Howe: Ferentz's Ship Might be Too Tight

Last season, Kirk Ferentz held back true freshmen from the press. The Iowa coach extended that restriction to include redshirt freshmen. HN.com columnist Rob Howe weighs in on the rule. Read his thoughts in this opinion piece available to all visitors of Hawkeye Nation.

In the cat and mouse game of Kirk Ferentz and the media, the Iowa football coach takes a proactive approach.

Last season, Ferentz shut down interviews with true freshmen. He announced on Tuesday that the ban would extend to redshirt freshmen as well.

We'll call the latest move the Julian Vandervelde rule. The redshirt freshman says what's on his mind, including that he hated Iowa State before last week's rivalry game.

"I guess the conclusion I came up with is that the media is getting more advanced than the old days," Ferentz said. "It used to be that if you played a game Saturday, that the topic on Saturday was Saturday. Now we're moving.

"I don't want to accuse anyone of leading the witness, but we've had some witnesses get led. I don't know that some of these guys know right from left right now. When they know the game plan, we'll let them give some more commentary about the state of affairs. Not that older guys can't say stupid things, or head coaches say stupid things, I understand that, too. I think our younger guys have enough to think about right now."

I spent 10 years in the newspaper business. I'd look for the controversial quote. It sure made it easier to write a story.

These days, I look for guys willing to talk openly, which probably isn't too far off from what I did in the "mainstream" media. Ferentz talks about journalists becoming more advanced. Well, so have the subjects. Without naming names, probably at least half of the players that show up for Tuesday press conferences or after games Iowa games – the only two times during the week we speak with them – that it's becoming painful to conduct and interview.

Many times, a player begins sounding more and more like the coach's parrot with each year. We know what Ferentz thinks. We'd like another point of view.

Why should you, the reader, care about this subject? Simple, you pay for many of the audio, transcripts, features or columns we produce. If we collect blasé quotes, you suffer.

On Tuesday, I interviewed one of the younger Hawkeyes about a critical play in the Iowa State game. I asked him for his assignment on the play and how he felt about being in that alignment. He was very forthcoming.

Later, I posed the same question to a fifth-year senior. He became very uncomfortable and declined comment, saying he wasn't sure if he was supposed to talk about that subject. It certainly was his prerogative, and I can't say I blame him. He's learned to answer questions the way that the coaches prefer.

I'll miss Vandervelde for the rest of this season. He breathes fresh air into the sometimes tedious interview process. Yeah, saying you hate Iowa State might be a bit much, but the kid is bright and gave thoughtful answers beyond clichés.

We also won't get to speak with Darrell Johnson-Koulianos (aka DJK). With the 11 true and redshirt freshmen in the two-deeps, including the punter, one of the kickers, and both backup quarterbacks, we're could miss out on a lot.

The cupboard still holds good public speakers. Guys like Jake Christensen, Albert Young, Mitch King, Tom Busch, Bryan Mattison, Seth Olsen and Rafael Eubanks all give thoughtful, courteous responses.

But with Vandervelde gone until next year, Damian Sims remains the lone guy that opens it up and speaks his mind. He's not stupid. He just is willing talk about the truth even if it might not be the company line.

Sims, like Vandervelde, came out and said Iowa State wanted it more than the Hawkeyes last Saturday. You saw it on the field. He wasn't in denial or trying to sugarcoat his response for fear of offending anyone.

I leaned on Sims on Tuesday. I wanted to find out how he felt about coaches imposing an earlier curfew on players after another off-field incident. Was it kind of bogus because those Hawks that kept their noses clean were being punished for a few guys that got brain lock.

Sims echoed a lot of what the other players were saying. It's a team sport and everyone was in it together. But he also added that it sucks because "you feel like what if I want wanted to go out after a big ball game and celebrate and you can't. It does suck for at-home guys who stay at home and don't get in trouble."

You know he's not the only Hawkeye that feels that way. He is one of handful, at best. willing to admit it.

I went on to ask about playing at seventh-ranked Wisconsin this Saturday. I told him not many people are giving Iowa a chance to win.

"Wisconsin plays a traditional style of football," Sims said. "We match up well with teams that play traditional, smash-mouth, Big Ten football."

But Wisconsin has the nation's longest active winning streak and that includes a victory in Iowa City last season.

"I remember last year," Sims said. "They should have lost when they came here. I don't remember it being a one-sided ball game."

I agree. I feel the same way about the '07 game against the Badgers.

I just don't buy into the bulletin board material being enough to affect the outcome of a game. If you think that it does as a coach or player, you might want to look a little deeper. The problem might be there.

I admire how Kirk Ferentz runs his program. He's a good man with good ideas. I'm OK with holding back true freshmen from the media. But after they're on campus for a year, they should be comfortable enough to speak with journalists. Most of them are pretty seasoned from being stars in high school.

Ferentz shackled his assistant coaches his first year or so as Iowa's head coach. I felt that was a bit paranoid. I felt the same way when I heard about Tuesday's new restriction.


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