GARY BARTA: Well, good evening, everybody. This afternoon it was interesting, I watched the snow accumulate in my driveway and received a call from Jim McVay and their board inviting us to the Outback Bowl.
I laughed, and I said, you know, this probably couldn’t have come on a better day for a lot of reasons, but we have four or five inches of snow here.
The athletic director, the students and the coaches, and I’m sure all of our fans are excited to get this invitation. Obviously we’re familiar with the Outback Bowl. Jim McVay has been their executive director for a long time. Their board goes over the top to take care of us.
When they told us the opponent, there again, familiarity not with this team, but familiarity with another great college football tradition. I guess you would call this the rubber match since we’ve split in Outback Bowls. But great experience the several times that we’ve been to this bowl.
Just thrilled. Tickets went on sale this afternoon. I don’t have any updates for you, but a lot of interest. We have a lot of alums living down in that area. The Outback Bowl is interested in a Iowa for a few reasons. They’re familiar with Kirk and his staff and how they coach, the values and what they bring to the table. They’ve watched our program finish strong here in the end, and they know our fans. They’ve been to Kinnick Stadium. They’ve watched our fans travel down to Florida, so they have great admiration for what the Hawkeyes do.
KIRK FERENTZ: Good evening. Certainly just start out by saying we’re not only thrilled but we’re honored to be selected to the Outback Bowl. I think I speak for everybody involved in our program, all of our players, all of our coaches, our staff members. It’s just a real honor, and we’re all looking forward to the challenge of playing the University of Florida. What a traditional program and strong football team. That’s a great thing.
This is our 14th bowl now in 16 years. That’s something we’re extremely proud of. It’s a tremendous accomplishment. I think it really speaks well about the commitment at Iowa to the football program and the efforts of our players and staff through the years. They’ve done a tremendous job there, too. That’s certainly significant.
The value of playing in a bowl game, I think any college coach, anybody that’s involved with college football understands just how important that is, what a great opportunity it is for our team to continue to develop, and one of our preseason goals this year was not only to play in a bowl game but win a bowl game, and that’s been on our wall for quite a while, and having a chance to play in this game gives us a great opportunity for that but also presents a tremendous challenge when you look at the University of Florida.
Last couple things I’ll just say, our fans have been just absolutely tremendous all season long. The last two times in Kinnick, as I mentioned, were just super, super for all of us, and they’ve been great on the road. We’re very, very appreciative of that. Their support has been around for a long time, and it’s been very loyal and very strong. We certainly appreciate that. I don’t think there’s any doubt, the role of our fans, what they’ve done, not only here but when we’re on the road and certainly bowl venues, probably factored into the Outback Bowl’s decision. It certainly didn’t hurt us. We certainly appreciate that.
As we close out on this thing, as I look at it, it’s one more opportunity for the 2016 team to be together for another four weeks, have a chance to compete. Certainly the last time our seniors, a really special group of 14 guys, for them to play one more game wearing the black and gold and play in front of our fans. I’m sure we’ll have a great turnout down in Tampa.
It’s just all a win-win situation, so we’re really excited about that, and just in closing, too, I want to thank all of you for your coverage this year, the work that you do covering our team. I know you put a lot of hours into it day after day, week after week, just like our players do.
But the work that you do really allows our fans to have a really special connection to our players and the team, so we really appreciate that, as well. I’ll throw it out for questions.
Q. Do you think the Nebraska result was a huge kind of a — sort of a springboard for the bowl game?
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, it certainly didn’t hurt. I think that’s one thing I learned a lot time ago, if you have success on the field, it just gives you more opportunity in all regards. We got knocked out of the conference race a while back, but you’re still playing for a lot of things that are significant, and going to a bowl is very special for anybody that competes as a college athlete. With every win, typically you get a better venue, and not with any disrespect to the other bowls that were being talked about. I know they’re tremendous bowls, as well, but we’ve been to the Outback Bowl, personally this is my fifth trip back there, and Jim has been there each and every time. It’s a great community. The people there are just — they do a great job of making sure both teams have a great experience. You play in a tremendous venue, and it’s just a great city to host a bowl game. That part I’m really excited for our players. We have some guys that have been there, but really excited for our guys to have that opportunity.
Q. The timing of it, does that help you health-wise a little bit more because you had some guys who were kind of banged up at the end of the year?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, not only health-wise but also preparation-wise, and we’re a little different — not that all schools don’t have finals when we do, but a lot of them have them this coming week, so they get out of finals and have a real nice block of time to get prepared. We’re still in classes right now, so we’re not going to practice during the week this week. We have our banquet next Sunday, so it’s a pretty tight window on that weekend, and then during finals week we try to let our guys go and just finish out the academic year.
Moving it to the 2nd gives us a little bit more time to get ready and have ample preparation without wearing the team out, too, and that’s really important. Kind of happy about that. Besides being a great game, but that extra day or two, it doesn’t hurt at all.
Q. You talked about maybe adjusting the time you’re going to be down there. I assume you guys are going to go down a little bit later this time, too?
KIRK FERENTZ: We are, and last year we had some other things on the board to discuss, but last year — I mean, two years ago, year and a half ago, last year one of our big discussions as a staff, and we turned it over to the players afterwards, is just bowl preparation because as I said, we haven’t won one since we beat Missouri back in 2010. I think we had some really good discussion, kicked some ideas around, talked to other people, and it was interesting, after we kind of came up with a list of ideas, I met their leadership group, and it was uncanny just how much in harmony we were in our thinking. The players I think are on the same vibe, and it’s important for them. They want to go down and play well, and that goes back to January discussions, or February I guess it would have been.
So yeah, we’re going to shorten the trip down, make it a little bit more of almost like a business trip or a Super Bowl week, if you will, and just try to keep in our game routine once we get down there.
Q. Have you seen any kind of a correlation with the last two, just kind of the flat opening, did that cause you to think about changes a little bit?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, you know, last year was a unique situation, but certainly two bowls ago, that wasn’t even close to what we wanted to look like. There were some factors for that, and I’m not going to share those, but there were some things that I thought factored into that.
I think overall maybe our approach was getting a little stale. Maybe we needed to change and look at some things differently.
Again, I think the thing I really felt good about was when I visited with the players how much in harmony we were, kind of thinking the same way, and then the other thing that factors into it is just building this facility. Now that we have a facility like this, we really have an opportunity to stay here, be in a real great working environment, and in the comforts of home, if you will, so that made sense. I go back to 1982, I’m old enough to remember that, we’re getting ready for the Peach Bowl, and we set up little like Quonset huts like you would have at a construction site, the plastic two by fours, all that stuff, with the heaters in there, industrial heaters, so one group would be in there getting asphyxiated, the other group would be out there practicing, and then they flip-flopped it, and the coaches stayed out there and just froze.
We’ve come a long way. I think that really gives us a good reason to stay here, work in a comfortable environment where the guys know their routine. We’ve got all the technology, and it all kind of came together, really came together well.
Q. Do you see any difference going off a win in the last game as opposed to going in off a loss?
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, life is much better after wins, no matter what you’re doing and where you’re going, so start with that. But I don’t know how big a factor it’s going to be for our preparation or our performance in this game. You kind of flip the page like you do after a loss, and credit our guys. We worked briefly this weekend, but they had a good attitude and good focus, and just enough to get them moving around a lot. We’re trying to give them some recovery time right now.
But again, my sense is these guys are hungry to keep pushing and keep playing. We haven’t seen a stitch of Florida on film, know a little bit about them statistically, know that they’ve won 18 games in two years. My guess is when we see the film, we’re going to realize we’ve got a lot of work to do. But it’s that way in conference football with us, too.
That’ll push us forward a little bit, but we’ll have a big challenge. It’s one we look forward to.
Q. You got a couple guys hurt against Nebraska.
KIRK FERENTZ: Unfortunately, yeah, Drake (Kulick) is out, and he’s not coming back for this ballgame. Manny (Rugamba) has got an outside shot, but I don’t think we can count on him right now. Probably know more in a couple weeks, just depends on how things come together.
Greg Mabin unfortunately will not be with us. He’s not going to be with us, either, and Cole Croston I think has a realistic chance. He’s not practicing yet, so it’s kind of one of those long, slow deals. But hopefully at least one of those two seniors I just mentioned will have a chance to finish up.
Q. Have you seen your guys prepare differently headed into different bowls? What’s it been like year to year, their motivation?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I think that’s really a big factor in bowl games; health always factors into it like anything, but the attitude you take, and bowls are really unique because you have a different set of challenges. We worked lightly this weekend, having no idea where we were going or who we were playing, so that’s one challenge, and now the guys are coming to the end of the semester, last week of class, you have finals, so that’s a different challenge, and we want them to finish strong academically. Once finals are over, we’ll really have a chance to get in game day mode, if you will, or game week mode, so you have all those stages.
And for the guys to balance things and handle things well, it is a challenge, and having good veteran leadership sure helps, and we don’t have a huge senior class, as I mentioned, 14 seniors, but I think the work that they did in November has really been very evident and very prominent, and certainly all of us as coaches, we’re counting on those guys to continue to lead us, and then throw in a lot of good underclassmen, too, Josey Jewell right on down the line, but that’s what it takes. It’s an unusual path and it’s a long path.
Q. Rugamba’s injury seemed like it happened so far away from everything.
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, it was just a freak thing, but it’s a shoulder injury that just — like a lot of things that happen. Drake’s is a little different, but a lot of them are — they happen, and unfortunately you have to go with the circumstances.
Q. That obviously put the tension on Jackson. I know Ojemudia I suppose is your next two guys?
KIRK FERENTZ: Next two and the last two, I think. Yeah, we’re kind of running out of trips to the well. But I think that’s one of the great stories of our team this year, in my mind, what they did the last three weeks, and then you look a little deeper, you think about a guy like Greg Mabin got hurt on a Wednesday, we really thought he was going to be back for Michigan game, thought he had a chance to be I should say, and it turns out he has a really unusual injury, really unusual. I think two athletes in the last about 15 years have had that, not only football players but athletes in our department. That’s a lot of players and athletes.
But you’ve got a freshman who jumps in there and does a good job at corner, then Miles comes out, a fifth-year jumps in and does a great job, and Nebraska game, same thing, Manny came out, Josh went in there and played like a veteran, like a starter.
Certainly a nice contrast to when we had the entire two group go in back in October, and it just looked like the Normandy invasion coming at us.
Good to see guys step up and do a good job.
Q. Will you look also at the offensive line, how up and down, you look at somebody like Keegan Render who played against North Dakota State and the way he played there versus the way he was playing against Nebraska and the way the whole unit combined against Nebraska, that must be encouraging.
KIRK FERENTZ: It’s really illustrative — and by the way, you set me up for one. I’m out at practice today thinking, okay, this looks like our Illinois line that we have today practicing, just kind of three weeks ago, that’s who we practiced today. But yeah, to that point, that’s really illustrative of our team. We’re a developmental team. I’ve said that many times, and certain things factor into outcomes in games early in the season, and then you hope your players are developing, you hope they’re improving and progressing, and certainly Keegan has made a lot of strides, and a big part of that is because he’s been able to play in games, and sometimes you learn the hard way being out there, too, but yeah, he’s made a lot of progress, and I could say the same thing about Manny, Anthony, all the guys that have jumped in there and played.
Q. You guys had two different — North Dakota State was one end of the spectrum and then you finish at Kinnick with a win over the No. 16 team in the country. Those are two — how does one not go crazy trying that figure that out?
KIRK FERENTZ: Well that’s football, right? Well, that’s football at Iowa. Let me be more specific. But no, it’s football at Iowa.
One thing I’ve learned, and I don’t know much about anything anymore, but 27 years being here, you just watch our teams, if we’re going to have a good team, we’ve got to be better in November, and this year we had to overcome some circumstances to get there, corner going down, tackle going down. But it’s all about us improving and growing, and I mean, you look at, at least over the last 18 years, any of our better teams, they’ve been a lot better in November than they were in September.
The other thing I factor in, I’m not saying it’s acceptable to lose. That’s not our goal. We’re trying to win every game, but that team we lost to that day, that’s an outstanding football team. North Dakota State is really well-coached. They’ve got good players, and I’m not going to say they could beat anybody. They can beat a lot of good teams. They’re a good football team.
And the day we lost to Northwestern, didn’t look like they were that good. I thought they were pretty good. They played well against us, and they went into Columbus and played the heck out of Ohio State not long after.
You just have to be really careful. It’s week to week, and sometimes you just think this is going to happen, but it doesn’t happen. There’s a lot that goes into it, and especially for us. Every game is basically the Super Bowl for us when we line up.
Q. Do you anticipate any position changes or looks during the break here?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, you know, I just had a couple thoughts in mind today, so we’ll kick that around this week before we start up again and maybe just look and experiment with a couple guys. But more younger guys, not anybody that’s really playing right now.
Q. You said you haven’t had a chance to look at Florida film yet, but just initial reaction, what do you anticipate the style of the game looking like?
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, looking at it statistically, it looks like it’s going to be 6-3. It’ll probably be 42-38 like Penn State. I think that was the score. It was like a track meet back and forth. So you just never know. I know they’ve got good players. I know they’re very well-coached. They’ve got a good staff. Hard pressed probably to find a Florida team that wasn’t talented, at least recent memory, and the two teams we’ve played in that bowl have been really good.
So I would expect that, and if you just look at the Outback Bowl in general, it’s usually a really good matchup between a good Big Ten team and a really good SEC team, and I’m pretty sure we’re — what did I say, 14 bowls? I’m pretty we’ve been the dogs in 13, so this will be probably be 14. We’re used to it.
Q. Did you guys find an identity in November?
KIRK FERENTZ: I think so. I think that’s fair. Sometimes I think maybe you’ve got to hit rock bottom to get there, but that’s what we did. And I think the trick to the whole thing is that — I say this all the time, but I get to work with really high-character people, high-caliber people, and it starts with our players. To get off the mat like they did and come back and meet a challenge, a big challenge that next week, I think that showed a lot about the kind of guys we had.
It’s kind of funny, that day I took a walk and I was thinking about things, you think about all these scenarios and what have you, and the one thing that occurred to me that day, no matter what happened that night, going back to January, this group has really worked hard. They’ve been really detailed on the things they’re supposed to be detailed on, their citizenship, academics, workouts and practice. So win, lose or draw, that night, this is a good group of guys. They’re a good group of guys, and it starts with the seniors.
You just keep pushing forward, but I think we kind of learned a little bit more about ourselves in the month of November, and we’re probably not the prettiest car on the lot, but we got to the finish line, and we may not win a beauty contest, but at least we can maybe compete a little bit, and we’re going to have to in this game because I know these guys are good.