Q: (What was your story?)
Kirk Ferentz: I had a mentor that had a simple grading system. He'd ask the kid what their grade was last year in history. He's write it down, and that's what that young person got. He wasn't a mentor in education. Not a teaching mentor. He was a coaching mentor. He didn't take his teaching job to the extent he should have, probably.
Q: Ladell, back then, he stuck it out even though the offense wasn't living up to it...
Ferentz: Wasn't very good.
Q: Is Albert in the same boat?
Ferentz: It's very fair to say that we're not an offense in sync right now. We've had some very good plays, but we've had some that weren't quite as smooth as you'd like. For a fifth-year senior, back there, I think he was hoping for something, maybe a cleaner path, if you will. I think Albert's probably representative of the attitude of the football team. He's been outstanding. Not only playing well, making some good runs, in the opportunities he's given. On top of that, he's given us great leadership, which we expected. I've never seen him look discouraged. He's just been very, very positive. He's looking forward.
Q: I know you don't like to do this, but where do you see him at the next level? Is he a draft pick?
Ferentz: It wouldn't surprise me. I think he's a draftable guy. The season will decide that. The rest of that story is that the statistics, whether you're 140 yards a game or... I don't even know what Albert's averaging right now. The guys that make the evaluations, they see the whole picture. They're not dumb at all. They make the evaluations. Albert is a multi-talented guy, which is a real plus. He's smart, which is good too.
Q: He reminds me of Brian Westbrook, maybe not the same speed.
Ferentz: I don't know about Brian Westbrook, I don?t' know his speed, but he's a good football player. Very good, very diverse. He can do a lot of things.
Q: How do you resist the temptations to do "other stuff"?
Ferentz: We'll do whatever we think is going to give us a chance to move the ball and have success. First of all, it all starts with your personnel, what you have and some core beliefs. It's kind of like moving a player. Right now, to move a player to receiver, for instance. That's a lot easier said than done just because there is so much learning involved. We're comfortable with what we do. Our job is to try and tweak it towards a direction that will fit and be workable for our players. At the end of the day, you kind of are what you are. The idea is to get better at it.
Q: Some teams are going to the spread or a version of the spread. Is that just the flavor of the day?
Ferentz: It is out there. What they're doing right now is working very, very well for them. They've really, to me, committed to an option type attack. They've got a quarterback that fits that mold and it's working well for them. I really think that a lot of over-emphasis gets placed on systems. I think it's more able their players and their execution. You've got to get players, you've got to give them the best chance you can. I hear a lot of spread, spread, spread. I'll bring up Wisconsin, they've done pretty well the last couple years and they've looked pretty much like they did 8 years ago, to me. They've had years where it didn't work so well. It's cyclical, it comes and goes, situation.
Q: (Does that force you to have a great OL to have a good team?)
Ferentz: I don?t' think so. No. I don't necessarily believe that, no.
Q: One thing that's gotten lost in the mythology of the Gallery, Steinbach, Nelson, those guys weren't great when they started. 99-2000 were rough years.
Ferentz: Not many were highly-decorated. They paid their dues. 99 I've kind of erased from my memory bank almost entirely. 2000 we were still growing, Gallery moved in mid-term, the Indiana game, whatever it was. Steinbach came of age in 2001. It's process. In a perfect world, if everybody stays healthy, guys are just kind of moving along. You're not starting from ground zero when you put a guy in there. That's what you hope for.
Q: Do you see similarities with guys who are playing now?
Ferentz: Only time will tell. The potential of the group is fine. I'm not worried about potential the group. Right now it's just a matter of moving them along. It's a bit like the quarterback evaluation. Everything affects everything else. To put evaluation on a quarterback is tough, to totally evaluate the line is tough too. It takes all 11 guys working together to get a true indicator of how good or bad you are.
Q: You talked about scar tissue with that young group. Do you worry about that with these guys?
Ferentz: No, these guys all seem to have god mental toughness. I'm not worried at all.
Q: When you're out recruiting, do players nowadays look at the school, the coach, the program, or the system?
Ferentz: It depends on the player. I think first and foremost, maybe as important as anything, if it's not one of the "elite" schools, if everybody was honest, it probably gets down to how their playing time might shake out. That might be as important t as anything. That'd be a starting point. We all have our preferenc3es. Personalities of the program, all the Big Ten schools are pretty good academically.
Q: Where does the system fall in there?
Ferentz: I'm not sure. It probably depends. A receiver probably wants to hear 3 wide or 4 wide. That might be a fair statement. Ironically, one of the better guys we've had here was Dominique Douglas, who really went unknown. Hinkel. Kind of the same way. He wasn't a big recruit but ended up having a pretty good career. A lot of that stuff, for some players, that is important. Others, it's not so important. It's more about how I fit in the system. You could be a team that plays 1 receiver, but if that guy is the receiver you throw to 25 times a game, which is what everyone is selling in recruiting, they still may be interested.
Q: How is it different for you now vs. 2004. Going out and pursuing kids?
Ferentz: Recruiting wise?
Ferentz: I don't think there's a heck of a lot that's different. After the 2004 season?
Ferentz: We've won 2 Big Ten championships. At least we have that on our resume. We didn't have that going into 2004. I think that's a good thing. It puts us in a little separate category. All it means is that it can be done here. We've proven that it can be done here. A lot of people can't say that.
Q: Is it fair that some people hold such high expectations for the program in part because of how well you're compensated?
Ferentz: I think there's a certain percentage of the population that would. I knew that when I signed the contract. I knew that for a certain segment, it would be a factor. It's part of the territory.
Q: Recruiting areas have shifted for you guys. Is that kicked in totally yet? Just on the ground floor?
Ferentz: They've shifted, not dramatically, but it's like anything else. You just kind of lean left, lean right. We try and go where we think is intelligent for us to go, where we have some contacts and where we might be able to get some prospects. Certain areas make more sense than others.
Q: Are you shifting more to Texas?
Ferentz: We've got two coaches there, as opposed to one in the past. Part of our thinking there was that obviously great high school football players, tremendous population. Non-stop air flights from Dallas to Cedar Rapids. It's a factor. It's a huge factor. That is one of our challenges. Any time a guy has to switch planes, that's a factor in recruiting. We try to think that out a little when we think where we're going. All that being said, we've had some of our best guys coming from Florida. They've got to go 2 stops. One came via Mississippi that we recruited by accident. You try to go where you think you might have an intelligent chance. That's one of the few non-Big Ten areas we'll stray into.
Q: Then Florida.
Ferentz: Florida is kind of an open book. Pennsylvania, at least with Penn State being in the league now. We're not expecting to beat Penn State on too many guys.
Q: And Rick is down in Florida. That's his only deal?
Ferentz: That's really been the way it's been. Phil was doing it in the years before that. He's a young, single guy. He can run hard and not get home very much. When Rick came on the staff, we had to make a decision, and that's the reason we opted to put two guys in the Dallas area. Carl still goes down to Houston. It just, to me, made sense to invest more man hours there. And let one guy handle Florida. We're really cherry picking in Florida. You can't recruit the whole state of Florida. There are certain areas we won't recruit because of, in general terms, it's not smart.
Q: I think Norm's role is kind of an on-campus closer guy?
Ferentz: Yeah. I pretty much made that decision. Both he and Carl travel less than the other guys. I made that decision after my first year, back in 2000, mainly because of the way the NCAA rules are set up. If you have all 9 assistants going into areas, it becomes a huge problem when I go out on the road in December. You've got 3 guys in the office that aren't covering areas. It gets really complex. Our thought was, basically, you have seven guys with big territories and let them be more thorough, just kind of handle those areas. Just a bit more efficient. When I'm on the road, we're only short one guy out there.
Q: The way recruiting, it seems like, I might be reading this wrong too, the way Bielema, he was asked about it during Wisconsin week. He lit up. He's been that guy all along. It's a street fight. It really is.
Ferentz: Always has been. That hasn't changed.
Q: Having Bielema, who knows Iowa so well, and Zook, who basically lives on recruiting, has it gotten tougher for you guys?
Ferentz: I would argue it's always been tough. It's always been, to use your words, a street fight. Those aren't my words. It's always been competitive. The only thing it's become, to me, is more public. Always been extremely competitive. To me, the most important thing really goes down to evaluations. That's the key thing. The more you can be right about people, the better your chance at being successful. Not being a copycat recruiting, or a jump on the train recruiter, which is extremely prevalent in recruiting.
Q: Are you de-emphasizing Florida?
Ferentz: Absolutely not. We're very active there. We want to be active, but I think we want to minimize our...
Ferentz: I'm thinking of a euphemism, a nice way to say this. Do better with our percentages. We've had some of the most outstanding players and people in our program, coming from there. Abdul, Brad Banks, I don't want to leave anyone out, CJ Jones. We've had captains, Colin Cole, guys that have done extremely well. Damian Sims, what a great guy. We've had some other guys that crashed and burned very quickly. It's been a bit of hit or miss type thing. We're just trying to make sure that we're not covering too much ground, being as thorough as we possibly can.
Q: For those who want to tie your system to recruiting, didn't your system stand out of Chris Leak?
Ferentz: He called us. He dumped us. Not dumped, that's not appropriate, that would suggest that we had a relationship. We never had a relationship. He pretty much told us that we weren't in the deal. Then he called us after the Michigan game in 2002. I think really, what players want to be involved in, is with a winning program and programs where they feel the way things are going are going to fit their needs. Again, I use the illustration, I don't think a good receiver, a guy who is really good... Dwayne Jarrett visited here, he came and visited. I think they just want to know that they've got a place. They've got a place and a way their skills will be utilized. Some want the ball4 0 times a game, some guys are happy with 20, that type of thing, what have you.
Q: What are the calls like now? During a struggle, recruits. What's the reception?
Ferentz: The reception is still good, it's been great. You just shift over to the 2000 call and say, "Listen, we have an opportunity here for you." There's not much good that comes out of losing, but players want to envision themselves playing early, that's a common denominator with recruits. That's where it is.
Q: Barry Alvarez said after he started winning, he started going after a different kind of kid.
Ferentz: I've seen that before.
Q: Is that something you're figuring out too?
Ferentz: I think one of the phenomenon that occur, I've seen this several times, usually when you turn a program around, you know, it's with guys that didn't have many accolades. I saw that in 81 when I got here. Certainly, winning usually opens the door up wider for recruiting. I go back to the evaluation, you've really got to be thorough in the evaluation. The biggest difference is the guys coming into the program haven't had to run the hard road. That's one of the things, I don't want to speak for other programs around the look, but it does happen at times. It could be injuries. You might have recruited 3 QBs that you thought would be really good, and none of them pan out, that could be the case too. Look at some of the "elite" schools and see how many NFL quarterbacks they've had in the past few decades. There are a lot of factors.
Q: South Florida emergence and Illinois' resurgence, does that make recruiting tougher for a school like Iowa?
Ferentz: Recruiting has always been tough. Every year you have teams that rise, what have you. The way we look at it, we offer a pretty good opportunity for players, both academically, socially, and football-wise. We're proud of what we've done here, and we think we have a product that's very sellable. It's always been tough. It's a different team that rises, each year, and it's just part of the territory. To answer the question about South Florida, the escalation of the program, when they committed to having a program, that was definitely going to affect things. To me, both they and central Florida were very well positioned to have success. They've made commitments now in terms of facilities and things like that . Central is even building a stadium. When those schools make commitments to their programs, that makes things a little tougher. That's predicable. Last year it was Rutgers. You always have those things to deal with, it's just part of football.
Q: In 03 and 04, you recruited a total of 5 offensive linemen in those classes. Is that about right? Is that on par?
Ferentz: It all depends. The only thing I can say is that in the spring I felt good about the group we had. I still think it's going to work out, but it's been a bumpy road here in the last few weeks, certainly. We've taken some nicks we weren't expecting, certainly.
Q: It's not like you have any less offensive linemen than you normally would, do you?