Howe: Ferentz Sticking to His Guns

Kirk Ferentz opened Tuesday's press conference stating he would not require assistants to speak with the media. It wasn't fresh news, but something the Iowa coach left needed to be reiterated. It opened the door for heavy questions directed at Ferentz. HN.com Columnist Rob Howe takes a look at the situation and has bad news for Hawkeye fans looking for change.

Kirk Ferentz says he never reads internet message boards. He also doesn't have an email address. Really.

The cynical critic of the coach would probably say it figures. He's behind the times in running his program, too.

While Ferentz might not be a regular on the information highway, he knows what's said on the boards and radio talk shows. Somebody on the staff sifts through the fat and gives him the meat.

The coach won't come out and say he's heard what's being discussed on places like Hawkeye Nation, but he speaks to criticisms too often not to be at least subconsciously addressing them. There's a chance he's psychic, but it's doubtful.

When Ferentz shielded his assistants from the media during his first year as head coach, he wasn't being proactive in keeping them away from the internet. It wasn't the steam engine it's become now. He was trying to get everybody on the same page before someone got crooked to the press.

These days, Ferentz allows his assistants to talk with journalists, but rarely, if ever, does that happen after a game. They could if they desired, but he says it's not part of their jobs. Why would they?

You have to believe that some of the unsavory stuff on the internet said about his coaches at least figures into the continued policy. People question Offensive Coordinator Ken O'Keefe more than the person in charge of their investments in this financially tumultuous time.

Ferentz says that it's not required of his assistants to speak publicly because they have enough work to do. And while the 15-20 minutes they would spend with the press a few times a season could definitely go to good use in the office, it's hard to imagine that it would collapse their campaign.

All of this gets us back to the way Ferentz began his press conference on Tuesday. He stated some of the items above, namely he's not going to require his assistants to speak to the media. O'Keefe was requested after Saturday's 16-13 loss at Michigan State and that's happen more than a half dozen times the last two seasons. He's not shown up.

Ferentz has said he will answer any tactical questions reporters might have for his assistants, most often O'Keefe and Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker. He reiterated that on Tuesday.

By opening that door, the media took him up on the offer. Ferentz was asked about various decisions from the Michigan State game and about how he and his coaches approach everything from game planning to shared philosophies. It got tense at times.

Ferentz's reaction made sense. He forgot more about football than most of us know (tired cliché, but true). He never has minded answering questions, but when they stray too close to wondering if his M.O., or that of his assistants, is working or outdated, he has taken exception. Most of us would have handled things the same way if people came to our jobs and insinuated we didn't know what we were doing.

Sure, that's not the nature of our businesses. Most people could give a rat's you-know-what about our gigs. And Ferentz knows his job created the phrase arm-chair quarterback.

Tuesday, he held fast to his approach and coaching beliefs. He defended his system and assistants. He's done that for years.

"Everyone wants a head on a platter," Ferentz said of there needing someone to blame for his team's struggles the last few years. "Not everybody, but that is common. There are a lot more vultures than eagles. I don't know how you build anything substantial when you operate that way (on snap judgments). There are people and organizations that do it. I have always been a stability guy."

Critics would define stability as stubbornness when it comes to changing his approach. But Ferentz would challenge those who say his offense has not evolved, particularly when it comes to the success of the spread offense.

"Evolved like Wisconsin has evolved?" Ferentz said on Tuesday.

The Badgers have won a lot of games the last few years running the same power offense they ran during the Barry Alvarez Era. Ferentz has brought them up a lot when faced with this question. But shortly after giving the answer on Tuesday, someone brought up Penn State as a team that's found success after opening it up.

"I am throwing it right back at you," a tense Ferentz said. "I will just say this; it gets down to winning and losing. When you win, things are fine, when you lose, everything is wrong. It's about as simple as that. That is not far from the truth."

After finishing in the Top 8 nationally from 2002-04, Iowa has fallen on hard times the last few years. The Hawkeyes have posted a 15-16 record since the start of the '06 campaign. They're 6-12 in the Big Ten during that time.

With the losses have come questions. Many of those have been directed at the coaches. Ferentz was quick to defend his staff's philosophy on Tuesday.

"We have been fairly consistent for 10 years now," Ferentz said. "Some years we are better at it than others. I don't want to get into a long dissertation."

Ferentz pointed to what the Hawkeyes have done in the last seven and a half years as opposed to the first two, when they were rebuilding. Iowa has reached a bowl game in six of those seven full seasons

"Everyone (in the Big Ten) has had peaks, everyone has had dips," he said. "Two teams (Michigan and Ohio State) have dips that are not too low. You take those two teams out of the equation, and throw some in the pot and give me a comparative study and let me know what you think. That is how I look at it."

Ferentz is correct in that during the span from '01-'07 his Hawkeyes can put their resume up against any other team in the league outside of the top two. The question now revolves around the coaches being able to lift the program up again after hitting the valley.

"We are always looking to do things better," Ferentz said. "We are comfortable with who and what we are and the way we do things. You can toss it up and say the way we do it is good, or you can say that Hawaii a year ago is the way to do it. If it wins you a championship, that is a great thing."

In other words, if you're one of the fans calling for changes in approach or staff, it isn't going to happen. You'll see the same philosophy and schemes on Saturdays each week.

Joe Paterno has changed things at Penn State. Gary Pinkel ay Missouri was on his way out of Columbia before changing. Shoot, they've switched to a spread at Auburn.

Ferentz is sailing the same vessel that got him here. Iowa fans hope he and his crew can right the ship instead of going down with it.


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