Ferentz: Attitude and Effort

Feb. 5, 2006

A standing room only crowd huddled in the ballroom of the Sheraton in Downtown Iowa City Sunday morning to hear the keynote address for FanFest 2006 – a presentation by the head coach of the nationally ranked University of Iowa football program, Kirk Ferentz.

And, after the standing ovation and a few thank you’s to the organizers of the three-day event, Ferentz did what he hopes his student-athletes would do when, as Hayden Fry used to say, the bullets are flying: Act on the directions from those in charge.

“Matt (Engelbert) counseled me a little bit during the week to consider going away from the I-Club speech to something else,” Ferentz confided before delving deep into the philosophy of the Iowa football program in terms of coaching and how that dovetails into recruiting.

Make no mistake, however, he did mention how proud he was of the accomplishments of the 2005 Hawkeyes and how much he is going to miss the Hinkel’s, Hodge’s and Greenway’s of this year’s graduating class. But, FanFest is intended to be an inside look at one of the nation’s most successful college football programs, and Ferentz shared some of the very basic nuts and bolts.

“First of all, we know that coaches coach positions. D-line coaches coach d-linemen. Quarterback coaches coach quarterbacks,” Ferentz said. “However, more importantly, we believe coaches coach people.”

Ferentz talked about how it’s important that coaches understand that simple fact.

“To us, it’s pretty basic. We want to do what we can to make certain our student-athletes, number one, graduate. Number two, conduct themselves appropriately socially. And, number three, play championship caliber football.”
Kirk Ferentz

“To us, it’s pretty basic. We want to do what we can to make certain our student-athletes, number one, graduate. Number two, conduct themselves appropriately socially. And, number three, play championship caliber football,” said Ferentz.

The key to accomplishing that is to know your audience. Ferentz told the story about a television commercial where a coach delivered a brilliant, inspirational speech to a group of football players that appeared have an average age of eight.

“After the coach was done, one of the players raised his hand and asked “Coach, when do we get to go to McDonald’s?’ ” Ferentz chuckled. “Well, there’s a pretty good example of a coach needing to know his audience.”

Ferentz said at Iowa the coaching staff realizes it’s important to teach technique and fundamentals and, importantly, that teaching doesn’t end at the start of the season or at the end of the season. It continues year-round.

Ferentz said what separates the great players from the good players are those who use proper technique and proper skill and execute those properly with consistency. He said it’s also about attitude and the ability to comprehend completely how your particular role fits into the bigger picture.

“That’s perhaps the biggest difference between a freshman and a senior. The senior will be more mature, will have studied tape and studied the game, and will understand how they fit into the bigger picture. The older guys in the program talk about how that extra time and extra effort is the difference,” he said.

Ferentz talked about how strength and conditioning at Iowa in the 1980s under then-strength coach Bill Dervrich and today under Chris Doyle – who Ferentz believes is the very best in his business, bar none – is an extremely important piece of the puzzle.

“How about our basketball team? The place was hoppin’ yesterday, wasn’t it? It was an unbelievable atmosphere in the Arena.

“Steve (Alford) is getting some great senior leadership. It’s fun to see that. It also provides us a great way to introduce our program to (high school) underclassmen who are beginning to narrow down their choices.”

Kirk Ferentz on Carver-Hawkeye Arena and Coach Steve Alford’s nationally ranked Iowa Hawkeyes

“Bill back in the `80s when all the other strength coaches were running around with charts and graphs would tell our recruits that strength training was just a part of what it took to be successful. He said student-athletes needed to understand the skills and techniques, and that it was important to know where you fit both on the field and in the program,” Ferentz said.

“Bill had a pretty good vision.”

How does the philosophy impact recruiting? “We simply don’t get a lot of the five-star guys. Never have and probably never will,” said Ferentz.

“Our point is that there are an awful lot of very good football players and, those who have the willingness to prepare and see the bigger picture will be successful and will help us be successful. Our job – and we think we’ve had some success – is to identify the Brady’s and Hasselback’s.”

Ferentz said Iowa’s recruits have to have the “requisite physical tools” but, as important, they have to have the commitment.

“There’s always going to be the want and desire to rank players. We’ll just leave that task to the experts,” he said with his characteristic smile.

Ferentz closed his presentation with a brief question-and-answer session. He said the staff is anxious and excited about the coming year but, now that recruiting is complete and they are back on campus, the staff is also in that process of saying good-bye to the senior class.

He said that the staff will take a look at a variety of things that might help the Hawkeye start faster in September, but he cautioned, “We’re probably a program that will always be `developmental’ in that we will always be losing a fair number of quality seniors.”

But, he added, the month of September – and, perhaps, more importantly, a review of spring and summer and fall camp vis-à-vis the month of September – is on the coaching staff’s agenda.

He said he feels very fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach his son, Brian. “How lucky were we?” he asked rhetorically.

“I’d have to admit that more of the burden fell on Brian than me. It had to be tough for him to walk into that locker room as a freshman knowing that your `old man’ was the head coach.”

Ferentz said he’s probably changed his opinion on college football’s replay system, opting now for the head coach to have the opportunity to challenge a call like that done in the NFL.

“I’ve reversed my thinking on that one,” he said. “I’ll probably advocate for the NFL approach in our coaches meetings.”

He also said he’s pleased that the appropriate people will review the assignment of officiating crews for bowl games but added, candidly, that he might be in agreement with other coaches who have said that change doesn’t necessarily mean things will be better.

Finally, he took a thank you from a fan and turned it back on those in attendance.

“We want you to know and all of our fans to know that we don’t take the relationship our football program has with its fans for granted. You should know it’s not this way everywhere and that we greatly appreciate your support,” he said.