IOWA CITY, Iowa - Kirk Ferentz conducted his Orange Bowl radio preview program Wednesday night with host Gary Dolphin. The Iowa Coach commented on the hottest topic in the conference - Big Ten expansion.
Ferentz believes that conference expansion is inevitable within in the next "few years." It's not something he welcomed.
"I was happy when there were 11 schools," the coach said. "I think our conference is fine. I was fine when it was 10."
In a round-about way, Ferentz said the conference was caving into a national trend of having an even number of teams, divisions and a big-money championship game.
"I think if there was a logical choice, it would be OK," Ferentz said. "I'm not sure that there's a logical choice out there. We'll jump in there with everybody else. There's an opportunity for revenue.
"The discussion seems to be centered around football. At the end of the day, if we feel like it's something we need to do, we‘ll do it. We have a lot of good people making decisions. It looks like the Big East and the PAC-10 will stand alone (in not having league title games)."
So Who's It Going to Be?: The coach was calling for his alma mater, the University of Connecticut, as the 12th school. Caller Tommy from Des Moines asked what Gary thought about who the new school might be.
"I'm not going to fall into Tommy's trap with that one," Dolphin said. The Iowa play-by-play voice said Syracuse was not an option. He also said that UConn is a metropolitan area.
Having had a chance to spend some time in Stoors, Conn., it's about as metropolitan as Solon, Iowa. Hartford is close, but it's not in the New York City Market.
Ferentz, who said he would put UConn ahead of Pittsburgh - his hometown - as his choice for the 12th team, was asked by Tommy who he would pick to coach the team if he were out (I guess in a parallel with Chad Walthall stepping in for recovering Todd Lickliter on the basketball court).
Before Ferentz could answer the question, Tommy said he would pick Norm. The caller then said he would put Norm at No. 1 in terms of coaches on the team and then Ferentz No. 2.
"I can't argue with that," said Ferentz, amid the laughter. "I would step aside for a lot of people. Everybody does well. It would be like picking your favorite player."
Parker coached from the press box in the last half of the conference season after being slowed by complications from diabetes. Ferentz said that his defensive coordinator was hard at work.
"Norm is doing great," the head coach said. "Its been a real positive that he's had chance to get off his feet. His recovery has gone well.
"He's been watching a lot of (Georgia Tech) film. We're not sure that has been good for his stomach . We'll wait to see if he'll be in the box or on the field (at the Orange Bowl), but he'll be there calling plays."
Recruiting Period Ends: After three weeks, the Iowa coaching staff will shut down its recruiting trips in compliance with NCAA rules.
Visits are prohibited during the bowl season. It will pick up again after the national championship.
"I think that's a good thing," Ferentz said. "Our guys have been on the road recruiting. I've made a couple of visits."
Injury Update: On Sunday , Dec. 6, when the Orange Bowl was announced as Iowa's destination, Ferentz said all the players' injuries would be healed enough for them to play in the postseason. His only exception was offensive lineman Dace Richardson, who broke his leg against Michigan State in October.
"Everybody making great progress," Ferentz said on Wednesday. "I think I read where (QB) Rick Stanzi proclaimed himself to be 95 percent (healthy). I would agree with that assessment and he has time.
"It's touch and go with Dace Richardson. We‘re optimistic that he'll have an opportunity to play. And that would be great because he‘s been through a lot."
Bowl Prep: Iowa has not begun installing the Georgia Tech game plan with its players and will not until after finals, which end this week. Ferentz said that the staff just started breaking down the Yelllow Jackets in the last few days.
The head coach did offer up a couple of thoughts on the opposition for the Jan. 5 game in the Miami area:
-"We're not going to change our defense," Ferentz said of facing Tech‘s option attack. "We're comfortable with what we do. We'll change our approach a bit to match up with our opponent."
-"The challenge will be to get our scout team, our looks team, to impersonate what they do," Ferentz said. "They're big in backfield and at receiver. They block well, not only on the inside, but in the secondary as well."
"You don't get (a lot of offensive) snaps because they control the ball," Ferentz said. "When you have the ball you have to make it count. It's going to be a challenge. "
"We're very fortunate that we have some time to get ready, but that doesn't mean a thing," Ferentz said. "It's going to come down to execution and how we do against it on the field."
Academic Issues: Ferentz said that he felt good about everyone making the grade for the bowl game. First semester final grades come out in late December, the coach said.
"I think we've had one player in 11 years not make the grade," Ferentz said. "And he was injured and knew he wasn't going to play.
"You never know, but I feel confident we'll be OK academically."
According to Ferentz and Dolphin, Iowa ranked third in the conference behind only Northwestern and Penn State in the most recently released graduation rates. The Hawkeyes only trailed Cincinnati in graduation rates among teams in BCS bowls this year, Doplhin said. Really? Cincinnati?
Redshirts 2009: Ferentz was asked if he could point to any of this year's redshirt freshmen as up-and-comers; those that might have stood out in fall practices.
"It's early in the game for redshirts, but this is an important time," Ferentz said. "Besides working on bowl preparation, we give younger players a chance in practice."
The coach said he'd reserve judgment for now on naming names of standouts until he got a look at the youngsters in bowl prep and beyond.
"I'd like to wait to see over next few months," Ferentz said. " We're pleased with the young guys, and this is a real valuable period for them to mature as football players."
The same caller asked Ferentz to speak about incoming gray shirt, Jonny Mullings, a punter from Australia. The coach could not comment on the unsigned prospect per NCAA rules.
"We're happy about our recruiting," Ferentz said generally. "Things are going well there and we hope it turns out to be a great class."
Wrestling with Philosophy: Ferentz spoke about legendary Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable and current Hawkeye grappling leader Tom Brands when he asked about his team's approach. He felt there was an analogy there.
"I'll go back 20 years ago with Dan Gable and wrestling and with what Tom Brands is doing now," Ferentz said. "When those guys look for kids, they look beyond record. We try to do the same thing.
"The first thing is a great strength and conditioning program. The coaches need to work with all the players, not just the first and second strings. With the players, it gets down to a level of pride and determination. That's a process for most players. It's rare that a guy comes in and has a great career from start to finish.
"Players have to experience setbacks and disappointments."
Ferentz offered up senior linebacker Pat Angerer as Exhibit A. The Bettendorf native started the 2008 season on the second team. Some media outlets named him a first-team all-American this fall.
Backfield Logjam?: A caller asked coach how the running back situation will shake out next fall. Iowa was expected to have Jewell Hampton, Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher - all accomplished to some degree - vying for carries.
"Maybe we'll put Georgia Tech's offense in.," Ferentz joked.
"I hope we have that problem. If that's an issue, those are issues we'd like to have for all of our positions. Potentially it could be a good thing."
Ferentz said Iowa would be able to use Wegher "in a lot of ways." The true freshman from Sioux City Heelan High catches the ball very well.
"I hope that we end up with three guys that are healthy and complement each other," the coach said. "It's amazing how things can change from spring to fall at any position."
Quick Hitters: Ferentz was named the Sporting News, Big Ten Coach of the Year on Wednesday. He also received the award from league media a few weeks back. He said the laurels are a reflection on the whole staff and players…Ferentz said that he really enjoyed the hall of fame ceremony in New York last week and getting to see Larry Station and Chris Spielman sitting together on the acceptance stage…Myrt from Keokuk asked Dolphin and Coach about whether or not she'd be able to watch the game on TV. Recent contract talks between Mediacom and the Fox/Sinclair stations Eastern Iowa have stalled and it puts the broadcast in possible jeopardy. Dolphin passed on an answer and assured her that she could listen to it on the radio…Ferentz was asked if the conference's performance in bowl games reflects on where teams will be ranked in next year's preseason polls. The coach said that he believed it does…Ferentz said he likes that the Big Ten shares its revenues from bowl season with all 11 conference schools - "There's more parity in the conference that way. It's not like that in some leagues and you have the haves and have nots. That's not right."