to me. (Laughs) I don't know, I'm sure they'll come up with other ways to start dot-com sites. I think we all get a sense that thing's gotten out of hand. But it ain't coming back, that train's left the station. In answering it, I don't give it a second thought either way. What's going to be is going to be on that front, I know that. Not too worried about it.
Q: At the end of last year, your practices picked up in intensity and tempo, is that going to carry over to this year?
Ferentz: Hopefully. I think it's pretty obvious that our record was disappointing, we ultimately, coaches and teams get evaluated n records. Coaches especially, I understand that completely. My concern was more about how we played during the course of the season. The consistency, our performance, the consistency of our preparation, our competitiveness on the field. That's been our focus from day 1. However you want to put it, we just didn't perform the way we had to or needed to if we're going to succeed at the next level. Your talent ebbs and flows, your experience level ebbs and flows, injuries come and go, those sorts of things are different every year. The approach you take, that's what's critical. We came up short last year and we can't get it back. Hopefully we've learned from that and we'll bring out best every week, that's what we need to do.
Q: Do you think talent-wise you're comparable to 2002, 2003, and 2004?
Ferentz: I would say this. There's differences, but my blanket statement is really that since 2001, including 2001, that realistically, we could put a team on the field that can compete. We have no control, last year Ohio State and Michigan had the two best teams I've seen in 17 years in the league. If they're going to have a great team, it might be a tough one when you match up against them. We can't control that. I just know this. From my vantage point, since 2001, including 2001, we don't have any excuses. We can't say, "We don't have enough this or that." If you play a team that's really stacked or loaded, that's the way it goes. As far as going into a season, being able to compete, we have no excuses. We didn't get it done last year.
Q: Anyone out for the spring with injuries?
Ferentz: Two guys. Tom Busch is out, he's had that wrist thing, he had surgery. He's been playing with it, it's been painful, they did some corrective surgery to keep him healthy. He'll be able to perform with a lot less pain. Karl Klug had a back procedure right after we got back from the bowl game.
Q: Kyle Haganman, where'd he come from?
Ferentz: Osage. That's the good answer. Hometown of Will Lack, and Todd McKinley. Orthopedic surgeon over there, one of my favorites.
Q: Tell us a bit about him.
Ferentz: He's a first-year walk-on. He's a pre-med student, extremely intelligent. It was a guy we thought of as a developmental type guy. 225 pounds out of high school, pretty athletic, but not near strong enough or big enough. He's up to the 250s right now. He's doing a good job there, doing a great job academically. We'll see what happens. It won't be next year, but we'll see what happens. Will Lack's coming back, by the way. He's coming back to do a fellowship or whatever it is. It's great we've got him back on campus. He's in Orthopedics. Andy went Urology (Kirk makes a gross face) I hope I don't need either one.
Q: Vernon and Ewen are both done?
Ferentz: They're both going to take medicals.
Q: Still a chance they could come back?
Ferentz: No, they're going to take medicals. They're done. Vernon won his election. He's a senator, whatever he is. He's involved in the student body. He got beat last year, but he won his election.
Q: Have you interacted or had any functions with Chizik yet?
Ferentz: Not yet. I'll see him in April, at the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame thing. He gets to speak at that. It's good to have a new guy. We've traded notes, but he's doing what we're doing. Focus straight ahead.
Q: Do you have prospects on a Graduate Assistant?
Ferentz: We've had a guy in mind, but we can't fill that until summer school starts. I think we know where we're going with that one.
Q: Academically, you guys OK?
Ferentz: Hopefully. We've got a guy or two we're watching, if we need to we'll rally the wagons and get what they need to get.
Q: Any chance of Donahue place-kicking?
Ferentz: Hopefully not. I don't mean it badly, we think he's a very good place-kicker, but we'd like to get him geared into one thing and hopefully Austin and Daniel can do it the other way. One guy can win the job, we'll split it, we'll figure something out. I'm hoping we can keep it separate. It's really tough to do both.
Q: Austin's still doing kickoffs?
Ferentz: Probably. That might be something Ryan would fool with, but as far as actually being a field goal kicker and a punter, especially as a young guy.
Q: Are you guys going to spend more time on special teams?
Ferentz: A little bit. It won't be significant, but it'll be a little bit. It's like a lot of things, it's more the approach that we take. As coaches, we've opened our mind up to playing some younger players. We talked about last year, somewhere in November, that we probably hurt ourselves a little bit.
Q: Is the return game wide open?
Ferentz: I feel pretty good about our return ability. I think that's an area where we have some really good potential. Inexperience doesn't scare you quite as much there as it does with kicking duties. I think that's a plus-side. We also have Danny Olstza back.