Pre-Outback Q&A: Kirk Ferentz

Kirk Ferentz addressed NFL rumors, his Outback Bowl gameplan, his relationship with Scott Pioli, and a ton more in his final pre-Outback press conference in Tampa on Wednesday. Checking in at nearly 4,000 words, read what he had to say in this massive premium transcript.

Kirk Ferentz: Real briefly, two main things, I guess. First of all, it's been a great week. The weather's been as good as we've ever had since we've been down here. We've been down here numerous times. More importantly, hospitality has been fantastic. Everything about the bowl trip has been absolutely outstanding. Our hotel's been great, the staff there has been over-the-top, practicing at the University of Tampa is as good as we've had it on any bowl trip. On top of that, the folks with the Outback Bowl and Outback Steakhouse, they do a great, great job with this entire experience. We've had a good week. I don't' know what else we can do at this point, other than just sit around and wait for the game. It's been a good week, and hopefully we can finish it up tomorrow.

Q: (Silence)

Ferentz: OK, I'll see you tomorrow. It's tomorrow, right?

Q: Two teams are rewarded for a great season playing the BCS title game, 66 are awarded for a good season with the bowl season. Why would college football want to get away from something like this, when it seems they're getting it right?

Ferentz: As you know, there's a lot of resistance to moving to a playoff as has been evidenced by the last couple of years. I'm with you, I think the bowl system is outstanding. It rewards a lot of teams at a lot of different levels. It's always been good. Where we're at right now is fine. I'm fine with it. I'm not involved in the top-tier right now, so maybe it's a bit easier for me to not have a strong opinion, but real quickly, if we went to a +1, I think that's workable. Beyond that is unrealistic and not in the best interest of college football. Just one person's opinion.

Q: Do you feel that the focus of your team is where you were hoping it would be at this point, being here for a week?

Ferentz: Our guys have really done a good job with the trip. I have idea how we'll play, you never do, but they've done an outstanding job with the trip in every regard. I've heard a lot of compliments from the transportation folks, the staff in the hotel, everywhere I've gone I've heard positive things about our guys and how they've handled themselves. We're proud of that, but we also expect that. I think their focus has been good. We've practiced pretty well. That's one of the challenges in the bowl game. It's not like being home, you're out of your routine totally, but I think our guys have been able to maintain some semblance of that. We won't have any excuses if we don't play well tomorrow. We've done everything we can do in preparation, who knows what's going to happen there. The guys have done a good job there.

Q: Jake Christensen was booed as he walked off the field, how has he handled being the backup, that pressure?

Ferentz: I think two of our great stories, we've had a lot on our team, Dan Murray's story is pretty well documented. A guy that handled a demotion, if you will, extremely well, then was ready to go when called upon because of his great preparation and attitude. Jake did the same thing, it was a tough transition for him when we made the change, it was tough for all of us. He had a natural reaction of disappointment, a bit of a mourning period, then he got back to work. He's had a tremendous attitude. He's practiced and prepared extremely well each week, and if he's called upon tomorrow, I'm assuming he'll play very well. You learn a lot more about people in tougher times than when they handle a bit of success. It probably goes both ways. I can't say enough about what he's done as a member of our team this year. I think all of our players would echo that.

Q: Obviously the Penn State game, you kept them out of the BCS championship, was there a time during the season where you felt a turning point, thinking you had a shot at something great?

Ferentz: I've had a good feeling about our team as a team all season long, going back to last march. We weren't very good in March, and we weren't good enough in the first half o the season to be where we wanted to be. I think we started 0-2 in the conference, which is not a goal, obviously. The thing that's been constant, the attitude of this team has been great. To move forward, you have to be that way. They've done that, to their credit. That was a turning point, not only because we beat a great team, but we won a close game, and we'd been struggling in that area for quite some time. To have a successful season, you have to win some close games, you have to get over that hurdle. We had one the next week, too, it came down to the last play. When you see those things going on, we saw a lot of positive signs along the way to think that we'd have a chance to have a good year.

Q: You finished the season on a roll, kind of like in 02, as well as 03. How do you make sure that things happen more like they did in the 2004 outback bowl?

Ferentz: It's a process. We've hardly arrived no question about that. We didn't win the Big Ten championship this year. We did a lot of good things, kept our focus and effort where it needed to be, but we've got one more to play and I think our guys understand that. We've had a lot to draw upon, experiences in the last 7 or 8 years. You hope you learn from those experiences, we can use those illustrations to help the guys go. The guys understand we still have a game to play. 9 sounds a lot better than 8. I'm not good at math, but I know that much.

Q: This is a young bowl team.

Ferentz: Yeah. We don't have many guys starting in this game or playing in this ball game that have played in a bowl game. At least a winning bowl game. That's significant. It's like getting over that close game hurdle. It's a new territory to get involved in. As a result, I have no idea how we're going to react tomorrow, we'll see. I know we've got great senior leadership, and I think they're determined. We've got a lot of young guys on our football team. Who knows how they're going to be. We've kept our younger guys corralled for the most part over the last 8 days, but it's a day-to-day challenge. It's like young kids at home.

Q: Were the seniors determined to turn this program around?

Ferentz: We had our moments a year ago, not unlike what we did in 2001. Change is a matter of someone's attitude, being committed to change. It takes everyone collectively working at it. It helps when you get great leadership in the front of the room, and that's what we have in this team, the seniors. King, Kroul, Olsen who have played 4 years, but also guys like Bruggeman who have played 1. Backup guys like Drew Gardner, Austin Postler, guys who have never started a game, but guys who have done what they're supposed to, setting a good example for everyone else. I'm really pleased with them.

Q: When Kroul starts tomorrow, it'll be his 50th consecutive start. Is that a number that'll hang around for a while in the record books?

Ferentz: That'll be tough to beat, especially in this day. Especially for a lineman. When a young linemen plays every game of his career, basically. Bruce Nelson was the last to do it, I guess he's going to beat Bruce's record, you'd know better than I. When Bruce got into the lineup, he was a 250-pound tackle. It wasn't next man in, it was only man in. He was the only guy we had for that job, and basically got his tail kicked all season long. He had great mental toughness and made a great career out of it. I hope we're not in that situation again, but in Matt's case, this guy's not missed a practice. It's extraordinary what he's done. He's right in the thick of everything, works extremely hard. Talk about a guy who's a total package, and that's Matt Kroul. If the NFL doesn't work out, someone's going to be very wise to grab onto him, he's an unbelievable young man.

Q: Have you come to expect to have your named linked to other job openings at this time every year?

Ferentz: Like Canadian League? Division 3? It seems to be a drill right now, so be it.

Q: Playing in a January bowl, is that a significant bump, recruiting-wise?

Ferentz: It helps. It's a landmark, I guess. It's good to play in January. Anytime you're playing in January. We don't have many bad bowls in the country, but all the January bowls are outstanding. It means you've had a semblance of a pretty good season, which we're thrilled about. It means you get to go to a great location, which we've really enjoyed. You get to play an outstanding opponent. T hose things all go with January, we're really thrilled to be a part of that, especially after sitting home last year, looking in the fireplace. It's a bit better deal.

Q: Is there merit to an early signing day?

Ferentz: I think so, personally. I strongly believe that's true. For two reasons. The upper-tier schools, the sexy, elite schools can do what they're going to do and then the rest of us can go to work a bit. It also gives us, as coaches, a way to find out if we're really married with recruits that are committed or if we're just holding hands. I'd be in favor of it. The latest argument I've heard for not doing it is that it would accelerate the recruiting process. Whoever came up with that theory has to be living in a cave. If we accelerate this thing anymore, we're going to be recruiting 8th graders. We haven't gone down that road quite yet.

Q: Are you seeing more kids commit early?

Ferentz: The numbers are higher than ever been, but so are decommits. If the kids had the opportunity to sign in December, it's not something they have to do, but it gives them a chance to declare, "I truly am committed." If they're not, that's fine, that's what recruiting's about. It gives us an idea of who is truly committee and it would give the players a chance to be left alone, which I think most of them would appreciate, too.

Q: Not to say that you'll be going to the NFL, but based on what you've seen recently with Shanahan and guys that you're pretty close to, is the pressure to win even greater in the NFL?

Ferentz: It's always been the greatest in the NFL. None of us in this room would have to stretch our vantage points too far to see it's really trickled down to college football, too. It's very similar. In a lot of ways, the NFL has become like the college ranks and vice-versa. That topic is one of those areas where we seem to be merging right now. You see a lot more assistants get fired in the college ranks, more coordinators are getting fired. Coaches are being ushered out quicker than they were 5-10 years ago. It's the world we live in. I don't think any of us are naïve to that. That's just the way it goes, it's the territory you're in. If you're in the NFL, you realize it's strictly business. It's typically not personal, it's business. That's the way it goes.

Q: Do you think it's unfair?

Ferentz: From a coach's viewpoint, I've always been a guy that believes in stability, working through problems. I can't quote accurately Monte Kiffin's quote I heard something on the TV, one regret he had in leaving was that he was anxious to work and correct some of the issues that they may have had. Everyone has things to correct after a season's over. That's an attitude I've always preferred to take. I think that's how life works. If you have good people, what you do is work through any problems you have, ups and downs. If you're involved in football, you're going to have peaks and valleys. Things are cyclical. There are always conditions, always factors involved. You look at those things rationally, and try and make good decisions, work through it. That's been my mode of operation, I guess. Growing up in Pittsburgh, watching a guy like Chuck Knoll influenced that. Then working for Hayden Fry, that was our mode of operation in the 80s. Some years are better than others, but that's football. The Steelers are probably the best example I can think of. They've had 3 head coaches in the same period that we've had 3 athletic directors. That's a long time. That's the late 60s. Not many places have that kind of stability in leadership. They've had their fare share of success, and years where they didn't go to the playoffs. I'm rambling a bit, but it's a topic I like to talk about.

Q: The layoff. Any different this year? Younger guys getting more work? South Carolina showed a propensity for turnovers, not coming from behind. Any premium on the start in the 1st quarter?

Ferentz: You hope you start any game well. That's what you look for, you hope for. That being said, bowl games are a lot like first games in that special teams and turnovers are a huge factor. The other thing is that you're never quite sure, you have so much info, you're not sure what you're going to see. In our case, with some of the personnel changes we anticipate, it's going to be a scouting mission in the first half to see what we get defensively, in particular. You hope you get off to a great start, but we may have to weather some things early and play the second half as well. Hopefully we can finish up that second half, too. You just never know what's going to happen. If it goes well in the first quarter, great, but we still have to play the last 3. If it's a bit bumpy there in the start, we have to play through that as well. We've been down both roads.

Q: Why would a person in your position, your situation at Iowa that you like so much, leave for the NFL? For some people on the outside, it seems like everyone wants to go to the NFL.

Ferentz: The mistake a lot of people make, in life, it's easy for us to assume that this is where someone should go. I think you have to take into consideration the position of the person involved. There was a move yesterday that nobody would have predicted, that's part of the business. Things happen the other way, sometimes people leave by their choice, the ebb and flow. It's a personal decision. Sometimes it's a business decision. Everybody needs to be cautious about assuming they know what's in someone's mind. We make a lot of assumptions and really don't research to think it out.

Q: Did you think you'd be at Iowa this long?

Ferentz: I hoped I was. That was one of the reasons to go back to college. I wasn't dying to go back, I've enjoyed every job I've had. Even teaching school. Grading papers I wasn't so wild about, but teaching school is fun. What we were hoping for is some stability for our family. That's tough to get in the NFL. Getting our kids through one school. There are no guarantees, you know that. After 20 games it wasn't looking so good, but we weathered it, we'll see what happens. Maybe we can sneak out one more game.

Q: How do you describe these past 10 years for you at the University of Iowa?

Ferentz: Overall, great. I've enjoyed most days. Some more than others, but overall, I've enjoyed most of them. It's been a lot of fun, it's a great place. It's a great place to live, a great place to work, we have great leadership on campus, which is where it starts. Most importantly, the guys I work with on a daily basis, coaching staff, support staff, players, that's what I enjoy the most. It's been great. We've had a lot of good people come through. We've had some great moments, we've had some real lows, it's part of football. It's been a good place.

Q: Whenever Scott Pioli's name floated out as a candidate, you're name is linked. Could you share your relationship with Pioli?

Ferentz: Scott's an amazing person, first of all. Great in football, but also great as a human being. He was the guy, for my first interview in Cleveland, he was the guy assigned to drive me back in a van to the airport. I had my tail between my legs, he said, "You didn't do *that* bad." He gave me a bit of a pep talk there. I guess he knew something I didn't, I got a call back. I think I was the 9th choice to be the lien coach at Cleveland. They got through 8 guys and landed up with me. We've been good friends all the way through. I've got tremendous respect for him, he's a tremendous person, extremely capable. I just caution everybody, don't try and predict what Scott's going to do, either. He's got a great job, and I think he's well aware of that.

Q: Is it becoming more of the situation where a GM and coaching job have to be separate in the NFL?

Ferentz: Just one person's opinion, I think if you look historically, the best way to do it is with two people in tandem, that's just my personal feeling. I think that goes back to Gibbs and Beathard, Holmgren and Wolf. They're both tough, fulltime jobs. For one person to do it, doesn't leave you much personal life. Not that you had much of one anyway if you're a coach or GM.

Q: You have to have a shared common belief with that GM?

Ferentz: I think it's healthy to have differences, too. Our staff, we're not all alike, and that's a good thing.

Q: How much of a positive impact does a bowl trip have on your team?

Ferentz: Overall or just for the game? Last year we got to experience the other for the first time in 7 years. I can tell you that wasn't much fun. A year at home really makes you appreciate things even more. You've heard Shonn talk about appreciating his experience that much more. It's like a lot of things in life, you learn to not take things for granted, you work hard for the things. You have to work hard, things are earned. We didn't earn it last year, so we're thrilled to death to earn it this year, and even more thrilled to be in a great game like this. We're very appreciative.

Q: On both sides of the ball, who does South Carolina remind you of that you've played this year?

Ferentz: I'm not good at that game. I just know they're awfully good on defense. They're good against the run and pass. Special teams are very dangerous. Kickoff/kickoff return especially are extraordinary. Offensively they've got great players on the outside. Penn State had great WRs as well, a couple TEs that are a threat. It's going to be a heck of a challenge for us. That's what you'd expect in a game like this.

Q: What do you know about the officiating crew?

Ferentz: I know they're from the Big East. Outside of that, I don't know. I'm sure they'll do a great job.

Q: Things are changing with the assignment of crews.

Ferentz: I think that got addressed a couple years back.

Q: The Iowa game.

Ferentz: Yeah, that was one of the factors, I've been told. I think that's a positive. I'm sure they'll do a great job.

Q: What are the real byproducts of winning a bowl game more than losing one?

Ferentz: I'll start on the negative. If we lose, it's like losing anytime during the year. It just gets down to if we lose, I hope we lose because they beat us. We don't hand one to our opponent. That's the goal every week. If we go out and play our absolute best and lose, that's the way it goes. That's part of football. Then winning, it's pretty simple. It's just the feeling that winning is great, no matter what. You can't put a price tag on that. I don't care what week of the year it is, what the opponent is. We just got done talking about people being fired, families being moved. You learn to appreciate that victories are tough to get. Everyone is special, they're all significant. If you've been involved in a loss or win in the bowl game, there's no question which is better. It's a good feeling for everybody, a great way to send your seniors out. It makes it real nice to go home, whatever trip it was. We ended up landing in Madison, WI and driving through soup, basically, fog and all that. We had won the game, so it didn't matter. I don't even remember how long it took to get home, and I could care less. It's as simple as that, it's a good feeling.

Q: What about the 7 months after?

Ferentz: It definitely puts a positive spin on things. I'm not one of those, I hear a lot of people talking about how they want to get the next year off to a good start. I understand what everyone says, but this game's all about this year, as far as I'm concerned. It's similar to a new staff coming in and building for the future. You owe it to everyone involved in our program to do what we can to win tomorrow. That's really where our focus is. If we win or lose, we're going to deal with it either way. We're going to play next year, too. We'll work through that whenever the time comes. I'm just living more in the moment, here. That's been my feeling on bowl games.

Q: How do you overcome the ‘fat cat' mentality you talked about a few years ago?

Ferentz: It happens in life, it happens in sports every now and then. We take things for granted, maybe sometimes a sense of entitlement can come in. The guys who did the heavy lifting to get something done, you lose that appreciation. It's a tough one. You want people to appreciate a tradition, but it's hard to understand a tradition if you haven't been part of that process. I mention a guy like Bruce Nelson. He's out there getting his brains beat out in 99, but ended up coming back to be an excellent football player, all-league player, a tremendous guy. It took a lot of good stories for us to get where we got on the first part of the journey. It's just a natural thing. It happens, it just happens sometimes. I think sometimes we forget the work that was done to get there. At our place, it's always going to be a challenge. That's the nature of who we are, what we are. As long as everyone understands that and does what they're supposed to do, it works. You have to stay vigilant. I probably could have done a better job.

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