Signing Day Q&A: Kirk Ferentz

Kirk Ferentz unveiled Iowa's 2009 Recruiting Class on Wednesday and fielded several questions at the annual signing day press conference. Ferentz talked about the large crop of in state skill position players this year, the chances for some to see the field next fall and much, much more

Q: This seemed like a great year in the state of Iowa.

Kirk Ferentz: I think it was a real good year. It was an unusual year, as most have noticed. I wasn't here when Tavian Banks and Tim Dwight came out, but that was an unusual year, both excellent skill players in the same year. This past year, it is as good a year as I can recall since I have been here for skilled position players. We are excited about that and excited about the quality of players and caliber of people they are. The heart and soul of our team has always come from this state. It may not be that way in numbers, but if you look at our rosters, it all starts in state.

Q: How are the juniors and sophomore's in the state?

Ferentz: I am not as knowledgeable about our sophomores yet, but it looks like a strong class a year from now. It's how recruiting is; we are wrapping up this class and I think we started on next year's class six months ago. I think it's a compliment to the football in our state. I have always said we have had tremendous programs and coaches in our state and this is an illustration of that.

Q: Can anyone offer immediate help, maybe the guys furthest from the ball?

Ferentz: I think that remains true. That is probably where we need more help at this point, more opportunity there. We are looking at a few factors. If you look at us on the interior on the lines on both sides, we are not counting on anyone to come in and make a contribution next year, and I think that is because of what we have coming back. We feel we have a good nucleus there. The guys we were able to get, we felt good about or offensive line class, and the defensive line class will have time to get their feet on the ground and mature. We didn't have a pressing need at linebacker right now, but on the periphery, we have a chance at receiver, potentially in the defensive backfield and the running back position. We have an opportunity for guys to come in and make a mark, and also on special teams. We graduate Andy Brodell who did a great job as a returner for us so there is opportunity there, too.

Q: You had a chance to coach Jimbo Covert at about the same age as Scott. Do you see similarities?

Ferentz: When I first met Jimbo, he was a redshirt sophomore and had just moved over from the defensive side that spring. My first practice at Pitt was his third on the offensive line. It was amazing to me, as that was the first time I had been exposed to big time college football, to see a guy with his talents and attributes that didn't have confidence at that point in his career. That changed. Different players. Jimbo was a prototype offensive lineman, Scott is different. He was linebacker projected into a defensive line body, and we project him with his hand on the ground. To me, he is the kind of player we have had success with, aggressive tough and active and he has real good growth potential. We are not the biggest team in the Big Ten. The thing that is common is his attitude and the pride he plays with and his competitive nature.

Q: Talk about the trio of Wegher, Davis and Cotton.

Ferentz: We identified those guys long ago. It wasn't real tough to do that. We are thrilled they are coming with us. The common denominator is that they are good skill players, guys that can help you offensively. Some people have said Jordan might play defense, but our plan is for him to be a receiver, a comparison to Andy Brodell there. When you are in high school you put your best athletes where they can help you the most, and our job is to project. Keenan has played out there and Brandon is a running back. It is unusual to have three guys like that in our state in a given year. All three guys are tremendous young people. We are impressed with them as people, they come from great families, supportive families and they all played on excellent teams and were a big part of the success.

Q: You started recruiting Keenan a long time ago. Is it gratifying to see that through and has he grown into what you thought he'd be>

Ferentz: It is. We were impressed with him at an early age and he has improved with each opportunity. That has been fun to watch. He is an impressive guy. It was a relief for all of us when he made up his mind in the summer, to attend Iowa. It helped give us some momentum. When those guys make their minds up they are coming, that is a good thing. You hate to rank recruiting classes, but this was the #1 year for the best meals I have had traveling around to houses. I am in a conditioning program trying to get back to some semblance of normal condition. You really get to visit with families and learn more about them and that is neat. I would say that about all of the prospects.

Q: What do they serve in Canada?

Ferentz: That was a quick cup of coffee. We had to get back in the states by such and such a time for immigration, of all places we landed in Rockford, Illinois. Not sure I understand that, I am not a big world traveler. That literally was a quick cup of coffee and a real nice visit.

Q: Do you have a former relationship with his parents?

Ferentz: Nolan's dad Paul went to my high school. He moved to Upper Saint Clair my senior year and his junior year. He is a classmate of my wife's, and he explained to me that we had run into each other during camp, and I had forgotten that and he remembered it. I was hoping my wife didn't make him mad. I think we got through that. It was great to see him again and to meet his wife Janet.

Q: Do you think that Wegher, Cotton and Davis could all play next year?

Ferentz: We will let that play itself out on the field. Those guys, along with some other guys have that potential. It really factors into a few things; it depends on how ready they are once they get here and how they make the transition into the program and University. The other thing is our condition at that point, what needs we may have. Jewell Hampton is a great example. He came in and we had a need at running back, and that lessened when Shonn emerged, but that worked out nicely and he did a great job in the classroom and has made a real nice transition on campus. That is a perfect scenario; he contributed and grew during the year without immense pressure on him and handled all of the other things that go along with the transition to college

Q: The recruiting services don't have this class ranked very high.

Ferentz: We aren't big on that. I was riding the bike, trying to ride off some calories a little while ago. It was one of the first time I saw some of those recruiting shows. That was a heck of an industry. I learned there was some potential employment if I get relieved from my job. Where was I going with this? I was noticing the rankings on one of the stations and all but two were household names. It's predictable. What I am trying to say is this is a class we are comfortable with. I am not sure where we are ranked. After that first ten, everyone is throwing darts. We have had a history of finding the right guys. If you go back and research a bit, it was interesting to find out that Matt Kroul and Mitch King were both three star guys. They are illustrations of the guys we had success with. Greene, Brodell, Brandon Myers, Godfrey, they were two stars. Godfrey was a two star in the NFL as a rookie. We try to find guys that have potential and the work ethic and competitive nature to do the things you have to do. You look at our senior class this last year to know why we had a good team, each of those guys played their best football as seniors and each of those guys will be in an NFL camp next year. If things are going right, guys are improving as they get older and it all comes from the work ethic they have.

Q: With a player like Dakota Getz, do you get nervous when you are the only major school in on him?

Ferentz: Not at all. Like the Brad Herman story. At least he had an offer, unlike Dallas Clark. We try to use our own eyes and opinions. Coaching is a copy cat profession and we borrow ideas that fit with us, too. But there is no topic where copycatting comes up more than recruiting. It's amazing where one offer goes out then three will come after it. That happens within conferences. I don't think we do that. I hope no one on our staff lets that factor in. The Dakota Getz story is like the Brad Herman story. We think Brad has a great future in our program. Micah Hyde Phil had strong feelings for from day one. We let that play out and didn't make the offer until he got here. We knew a month ago we were going to do that, but we were trying to protect ourselves a bit and keep the competition down. Sometimes you are right and sometimes you are wrong, but we have a great feeling about all of the guys in this class. With Micah, we think he is comparable to a guy like Jovon Johnson, and we beat Kent State to get him. Marcus Paschal, I think we beat Hofstra to get and they had pretty good careers. We try to evaluate guys as we see them.

Q: Stephane Ngoumou had some questionable aspects earlier in his career. What did you see that allowed you to pull the trigger and offer him?

Ferentz: He is a guy we have talked about for quite some time. We were impressed with his athleticism. We wanted to see things more so academically and get some indicators that he really was committing himself to being serious about school. One thing in recruiting that you run into are prospects that don't understand doing the work they need to do. Sometimes they figure it out too late. One thing you have to do is see some indicators and that is what we wanted to see before making a formal offer. We held off on him for that reason. After we saw some indicators that let us know he was serious and capable, we wanted to spend some time and visit with him and that put us over the hump on his visit. He did a good job with the guys on our team and that convinced us that it was a good fit.

Q: Matt Murphy is a good story out of Clinton.

Ferentz: He is a great example…I think that is one of the downsides of early commitments. There are ten schools in that top 10 and they are recruiting players that my sister could tell you are good. There is not a lot of drama there. If you look at a guy like Matt Murphy, I didn't know much about him during the summer or even the fall. When I saw his tape after the season against good competition, that impressed me a lot. The combination of the tape, Reese had been down to watch him practice and play basketball and he was in there weekly, we had a good feeling about him. I think he is a highly motivated young guy whose arrow is going up, and he fits the mold of some players we have had some success with.

Q: Do you encourage recruits to come on campus in the summer?

Ferentz: I think that is interesting…the early signing got shot down again. Mainly because we don't want to accelerate the pace of recruiting….OK….so…..that being said, I am not sure is making these comments. They are not out recruiting in the places we are right now. I find it interesting that we don't want to accelerate the pace of recruiting, but I am waiting for someone to address it in the media, I am still trying to wait to be explained the value of student athletes starting in January prior to their freshman year of college or even in August. That rule got passed a couple years ago for basketball, and then they included football. It's interesting to me, the first year there were a couple conferences where they made it mandatory for their incoming freshmen. We were a little slow to put our foot in the water. I know the majority of the teams in our league do that now. I am a dinosaur in some ways, you accuse me of being that way offensively and defensively, I will throw recruiting in there too. I am not convinced that will spell success. I know as coaches, we have said that it's all for academic benefit, which quite frankly, I am trying to figure out a guy that goes to school four or five years….goes to summer school each year, like many schools in our league. How many credits do you need to graduate? 120? Long story short, we don't mandate that. We have had players do it on their own. If that is something a player is motivated to do, great. But it's overrated, I think. Economic times like we have, I am still struggling to understand why we are doing that with first year players. I am of the opinion if he wants to play in an all star game, and one state had to move the game so players could go to summer school at the state institution, I don't see it. I don't think the Shrine Game should have to move their playing date. I think players should dictate that, because once they are in college, they are in a regime. I am a lot more worried where a player is at in his last couple of years than his first couple years. I don't see too many freshmen coming in and saving our team as first year guys. We have had some good ones the last few years. But you opened the door for a little commentary.

Q: With the off the field incidents you had over a year ago, do you look into backgrounds more now?

Ferentz: I would like to think we have done a thorough job each and every year. I just ask people to judge our body of work. We have been here a decade now and over the long haul I think our track record has been as good as anyone in our league and the country. There is no question we had a year where a lot of us were disappointing in off the field. I think we have taken the steps to make improvement there. We will continue to do so. You analyze it and find out what you can do better. As a result, I am not sure we could do more. That is one of the scariest things about recruiting, there are a lot of things you don't know about people, and you might imagine they don't always share everything with you. We have tried to be thorough and will continue to try to do so.

Q: Do you have offensive line positions in mind for this group, like who is a guard, tackle, etc?

Ferentz: We will figure that out when they get here. I think they are all capable and we are excited about them. You look at Brett Van Sloten, he was 250 last June and he is up to 270. He has hit a growth spurt. We saw him on tape and really liked the way he played. He was tight end and defensive end. He came to camp and worked at offensive tackle. I was impressed with his coachability. A lot of times guys resist a new position. He impressed me that day, he competed hard and adjusting to an uncomfortable position. I think all of those guys have position flexibility. The Steelers just won the Superbowl with a 6-3 right tackle, actually 6-02'7. He was under 6-3 playing tackle in the NFL and won a Superbowl, so I would think we could beat some teams in our league doing the same thing.

Q: Did you have to do a sales job with Conor Boffeli on playing offensive line?

Ferentz: I didn't ask him, I doubt he was wild about the projection back in the spring. He made his decision in July. I think that might have been a sticking point and he rethought that a little bit. If he is stuck on tight end we will give him that opportunity, but we think his upside is at lineman. He is a great athlete, a competitive guy and smart and played for a great program.

Q: With Jake Christensen leaving, did you feel a need to get another quarterback in this class?

Ferentz: I hope not, because we didn't get one. That wasn't part of our focus. We feel pretty good about the three guys we have right now. That being said, it's a pretty small group. I think there is some opportunity there right now. I am not allowed to comment on walk ons, but I think people would recognize that opportunity and we are excited about that.

Q: Did you have to begrudgingly accept the fake turf that will be at Kinnick starting next year?

Ferentz: It would have been a huge thing 15 or 20 years ago, or maybe even ten years ago. I have never been on the new surface until 2001 when we practiced at a high school in San Antonio. That was our first experience with it, and it was outstanding. We have had it at our practice facility since 2002. We are looking at a whole different realm of things now. You have seen a lot of teams in our conference make the switch for good reason. Last year, it was by far the best our fields have been. Then we get the torrential rains for the Iowa State game. The one thing I have learned in 10 years here, it takes great conditions to keep your fields in good shape. It's a lot of work and our guys do a great job but you are still rolling the dice. It made sense in the big scheme of things. I don't think it will be a big factor. I don't think our players will have a reaction. We will practice on grass when we can, but we will be just fine.

Q: Do you find yourself putting this class together, and asking where is everyone else at on certain players?

Ferentz: In some cases you hope no one else is on to what we think we are on to. We will all know in three or four years how right our hunches might be. I mentiojned Micah Hyde. I was pretty sure Phil knew what he wanted to do there weeks before we offered him. We wanted to get him to campus and wanted to get it done that way without getting other people involved. We pretty much go with what we see. Shane Dibona is an interesting guy. My question, he came out last spring, after I saw his tape I was trying to figure out why no one else was on him in that area. People tried to move in late in the game. I looked at h9im and saw a player reminiscent of a Mike Humpal type guy. HE plays at a bigger school and his team had great success, but he could do a lot of things on the field. I am trying to figure it out, good student, why isn't everyone recruiting him. We will know down the road. We have great feelings about him, and I could say that about every guy on the list. It still gets down to what they do when they get here.

Q: Is it hard to keep that confidence level when no one else jumps in?

Ferentz: You know me well enough, I really don't care. It's not that I don't pay attention to rankings, but the only rankings that count are the ones that come out in January. I rattled off this year's senior class. No one would have predicted the kind of success these guys experienced. We never would have had the kind of success we had last year without those guys. It gets down to seeing potential in all of them and it's the work they did once they got here. Not that we won a national title, but we were 12 points away from having no blemishes on the year. We are not that far off. It was a great group to coach and you identify traits in players like the guys I have mentioned and I hope we found a few of those in this class.

Q: Do you guys do things differently than other schools?

Ferentz: I don't know. I doubt it. I think we don't worry as much about what Joey or Bill is saying. I have never worried too much about that, even when I was younger. Now that I am old, I really don't care.

Q: How often do you combat the NFL rumors? I am sure other teams are floating that out there.

Ferentz: My answer to that one was, because the coaches brought it up a few weeks ago. All you have to do is bring it up and ask that coach how long he has been at that school…outside of Penn State, I give you that one, they have us…but outside of that, there are not many schools nationally that have coaches at the same school as long as we have had. I saw a list of how many coaches are out there past a decade at their schools, and its just a handful right now. I have been here 19 years. Factor onto that the stability of our staff. Two guys left to be coordinators, and now they are head coaches. Three guys went to the NFL and we allowed Carl to retire at 68. We have good stability here. That is our answer, typically.

Q: Did it help in recruiting to have Coach Campbell this year?

Ferentz: It certainly didn't hurt us. We lost a tremendous coach and person in Carl Jackson. I think we gained another outstanding guy. Erek has been a great fit on the staff, he does a tremendous job with our players. The players enjoy him. Our recruits see that. He is positive and upbeat and energetic. He will take on anything anytime. On top of that he is an outstanding coach. I think the recruits see those traits in him. I think you would love to play for him, and I think the receivers would tell you that.

Q: You have lost an assistant coach the past two years, one to the NFL and one to retirement. You have said you would prefer to see changes after signing day. Do you think anything will happen on that front?

Ferentz: Selfishly, I hope we are all here for a long, long time. You never know. If transition happens, if someone has an opportunity, I would never stand in anyone's way. It's like recruiting, I tell them it would be presumptuous to know what is best for them. It's the same with the guys on our staff. Guys don't leave unless they have a great reason. Ron Aiken was in the Superbowl last year, Pat Flaherty a year ago, Joe Philbin was in the NFC Championship game. They know this is a great place to be. But if they have good opportunities for their families, we will support them. We can always attract great people here which is exciting. Sometimes a little transition doesn't hurt you, but if you have wholesale changes that can be damaging. For the last 30 years, we haven't had to experience that here.

Q: There have been rumors out there linking you with Scott Piloli, whether it was in Cleveland or Kansas City.

Ferentz: Unless I get hit by a truck, I will see you on March 25th. My plan is to be here, and it has been that way. I said that on New Year's Day. Scott is a great friend and I know he will do a great job selecting a coach for the Chiefs. I am fan of where my friends are, so I am a huge fan of the Chiefs, but I am huge fan of Iowa, too and I am looking forward to a lot of good things ahead. We are excited about next year and it will be good to get going again.

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