University of Iowa Football Media Conference
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Kirk Ferentz: Sorry I missed Tom (Brands). I’m sure that was enlightening and entertaining. Usually is when he’s around. But what a great event that (Grapple on the Gridiron) is, great initiative, and should be a great environment on Saturday afternoon, as well. Wish him all the best.
Just looking backward for a second, we were really pleased to get a quality road victory against a very tough, challenging opponent. We knew it was going to be a challenge going into Indiana, and it certainly proved to be. Happy to be 4-0 on the road right now. It’s a real good accomplishment for our football team. Obviously happy to get the ninth victory, and the other part I think we’re really happy about is just our fourth quarter performance has been good all season long. I want to compliment the team on that.
And then on top of that, it’s our first win in November. November football is always very, very important. A lot of good things took place over the course of the weekend.
Now we move forward, and as we head into this week we have the same four captains: Drew and Jordan on the defensive side and then Austin and C.J. on the offensive side.
Injury-wise it looks like we’ll get Jordan Canzeri back. He’s been able to practice pretty efficiently and well, so happy about that. Ike Boettger is making good progress, so we’ll know more after tomorrow, see what it looks like, but it looks like he’s getting in a position where he can help us out, as well, so happy about that part of it.
Obviously good to be back into Kinnick. We’re looking forward to having that chance, and it’s another tough challenge with Minnesota.
Just a sidebar on that front, I think everybody involved with college football was certainly sad when Coach Kill made his announcement a couple weeks ago, and from my standpoint at least, I think it’s very easy to say he’s clearly been great for the University of Minnesota. I think he’s been great for the Big Ten, and I would say for the entire game of college football, and has been for quite some time.
He’s a tremendous man, a tremendous football coach, and our game is going to miss him. Certainly the players that had an opportunity to work with him I think would echo that, as would his staff. Just all of us were very, very saddened by that news, and give our best to him certainly.
You know, prior to his announcement, Minnesota was dealing with a lot of injuries early in the season. I know he spoke about that a little bit. Most recently they dealt with his announcement, his situation, and bottom line is they’ve played very, very well the last couple weeks out against very tough opponents. We’ve got a very big challenge on our hands as we move forward here.
Offensively they’ve got a veteran quarterback who’s a really good football player. They’re a big, physical group up front like they traditionally are. Good backs, good receivers, so that’s going to be a big challenge for our team.
Then flipping it on the other side of the football, they’re very aggressive defensively, run very well at all positions, extremely good in the secondary. I know they feel great about those guys, and rightfully so.
And then special teams wise they have two of the better specialists you’re going to find in the conference. They’re a very, very good football team, and we’re going to have a big challenge on our hands.
November as I said earlier is a big month, certainly a big month for any college football team. Certainly it is for us, and to be back in Kinnick is really special, and to be there in a night game is always a special thing.
Twenty-sixth year now being involved in Kinnick Stadium. It never gets old. It’s just a very, very special place to play college football. We’ll have a great environment Saturday night. There’s no doubt about that. But that being said, the fans can’t play the game, just like when we’re on the road, the opposing fans don’t decide the game. It’s going to get decided on the field, so we’re going to have to have a great week of preparation. We’ll have to be ready to go at kickoff against this team. We’ve got our work cut out and we’ve been working on that, and we look forward to trying to finish the week out well.
Q. C.J. seems all year to have a sort of innate ability to make the play, to make the kind of plays that make the difference between winning and losing. How key is it for a team to have a guy like that who can just make those plays?
Kirk Ferentz: Well, guys that can do that at any position, that’s a special thing, and I’m not sure you teach it. I’m not sure how it develops or whatever. But certain players just have a little something extra they add to the equation, and certainly C.J. has demonstrated that now this season over nine games and last year in one. So he’s really playing well, and that’s part of the reason we’re doing well right now as a team.
Q. Akrum said he didn’t practice today, and Jordan is looking really good. How do you plan to implement Jordan? Is he back into the game plan?
Kirk Ferentz: Yeah, I think he could have played last week, and our concern there was just the same path we went down with LeShun. I think we put him out there and he thought he was okay and he wasn’t, and then we had an average back out there, and that’s not good for him, not good for anybody. We wanted to be really conservative with Jordan. I think he could have played last week. We just wanted to stick to the plan.
I think we’re all convinced right now he’s full speed, and that’s a good thing. LeShun is certainly full speed again. We’ve got Derrick, and hopefully Akrum will be ready to go. We’ll know that on Friday or Saturday. If he can’t, he can’t, and we’ve certainly been down that road a couple times this year. But if we have them all, that’s great, and we’ll play them all if they’re healthy.
Q. Speaking of Jerry Kill, you and other people have really talked highly of him since his retirement. Is that partially the way that he came up, salt-of-the-earth type, started at the high school level, teacher, hard-nosed, was never given a position he was, just kind of graduated to become a head coach, just the way he built his program?
Kirk Ferentz: It is, and I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way to coaches that haven’t traveled that path. Bill Belichick didn’t. Bill has been a lifetime NFL guy. But he started at the bottom, too. He worked for basically nothing in Baltimore and then worked his way up the ladder.
But yeah, that’s my opinion of Jerry. Jerry has done a great job every level he’s been. He’s taken jobs that weren’t necessarily great jobs and turned them into good jobs, too. I mean, every place he’s gone it’s been better. But I think the thing I’m probably most impressed with is just the way they’ve operated as a staff. Staff has gone with him for the majority every place they’ve been.
They got on our radar at Southern Illinois, really got on it at Northern Illinois. We’d see them on film playing very well, and as I said on the teleconference, I was hopeful Minnesota wouldn’t hire him. I was hoping nobody in the Big Ten would, but Minnesota figured it out, and they hired a great coach and a great staff. And the work that they’ve done up there, the improvement they’ve made is really clear to see. You don’t have to be an expert to figure that out.
But being around him, he’s just a great, great guy, and I think he’s been great for college football. He’s great for young people. As the world moves faster and football gets a little bit more visible and all that, sometimes I think we lose sight what this is all about, and it’s about the players and the kind of experience they have while they’re at our schools, whether you’re a high school coach or a college coach, that’s what it’s all about. The NFL is a whole different deal, but when you’re coaching in college and high school, that’s when — it’s all about the experience for the players. That’s to me the most important thing that happens.
Q. How did Tevaun Smith come out of the game?
Kirk Ferentz: He’s good. He was sore on Sunday as you might imagine, but it was all basically in the area that he got hit, that’s where his soreness was. He’s improved each day. Looked good today. Not much fun, but that’s part of the game, too. When you play football, you’re going to have some tough Sundays.
Q. When Tom Brands came to you about hosting the event Saturday morning in the stadium, how did that conversation go down?
Kirk Ferentz: Well, I think they’ve been noodling this idea around for a while. Like most things, it takes a while for it to percolate. It’s not like we’re going to be doing anything at 11:00 or whatever time they’re going. I think it’s a great thing. It’s great for the sport first and foremost, and I happen to be a wrestling fan. I’m not an expert by any stretch. I’m not even a novice, but I really enjoy it, and I have tremendous respect, like I do for all the coaches on our campus. Tom, all those guys really just do a great job.
But it’s great for the sport of college wrestling, which is I think one of the premier sports there is. I understand Oklahoma State was very receptive to it. That could have been an issue, as well.
So it’s just a win-win situation, and for them to do it in Kinnick Stadium, make history there, why not. I think that’s just a fantastic thing for the University.
Q. Where did your respect for wrestling come from? Is that something you’ve always carried since you’ve been here?
Kirk Ferentz: My first competition would have been January, maybe February, but it was in the winter of 1982. I’ll never forget walking into the old Field House, and first of all, I was amazed at the crowd. Beyond that, it seemed like everybody in the place knew everything that was going on, like every move. They’re coaching every move, and I was just like in total amazement. That blew me away. But it was so fun to watch our teams compete.
Since that time, I’ve had a chance to get to know Dan (Gable) a little bit, and I have a lot of respect for him. I had a chance to read a couple of the books about him, and he’s an amazing. We have a few Iowa treasures, certainly Norman Borlaug, go right on, James Van Allen, and Dan Gable certainly one of those people. The guy is an icon, just an icon, and a tremendous human being, a family guy. I just got done talking about Jerry Kill. I mean, ditto with Dan Gable. What an outstanding Iowan, an outstanding person.
If you like sports, I don’t know how you couldn’t like wrestling. I don’t know about competing in wrestling, but watching it, that’s a different story.
Q. One of your players said, yeah, I tried it and then I got out of it.
Kirk Ferentz: Mark Sindlinger had a great career. It’s really tough to do two sports in college. I don’t know if you could do it anymore, but Mark did a great job with it.
We had a lot of guys back in the ’80s that would go over and wrestle guys that were heavyweights in high school. They’d go over there and get beat up. As a line coach I thought that was the greatest thing in the world to be in that environment with that caliber of athlete and that caliber of coaching. What a great opportunity for our players.
We don’t get much of that anymore, but it was really a good thing. I think they would have taken Riley Reiff if he would have been interested, but that didn’t work out.
Q. You said a few weeks ago it’s hard sometimes to focus on one game at a time. How do you see these guys dealing with it?
Kirk Ferentz: You know, I can only speak for myself on this one. It seems to me that maybe we’re over the initial wave, if you will, over the last couple weeks. Right now I think it seems like we’re down to business. It doesn’t seem to be as much distraction or what have you. I haven’t really paid too close attention on the outside, but it seems like things have died down a little bit. It’s been interesting to say the least.
I found it interesting last week there was somebody that has had access to a microphone, who suggested we knew our schedule five years ago. I think there were 11 teams in the Big Ten five years ago if I’m not mistaken. There was no Leaders or Legends, no East or West. The world has changed a lot in five years. It’s been a great avenue for a lot of interesting dialogue and discourse, but I think our guys are pretty much wired into what we’re doing, and we’d better be because we’ve got a big challenge on our hands Saturday.
Q. This could be the first team to ever start and win 10 games in school history. I was asking your players about that chance to go down in history; to a man they said, we just want to be 1-0 at the end of the week. Does that tell you that what you’re telling them has resonated?
Kirk Ferentz: We’ll find out Saturday because we’ve got a real big challenge and we’re going to have to really have a good week of preparation. That’s really the best way to get there, and we’ve tried to explain that to our players. Back during the bye week we told them to think big, but no matter how big they thought and whatever they may have been dreaming up, you can only get there week by week. That’s about all you can control. I know it’s boring and mundane. But for us to be focused or spend time on anything else right now is really counterproductive, and to me the best thing to do is worry about their academics, worry about the game plan, preparation, and maybe go on a date or something like that if they’ve got time. That’s great, too. We just need to worry about this one because it’s tricky sledding out there.
Q. Is revenge a real thing in your sport, or is it more avenging performance?
Kirk Ferentz: They did what they were supposed to do last year. We didn’t. We didn’t reciprocate. That’s what competition is about. We walked into one and I say it to our players all the time; in sports you typically get what you deserve, and we got what we deserved. We got outcoached, outplayed, any way you want to slice it. There are a lot of things that happened last year, and that was last year. This is a different team, different year, and different opportunities.
That being said, we have total respect for them and we have full firsthand knowledge just how well these guys can play. You know what kind of team they are. They’ve got a lot of the same players back, and we’re going to have to be at our best. The big thing motivating us right now is just to play our best football this year. That’s what we’re worried about and focused on, and that’s really all we can control.
Q. Your running backs all seem to generally respect each other and like each other. How much does that help with the chemistry part, the fact that they seem to get along?
Kirk Ferentz: I think that’s true of our whole football team, but it certainly is at that position. That’s a position where you can have jealousy creep in pretty quickly and pretty easily. But on one hand it’s been kind of easy; everybody keeps asking how we’re going to rotate. It’s easy. The guys that are healthy play, so they’ve helped us out with their little tweaks, injuries that we’ve had.
They’re a good group of guys. They work hard. I think they’ve got mutual respect, and you start the two older guys. They’ve been here the longest. They’ve really paid their dues and they’ve already done some good things this year. Hopefully we can finish strong with both LeShun and Jordan, hopefully both of those guys get a chance to play the rest of the games the way they want to play, and then I think Derrick and Akrum have certainly done a nice job of complementing. If we have all four of them healthy, we’re a better football team. They understand that and we certainly believe that.
Q. In watching the game again from the other day, I seem to have lost track of what holding is.
Kirk Ferentz: I just flashed back to a meeting, for some reason I must have made somebody mad. I drew the short straw. I got sent to a meeting. They sent one coach from every staff to Chicago, and the guy that was one of the several people who were at the meeting was a guy who actually threw a holding flag out there in 1981 against the University of Minnesota. I remember it like it was yesterday. We were down, going in for a touchdown and we got a holding call. He was one of the guys, to your topic, and you know, boy, you talk about Excedrin headache number whatever, I mean, I walked out of there, like, oh, please don’t ever send me back to this meeting. Thirty years later there’s still a debate about what is holding, but there was a lot of debate that day, and there was a very prominent former head coach who was a line coach; he and this official got into a long, really uninteresting discussion from my vantage point about holding, and to this day the debate still rages on.
It’s just one of those deals. It’s always been debated. I think the officials in our conference really do work hard at it. Tough job, really tough job. So we had a couple calls the other day that were tough to take, but that’s football.
Q. Do you coach by the way it’s going to be called, or do you just —
Kirk Ferentz: We try to coach what we think is proper technique, and there’s a lot of different ways to skin a cat, too, so not like we invented blocking here, but we have a certain way we like to do things. Sometimes what happens in football, it looks like a guy, something happened that really didn’t, a guy got tripped up or whatever, but those are things that are bang-bang, and it’s easy after you go back and watch the film and say, geez, why did they call this or why did they do that. In live speed it’s a whole different arena.
The thing I would say about Big Ten officiating from my vantage point at least, I think it’s been really good for a long time. I know they work really hard at it, and that’s everybody, Bill Carollo right on down. The guys are courteous, they’re good to work with, and tolerate an occasional outburst, which I really appreciate that. They’re good, professional people.
Q. Is there a — rerouting and holding, when they see that, is that the automatic?
Kirk Ferentz: Yeah, rerouting or if a guy just gets jerked, those kinds of things. But again, sometimes it can be — a guy might get tripped up and it looks like it’s a hold and you can see why it would look like that, but when you have a chance to really zero in on it or replay it, it’s a different deal. So that’s probably the hardest call. That and pass interference are the two hardest calls, I think, in football.
Again, they do an amazing job if you look at how many plays are run in a game.
Q. When you look at this team, in some ways it seems to be most representative of you, but in some ways they’re an understated, hard-working, tough, physical, do their job, do it well. What’s the chemistry like with the staff and the players?
Kirk Ferentz: Fortunately they’re way more athletic than I am, or we’d be in serious trouble, okay. That would be a big deal.
We have a really good group right now. The players have really gelled. They’ve come together. To Pat’s point earlier, I think they generally care about each other, and you see that in the way they play, and the way they practice, the way they travel.
Our staff is the same way, and I kind of touched on that earlier, and it’s just like — I just talked about Coach Kill’s staff. We kind of have been going through what we went through back in the early 2000s, getting everybody in the right seats and then really getting an appreciation for what it is we’re trying to do program-wise, what it’s like to live in Iowa City. Those are different things if you haven’t been here before. I went through it in 1981.
There’s a process to everything that you do, but it starts with good people, and that’s what I said back in January. I was convinced at that time that we had the right people here, it was just a matter of getting a little better focus and everybody kind of working together a little bit better, and same thing you ask your team to do.
Q. Everybody in their rooms, from staff to players, there was a lot of adversity, whether it was on the field, off the field, but it seemed to be kind of a selective mindset to just kind of get to work, and it seemed like there was a lot of chemistry involved with them because of it. Do you as the staff kind of feel that same shared bond?
Kirk Ferentz: There’s two things. If you can’t deal with adversity and you’re involved in competitive sports or competitive anything, you’re going to have a tough life. You go back to the ’70s where there were a couple of team, you’d just go and knock people down like bowling pins, if you were at the right place. Those days are gone with scholarships changing and all that. Things have become a lot more competitive, and it probably parallels the NFL a little bit. We’re not exactly like them, but it’s a lot more like them than it was in the ’70s for sure.
So there’s an opportunity to have good teams, but every day is not going to be a walk in the park. That’s just how it is. So if you can’t deal with that, you probably should do something else.
And then I think the next part is everybody involved has to understand that, whether there’s players, coaches, staff, support staff folks. You can’t whine about things that go wrong. It’s not all about pointing fingers or appointing blame, which I know we live in a world where that’s a big thing right now. To me the question is how do you work through situations? How do you improve? What’s the way to address something when it goes wrong? That’s the challenge, and it’s easy to say, hey, this guy, that guy and all that kind of stuff, but what are the answers. We have enough people telling us what the problems are, but what’s the answer to the problem, what’s the solution. That’s the key in anything you do. But you’ve got to have the right people. You’ve got to have the right people, people that got a little bit of mettle and some substance to them.
Q. It’s a fun uniform week when you guys wear a new uniform. Can you walk us through the process how that started, who had their hands in on it and what say you had?
Kirk Ferentz: I guess I got veto power. It’s like being the governor, I guess, or whatever. It was a tidal wave; are you kidding me? That was part of the process back in the out-of-season, just all the things that we talked about; what are some of the things we might be interested in doing, and that got on the agenda. It was not at the bottom, but it got on the agenda. The bottom line is our players are really excited about it, so that’s a great thing.
My sense is the fans are excited about it, which, hey, if we can make them more excited without playing a snap on Saturday, that’s a good thing, too, so I think it’s a win-win situation, and we have let the players see them, actually see them in live person. It was really a dramatic moment in my life to have those guys see it.
We’ve gone through all that stuff, so we got that out of the way, and hopefully now we can get back to getting ready for a tough football game. But it’s kind of a sign of the times. The players like it, they think it’s great. Again, I said earlier, I’m not a total tyrant. Every now and then we’ve got to throw them a bone and let them enjoy it.
Q. Did you veto a whole bunch of different ones or was there just one, you’re like, get it over with?
Kirk Ferentz: This really is not my line of expertise I’ve got to tell you. I like the uniforms we’ve got, so to me why would you change them. We’ve got classic uniforms, and there’s several teams in college football that do, so why would you change those. But we’re going to make an exception, and with some of the younger guys on the staff — probably shouldn’t talk in terms of younger or older. That’s probably not wise on my part.
But some of the youngers guys with some fresh ideas, et cetera, and then I’ve got a select panel of experts that I go to, like does this look good or not, that are not associated with our team directly, and they gave it the thumbs up. So hopefully we get the thumbs up on Saturday.
But it’s a fun thing, so what the heck. I’m not a fun killer, either. We’re all for it. If it makes us play better, then we may be in them next Saturday, too.
Q. Would you be open to doing it in subsequent years or next year, like once a year?
Kirk Ferentz: I’m open to anything. I’ve got a little scar tissue from the last time we were in alternative uniforms; I’ll be honest with you about that. Scar tissue sometimes takes a while to — it breaks down eventually, so I’ve been told, and in this case it did, so I’m open to it.
Q. Some of your best contributors are the guys you offered scholarships on the very last day or thereabouts.
Kirk Ferentz: Yeah, and I think it illustrates two things. It’s just what a fine line it is for winning. We talk about that all the time. It’s no different in recruiting. What you don’t know as a recruit, or a recruiter, is what’s really inside the guy’s chest, what’s inside his heart, what his level of determination and pride are. You try to evaluate those things, but you’re evaluating people, so it’s like anything, any walk of life, it’s not an exact science.
So that’s the overriding thing these guys that you’re all mentioning have great work ethic. They’ve got a high level of pride. They really aspire to be good and do something significant. It’s easy to coach those guys. So when you find that kind of player, and you know, we all do this and the NFL does the same thing, you make too much about a quarter of an inch or whatever it may be or a 10th of a second on the 40, it’s just an amazing thing. That’s what makes sports so intriguing, and probably anything when you’re making decisions about people and what have you.
It’s an interesting discussion to say the least, and thank goodness it’s like the walk-ons that we’ve had that have done so well here. It’s been a big part of our history and our fabric, our tradition. Hopefully that’ll continue.
Q. VandeBerg, he came in with like three or four other wide receivers and immediately got on the field. His level of growth —
Kirk Ferentz: Yeah, so next time you think about complimenting us for our recruiting evaluations, all right, we wanted Matt to be a gray shirt, which I’m still trying to figure out the gray shirt concept kind of, but two guys we’ve had, Matt and Julian Vandervelde, who’s still playing and is having a great career with Philly, and then Matt came in, to your point, and played as a true freshman. It just shows you what a crap shoot recruiting is.
To that point, that’s why I don’t get too excited about where we rank in February. I’m a lot more interested where we rank in January. That’s a true evaluation. And I’ll turn that right back to the wrestling. If you talk to or just read about Dan Gable and the wrestling program traditionally, they don’t always go after the guys that won 12 state championships. They look for other things, too, and it seems like it’s worked pretty good for them. So you learn things through the years about how people do things, and it also ties into where you’re at.
We don’t get the luxury of just picking 12 five stars every year. We don’t get that luxury, and nobody here is complaining about it, because it’s still about where a guy is at three, four, five years into his career, and we tell recruits that all the time. Hey, if you play as a freshman, great, but it’s really more about where you’re at in year three, four and five. That’s what’s important.
Q. Looking at the linebacker position, you have Josey Jewell and Cole Fisher who never played in his fifth year and then you’ve got Neimann who was receiver originally —
Kirk Ferentz: I just made the comment to our staff the other day. Now you can see why Northern Illinois wins a lot of games, because they recruit guys like Ben. What a tremendous football player.
We’ve talked about Josey, and then Cole is another good traditional Iowa story, a guy that in his fifth year just took off at all fill-in plays for him. That’s one thing I learned in the ’80s, too, not from wrestling but coaching here, that you just never know when a guy is going to — when it’s going to hit for him. It’s no different than in high school. You read about some of the great players in all sports that didn’t really start playing until they were juniors or seniors in high school and playing well. So you just never know. That’s a fun part about it. That’s what makes it really intriguing and exciting.
Q. If that person with the microphone who made that comment about your schedule called you and asked you if you would come on his program, would you take that call?
Kirk Ferentz: That’s a good question. I don’t know. It’s kind of like that scene from Rocky, right, where Hulk Hogan beats the crap out of Rocky for a while, and Rocky is like, what the heck. It’s a game. I understand that. People that have a national mic have to make news.
But I also say this: I really respect people that do their research, do their homework before they throw things out there, and I probably should just be quiet right now, so I will.