Howe: Ferentz Creating Chemistry

HN.com Senior Writer Rob Howe explores the idea of chemistry within the Iowa football program. It seemed to be lacking a little last season, but Howe believes head coach Kirk Ferentz is rebuilding it with off-season adjustments.

We interrupt this rumor about the hiring of a new Iowa basketball coach to, well, talk about some speculation in regards to the Hawkeye football squad.

Unlike the media folks (me included) chasing their tails with the hoops story, the gridiron scuttlebutt will ask you to reach back into your memory.

During Iowa's bumpy 2006 season, talk circulated that there might be some dissension in Hawkeye locker room. I heard from some pretty reliable posters on the HN message boards, media types, players and parents that something was amiss behind closed doors.

That's not to say that people were throwing chairs at each other or wrapping sleeper holds on the guys in the next locker. When you suffer through a trying season, it's tough to keep everyone on the same page. Bickering and inner turmoil sometimes bubble to the surface.

Drew Tate proclaimed that the Hawkeyes enjoyed the best chemistry of any Iowa team on which he had played. He maintained that late in the season, but he didn't have a lot of teammates on board with that notion.

It's tough to get a handle on that term, chemistry. When you win, it seems like it's there. When you stink, so does the chemistry.

"I think (Detroit Tigers manager) Jim Leiland said it best: All good teams have it, basically," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "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."

That chemistry always seemed to be there during the successful years this decade. The upperclassmen exhibited a work ethic that trickled down to younger players who later moved into leadership roles.

Somehow, that system got interrupted the last few years. Were the difficult losses to blame for the less than ideal chemistry or did poor chemistry create ineffectiveness on the field? It's tough to say.

"Sometimes it's very blatant, very obvious, sometimes it's not as clear," Ferentz said. "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."

Ferentz sensed that the '06 Hawkeyes had good chemistry.

"I think we did. I think we did," he said. "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."

The prevailing speculation that emulated out of the locker room centered around two beliefs which were connected. There was a separation between older and younger players, and that a certain segment of the team felt like some of the newer guys should be on the field.

Ferentz lent some credence to that thought by saying after the season that some things were going to change in Hawkeye Land. He alluded to looking closer at playing more true freshmen and opening up every position for competition. It wasn't like the coach chose favorites, but he was more willing to let young players beat out incumbents or guys that appeared to be in position to inherit a spot.

"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," Ferentz said. "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. 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."

Some fans, media and teammates felt like Tate disrupted the chemistry on the team because of his forceful leadership (that's a nice way of saying he rubbed some players the wrong way by yelling at them). Those critics believe likely replacement Jake Christensen can reunite the offense.

"I heard a lot of names, which is really good," Ferentz said when asked about who is stepping up as leaders. "(Christensen is) 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."

You get the sense that the approach of opening up every position already is taking place based on the spring depth chart. When walk-on redshirt freshman Brent Greenwood showed up as the starting free safety, the general response was – "Who?"

"He just jumped out at us right away last year," Ferentz said. "He has a great attitude and is a great athlete. We like what we have seen so far. It will be interesting to see what he does this spring."

You hate to compare Greenwood to guys like Derek Pagel and Sean Considine, but they walked on at free safety and were drafted into the NFL.

The spring two-deep is loaded with underclassmen, 22 to be exact. Of those players, 10 are redshirt freshmen.

As I've written numerous times, I believe greatly in the resiliency of Ferentz and his staff. They re-worked their system after the '03 Orange Bowl debacle. Last year, they corrected the trend of starting the season slowly.

Ferentz is creating fire through competition. When players see teammates winning positions through merit it will improve chemistry.

"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," Ferentz said. "That's always been the No. 1 motivator, the bench really works well."


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