A Hawkeye Football Family Affair

April 7, 2012

Spring Practice No. 8 Photo Gallery (Saturday) | Video interview with K. O’Keefe

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Tomorrow’s Easter meal in the Ferentz home will appear similar to team dinners for University of Iowa football. There are three — soon to be four — Ferentz’s who are part of the Hawkeye program in various capacities.

Kirk Ferentz enters his 14th season as head coach, James Ferentz is a fifth-year offensive center, and Brian Ferentz begins his first season as offensive line coach. Steve, the youngest of five Ferentz children, is expected to join the team this summer as a freshman walk-on.

Talk about blood lines, or, in this case, offensive lines: Kirk’s first collegiate coaching job was working with the Hawkeye “hogs” from 1981-89, an era that produced 91 wins and eight bowl appearances. Brian was a center and Hawkeye letterman from 2003-05, winning 27 games and playing in two Outback bowls and the Capital One Bowl. James has earned letters in 2010 and ’11, when the Hawkeyes won 15 times and participated in back-to-back Insight bowls.

Brian was born when Kirk was an assistant at Iowa; James was born while Kirk was transitioning into his first head coaching job at Maine. Successful coaches like Kirk Ferentz invest hours to their craft. The head Hawkeye undoubtedly missed more events than he would have liked as Brian and James grew.

Now they can spend hours together on the same practice field or in the same film room.

“In some weird way we’re making up for lost time a little bit,” James said. “It’s exciting to be around both of them at the same time and make up a little bit for that lost time.”

“In some weird way we’re making up for lost time a little bit. It’s exciting to be around both of them at the same time and make up a little bit for that lost time.”
James Ferentz
UI starting offensive center

The Ferentz family chain of command remains consistent and intact, going from father down to oldest son to younger son, in the same way a collegiate football hierarchy trickles down from head coach to assistant coach to player.

“In Brian’s case, not only am I his employer now, but I’ve also been his dad for 29 years,” Kirk said.

“It’s our job as assistant coaches to make sure that the head coach’s vision reaches the players, and I don’t view my job any differently here,” Brian said. “That’s basically my job, and I’m going to do it.”

“I’ll probably learn pretty quickly not to talk back to (Brian),” James joked. “He’s always been the teacher and when he talks, I’ve always been pretty good about listening.”

With that syntax, it’s apparent that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the Ferentz football tree.

Ten offensive linemen have been drafted by NFL teams in Kirk Ferentz’s 13 years as head coach at the UI. On April 26, Riley Reiff could be the third Hawkeye offensive lineman selected in the first round during that span. Kirk remains hands-on when it comes to working with that position in practice.

“He’s pretty active,” James said. “He always keeps a close eye on us through all the drills. During a lot of pass fundamentals he takes time and spends with the tackles and tries to prepare those guys.”

Brian’s journey back to the Hayden Fry Football Complex included brief cups of coffee as a professional player with the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints in 2006 and ’07. He paid his dues as an apprentice coach for the NFL’s New England Patriots, working his way from scouting assistant to offensive coaching assistant to offensive assistant to tight ends coach from 2008-11.

“I thought it was really important that he get some distance from here,” Kirk said. “That’s part of coaching and that’s how all of us get started. I thought it was important for Brian to get some distance from us; I thought that before he even thought about coming back here…he needed to get out and learn from other people.”

The learning paid off. Brian replaces Reese Morgan, one of the most respected teachers on the Hawkeye football coaching staff, who is now instructing defensive linemen. For James, the transition from Morgan to big brother has gone well.

“Brian has a natural ability to connect to players,” James said. “Everyone respects him and everyone knows his resume, and we’re excited to be playing for him. He’s coming from coach (Bill) Belichick, who has proven himself to be one of the best coaches in the NFL, so getting anyone from his coaching tree is great for the program.”

All five Ferentz children graduated from City High School in Iowa City, a bonus for any parent in the coaching profession. All three Ferentz boys were state-qualifying wrestlers, all three obviously excelled in the sport of football. But while Brian and James spent their careers snapping the ball, Steve could end up catching it.

“I think right now he’s coming in as a tight end,” James said of his younger brother. “I think he’s going to start out at tight end and where he goes from there, I’m not sure.”

That question might be answered tomorrow, sitting around the dinner table, with the Ferentz family together once again.