Kirk Ferentz Spring News Conference Transcript | March 26

KIRK FERENTZ: Good to see everybody. It has been a while. Everybody here has been busy covering a lot of good success stories. We’ve been quiet for a while, too, which isn’t all bad.

First of all, I want to congratulate Coach Bluder and the entire staff, her program, her team. It’s been so much fun to watch them. Really had to fight hard last night to get that victory. Really happy for them as they move on and wish them the best certainly moving forward.

I think they have captivated a lot of hearts and minds along the way.

We started the second week of spring practice this morning, had our fourth workout. Like always, it’s good to get started, and it’s an important time not only for the players but also for the coaches. It is a real opportunity for everybody.

Basically the winter program runs about eight weeks after the guys get back, a chance to work on their physical and mental development, and then during that same period the coaches are finishing up recruiting and then working on the system.

We transition after Spring Break into spring practice, and it’s a good opportunity for us to get on the field. And the thing I’ve always enjoyed about it, it’s a deliberate teaching time. There’s no pressure of getting ready for a ballgame on Saturday or at any point during the spring we’re not trying to get our team game ready, we’re just trying to watch the guys and see how they’re developing, how they’re improving and how much they can retain handling new situations, those types of things.

To me it’s all about growth and development. That’s been our approach each and every year.

Every year we talk about when we get back together in January, it’s a new year calendar-wise, a new team, regardless of how many players you have back or don’t. It’s going to be a different team and you really kind of start from scratch.

As you transition before and out of spring practice, you only have 15 opportunities to putting helmets on; three of those are without pads, but 15 with helmets, and that’ll be it until we get going in camp.

The best way to practice football is to practice football with helmets on, obviously, and if there are some things we can do in this period that you can’t do in the out of season, the summer, that type of deal.

Basically what I’m saying is every opportunity is really important, and hopefully our players understand that, and I think they get that.

Again, it is all about growth. You hear people talk about the game slowing down. Really that’s a result of seeing things better and being able to do things better. Those are the things you can only do when you’re out on the field practicing.

Then the meeting time is every bit as valuable as the practice time, and fortunately in the spring you have a good opportunity for good meeting time, quality meeting time more so than in season, if that makes any sense.

So it’s a real opportunity for players if they’re paying attention to grow forward or move forward and grow as players.

Just in general terms if you look at right now, special teams, obviously we need a new punter. We have a new punter and a punting competition, and we’ll see how that goes during the course of the spring.

Also we’re looking at all positions basically to see who the core guys are going to be, returners, that type of deal.

Defensively we’re fairly veteran and certainly will make some tweaks, but our system, we’ve had a system that’s been in place pretty much for 25 years, so that’s a little different scenario than offense where obviously we’re going through basically everything is new, new language, and everything about it is new.

There’s a lot of new teaching going on there, new learning from everybody, for everybody.

That kind of reflects our team in some ways, too. We have a group that’s veteran in some areas, some respects, maybe more veteran than we’ve been; sixth-year guys. The COVID thing changed dynamics a little bit.

And then the flipside is we have a lot of guys who haven’t played much. Kind of two tiers if you think about guys that have been in the program but been behind some pretty good players. I think about a guy like Jaden Harrell, middle linebacker behind Jack Campbell and now Jay Higgins; good quality work.

And then we have a lot of young guys, first-year guys and even second-year guys. Real good opportunity for these guys to get quality work and get a good look at them, as well.

Then a couple of things before I open it up for questions, just a couple comments about the transfer portal and then NIL, big topics, obviously, in what we’re doing. I think about the transfer portal, I think in general terms it’s been good for us. I had to go back to adding a player like Jack Heflin several years or Zach VanValkenburg; Mekhi Sargent came from Iowa Western, but nonetheless a new player coming in who added a lot to our team and ended up being a team captain.

You think about last year with guys like Nick Jackson, Rusty Feth, maybe not headline players yet really good players and very impactful players. Nick became a headline player in some ways; Rusty and lineman Cade, Erick, so we’ve benefitted in that way, and we’ll continue to look in that regard.

Then I think as most of you know, we had a player join us back in January that had a change of heart after spring break, and as I said a week ago, I think the bottom line there is that you don’t want a player in the program that doesn’t want to be here.

That’s always kind of been our feeling, and in my mind at least it’s best for both parties to go separate ways at that point.

But that’s part of the transfer portal, and we haven’t dealt with a lot of that, but certainly came up last week.

NIL, I think that’s overall been positive in a lot of ways. It’s been positive for our guys and I think positive for a lot of college athletes. It’s kind of interesting if you look at it going back, I remember in the ’80s it was a big deal to get TV exposure.

If ABC or CBS came in to do a game, that was a big deal. That world has kind of transitioned a little bit. It seemed like facilities became a real big thing, and now NIL is starting to surface a little bit and become more impactful.

I think it’s fair to say that having a good NIL program is a key differentiator in both recruiting and maybe more importantly retention. That’s probably where our focus is a little bit more.

Really feel fortunate in a lot of ways that we have a strong presence with this SWARM Collective. It’s a volunteer effort, and it’s basically been supported by supporters, donors and fans. Very appreciative of that.

But the bottom line is it’s not going away. It is part of college athletics now, at least in the immediate future, and I don’t see that changing much. I think in some ways we’re healthy but certainly the combination of both, it’s interesting, and probably not something that’s working very well, and I think right now the bottom line is we have a flawed system, and probably like a lot of people, obviously it would be great to get to a point where we can have a system put in place that’s going to be sustainable.

I’m not sure I have any answers on that equation, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on as we move forward.

All in all, it’s good to be started here. It’s good to be back on the field. I’ll throw it out for questions and see where we go.

Q. I wanted to ask you regarding the portal, the player who chose to leave, I guess first is were you surprised that he left? Second, is there anything that can be done in the short term about situations like this where you bring somebody in for two months and they’re gone and they do what they do?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, surprised, no. Somewhere in the first year, my first year being a head coach at the University of Maine, I can’t remember what happened exactly, but I told my wife say, I went home that night and said if I am ever come home and say I’m surprised by anything, just hit me with a baseball bat.

I try not to get too surprised by anything.

It’s probably a reflection of the system frankly and where we’re at right now. As you know, a couple lawsuits have come into play when it comes to the transfer portal and also NIL, so probably the biggest concern of this whole thing is just learning boundaries.

There’s no structure, no frame work, and that part makes it interesting in the fact that I don’t know if it is sustainable.

So at some point we’re going to have to be able to have a framework and a mode of operation. It’s just part of the business, I guess, and fortunately we haven’t experienced too many of those types of things.

But again, at the end of the day, whenever it happens, if it does happen, you don’t want a player in the program that doesn’t want to be here. If his heart and soul is not into it, it’s not good for him, it’s not good for us, either. We’re his teammates so I think that’s kind of the bottom line.

If there’s a silver lining here, too, we didn’t spend any practice reps with someone who had no intention of being here, and that’s a positive, as well.

Q. Dovetailing off that, do you happen to know if Kadyn is still enrolled? I’ve never heard of a case like this where guys do it at this point in the season, where they are right now.
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, it’s probably a byproduct of that (freedom) lawsuit. I assume he’s going to finish out the semester and then go from there, but I’m not sure about his whereabouts right now.

Q. You are the longest tenured coach, so what you say matters throughout the country. I wonder, is it worth wasting any time in considering if a year from now or pretty quickly there’s going to be revenue sharing, players may be paid, how that impacts the locker room or not? Have you given that a thought?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, sure. I think we’ve already given that thought because NIL has created that. There’s been a whole lot of things that came with NIL that was really interesting to consider. I think the locker rooms first and foremost for us.

Our approach has been to try to make it a fairly even-tiered thing, if you will, and — I don’t know how the right word to say this — but try to make sure everybody has an opportunity to be rewarded through the system, if you will.

We’ve tried to do that in a way that we think would be fair, in a way that the players more importantly they think would be fair, and I think the fact we had eight guys come back this out of season choose to come back, I think it was probably a pretty good reflection that we hit it right this year.

But I think it’s also going to be a moving target.

The one thing I will say, I spent six years in the NFL. It’s funny, Charlie Bullen was back here this morning; just took a job with the Giants and we were talking about the difference of the college football versus NFL. At least when you sign a contract, you sign a contract, coaches and players, and you’re there or you don’t work. It’s one or the other.

I don’t know how we get there in college football or college athletics, but it would be nice to have some clarity and already know, hey, this is what it’s going to be this year, and then the next year is new, a new circumstance.

Q. This is the first time since 2012 you’ve got an outside guy coming in to be your offensive coordinator. I realize this is somewhat limited foreign turf for you, so how does the process go installing what you want to do on offense? Do you have a full plan yet? Are you developing that plan as spring goes on? Where are you in the Tim Lester era here?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, so when Greg came it was a cooperative effort. We all sat down and visited, we being the offensive coaches, and I sat in the meetings, too, but we just kind of worked through it and in a nutshell basically with Greg. We kept a lot of the passing terminology that he was familiar with. We kept that. Then some of the systematic stuff and some of the running game stuff we kept in our language.

So there’s a mixture there. But that was his decision basically. He was comfortable with that.

I think the bottom line is the guy who’s going to call the plays has to be really comfortable with what the terminology is going to be because it has to come out, it’s got to come out pretty quick and naturally.

Whether it was Tim or whomever we hired this year, it was going to be the same thing, same discussion, and basically we’re just taking his playbook material and going with it.

It’s been a process, though. We’re trying to install something each and every day. It’s been challenging, I think, for everybody, and myself included, just learning the language and all that type of thing and trying to keep up.

We’re doing that and seeing how the install is going and then also see how the players are handling that, and where it all ends up we’ll see at the end of spring, and certainly we’ll work through some of that in August, too. So far it’s been good. It’s good.

Q. You opened the presser talking about Lisa Bluder and the women’s team. I was curious, you don’t get to watch a ton of NFL football or baseball during baseball season. Have you gotten a chance to watch Caitlin Clark play? Any general thoughts on her?
KIRK FERENTZ: She’s obviously an awesome player. I don’t know where to start. Her impact basketball-wise, and I’m certainly not a basketball expert, but it’s pretty obvious. I think the things that maybe impressed me more than anything is her vision. She has great vision. Her passing ability. If you’re a teammate you’d better be paying attention. They know that better than I do. Because if they’re open, yeah, it’s unbelievable.

She threaded the needle two weekends ago, there was one — she has a million assists that are really good — she got one right down from out on top around the foul line. I don’t know how she got it in there. So she’s been impressive that way, just her presence, her demeanor, the way she handles tough situations, whether it’s postgame press conferences, whatever.

The other thing I’m just fascinated by is just the attention that it’s brought to women’s basketball, not just our program, the University of Iowa program, but women’s basketball.

I don’t know if there’s been an athlete that’s had that kind of impact. You go on the road and every crowd is a sellout.

Maybe that’s happened in other sports where — that dramatic of an impact, but I think it just speaks really well to her as a player, but more importantly the way she’s handled it because I don’t know how old she is, 21, 22, and it’s a lot to ask. It’s been impressive to watch her.

Q. Regarding Tim and bringing him in as your new offensive coordinator, how are things going person-to-person-wise, plug and go? What does that look like with having a new member of your staff that doesn’t happen all that frequently?
KIRK FERENTZ: Fortunately we haven’t had a lot of change or turnover. But when we’ve had it, it’s all been pretty good. We’ve brought a lot of really good people in here. Probably a bigger adjustment for him since there’s more of us that were here. He’s the new guy, if you will, that way.

But Tim is a great guy, great person. He’s a veteran coach and been in a lot of different situations, a lot of different levels. He’s handling it really, really well and has done a great job with the players, as well.

I don’t want to speak for him, but I think the transition is going really smoothly and thus far very, very positive, so not surprised.

Q. There’s a clear one, two, three on the quarterback depth chart in the spring practice depth chart here. What are some of your development goals for each of those three guys since they’re coming in in really sort of different spots in their career?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, it’s pretty simple. We want them all to improve. They all need to, and they all know that. That’s every player on the team, though.

I’ll start with our oldest guys, the guys on defense. If they’re not thinking that way, we’re not going to have a good team next year. Everybody needs to be thinking about that, and what improvement looks like is different for every player, certainly, but quarterback is a pretty prominent position, and Deacon has the benefit of he played the most last year of any of our guys, so certainly he’s got more experience, but an awful lot of things he can work on.

Marco has got a different set of circumstances and different things to work on, but every player on the team has got things they need to get better at. That’s what this time period is really good. It gives us a chance to articulate those things, show them on film, and then hopefully put them in situations where they can demonstrate that they are learning and improving. That’s a whole deal.

Then the faster you can do it, the better off.

The depth chart, I’ll just say a word about that. It’s March 26th right now, so it doesn’t mean a lot, and I told the players that in the first meeting. Nobody knows what it’s going to look like on August 31st, so right now let’s just worry about getting better and worry about your performance.

Q. Obviously the portal isn’t open right now, but it will reopen. Have you given thought, are you guys going to potentially add one or two or however many in the portal? Where do you stand right now with that?
KIRK FERENTZ: Sure, we’ll know more about our team at the end of spring and then — I mean, we’re always going to look at it and always consider, and if there’s a glaring weakness or a place we think we can make our team better, absolutely. Some of the guys I’ve mentioned that have come here have really helped our team become better.

But just in general terms, our goal is to really continue to grow through — develop our team, recruit our team, and then develop them. That’s why this period is so important right now.

I mean, it’s just an important time for us. We’ll continue to look. But it’s like the NFL, I think you’re better off trying to draft your own players and develop your own players; trick there is keeping them because of the salary cap, all that type of deal.

But yeah, we’re a better football team. Most of our guys are growing here, I think, in the program.

Q. Cade with his injury recovery, how involved can he be this spring? Also, any update on medical scholarships or guys who aren’t continuing their football career at this point?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, nothing on that ladder at this point. We have a couple guys still working their way back, so we’ll see how that goes, and it’s probably going to be a couple months for a couple guys.

But as far as Cade goes, he’ll limited right now. He can throw the football standing, but he can’t be really moving back, moving around or dropping, that type of deal.

I have a harness on him because he’s always anxious to do a little bit more than what he probably should. What we don’t want to do is go backwards, but I would like to think in June he will be full speed so do everything and then have a couple months to get used to operating and get comfortable and confident again.

Q. This is the first time there aren’t divisions in 15 years or whatever. You’re going to be playing a lot of teams you only played sporadically and now you’re going to have four new teams coming in, two of which you play. How has that impacted some of your offseason looks? And because you have a new offensive staff has that limited your ability to take a look at Washington or UCLA who maybe in the past you would have scouted at least to this point.
KIRK FERENTZ: Ironically, they both have new staffs, too, new staffs on both schools we’re playing from the West Coast. That’s one of the hard things in out-of-season preparation anyway. You can always track DNA, go back to the schools the coordinators came from, which we’re not at that point yet, but we’ll do some of that after spring ball is over with.

All that talk, and I’ve sat through a lot of meetings. We argue about schedules, how to break up divisions and all that. I think it was a year ago January or February, we just had one in Chicago. We were there a day and a half talking about schedules and all that, and then we added two teams a month later or two months later, so take all that stuff and tear it up. What a waste of time that was.

To me you’re going to play 12 games and you line them up and that’s what you do is play those teams.

I think probably the biggest factor moving to four is the travel part of it, and if we only have one West Coast trip a year, that’s not major, and this year fortunately, we have a West Coast and then a bye week coming back. It’s not so much going out, it’s the coming back part that can get a little tricky and kind of throw you out of kilter for the next couple days.

Q. One more Tim Lester question. Philosophically any coordinator is not going to call plays or a series of plays the head coach doesn’t sign off on. The way you guys play and the way you guys win, is it going to be demonstrably different?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I think it’s going to look different, but I think philosophically we’re in line. Not that it was a prerequisite, but he’s been a head coach, and I think he understands how all three things function together.

We played good defense here pretty much 20-plus years. That was a building block coming in.

But playing complementary football and not being reckless with the football is a big part of that and being good on special teams. That’s been a big part of our blueprint, I guess, and if you coach offense sometimes you may pay a price because maybe we’re not going to throw it out there when we’re just trying to win the game the last quarter, play it smartly that way.

Stats are great and all that, but the most important stat is winning games, and that has been first and foremost. And my visits with Tim, I think that’s where he’s at, too. He thinks the same way and he gets it. He gets how things work together.

Q. Was it key that he was a head coach?
KIRK FERENTZ: It helped but it wasn’t a requisite. It was not a requisite. It certainly didn’t hurt.

I’m as impressed with what he did at the Division III level. In fact one of his former players was here today at practice. He’s coached at all levels and done a lot of things. I think having that kind of background makes you a better coach.

Probably needing a little better understanding of everything, just life in general.

Q. I wanted to ask about D-line. Solid four guys who have a lot of experience, but how are you viewing the depth and what do you need to see this spring from some of those guys that might be emerging?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, as I mentioned here, the thing about a guy like Max Llewellyn who hasn’t played a lot, but we’ve seen him growing behind the scenes, if you will. He’s getting a lot of good work in right now. We’re feeling pretty good about Deontae and Ethan. They have gotten a lot of work. We’re getting a lot of work behind them some work guy like Max or a guy like Brian Allen. Pittman is getting a lot of good work in there; Aaron is still a young guy.

You know, this was really a good time. It’s a matter of these guys taking the steps they need to take and continuing to grow, but it’s been pretty steady through their careers, and this is a really good opportunity for them right now to keep moving forward.

Q. I want to go back to something you said earlier with contracts in the NFL. I totally understand you would much rather be coaching football than be the hypothetical commissioner of college football, but have you given any credence to the idea of contracts or unions with college football and with players?
KIRK FERENTZ: You would need a team of lawyers to probably answer the question. It seems like everything that happens has legal ramifications to it. I don’t know what the answer is. I guess I’m just drawing the analogy or the parallel.

The thing was easy at least in the National Football League is a player signs a contract and he’s there for the year. He has the option of not playing, but if he’s under contract, if he plays — you can argue about that, too, but at least there’s a lot of clarity.

Again, I’m not against the transfer portal. I’m not against NIL by any stretch. I think my initial fear with NIL going back to whenever it started getting talked about and started picking up some traction, I’m old enough to remember — I think it was Nebraska or Army. I can’t tell you what year, I think it was ’72 or ’73; they beat them 77-7 or 77-0 and it was unpatriotic and really not a game where — neither team really benefitted from it.

To me if you start getting into that, then the risk of football drifting back to haves and have-nots increases a little bit if it’s strictly on pocketbooks.

Hopefully we won’t get to that point, but that’s one of the potential byproducts of it.

Q. You didn’t say the key phrase – pay for play.
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, that’s kind of what NIL tends to be it seems like. At least it’s going in that direction. I’m not sure what pay for play means, but if you offer a guy a really good package — it’s kind of like the NFL. We thought we had a chance to get Reggie White. His wife was from Cleveland. He ended up in Green Bay.

It wasn’t because of the facilities. It was a better contract. I think there’s probably some of that going on certainly in what we’re doing. It’s probably naïve to think that that’s not the case.

Q. The loss of Proctor, what does that do for your offensive line? I realize you have Richman back, you have Dunker back. Do you need to groom more tackles here just with the injury situations you’ve had? Part two is I’ve kind of heard murmurings that you might be phasing out the fullback. Are you still going to have a fullback?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, we still have a fullback. A couple of them actually. Hayden Large is working both positions, tight end and fullback, but Rusty — Eli Miller is back after his knee injury and he’s still playing fullback.

The player you spoke of we never had. It’s not like he ever played or took a rep for us. It wasn’t intentional he came here; just it worked out that way back in January.

You can’t count on anything basically until guys get out there. That’s kind of the way it goes. We’re always going to be trying to develop tackles. It’s a tough position to develop. We’re working hard on that right now. I think we have three guys with veteran experience that can do a good job out there, and that’s a positive, but that’s not enough.

Two of them are going to be gone after this coming year. We always need to keep that moving forward.

Q. To go a little bit off the offensive line question, you have seven guys coming back this last year that had starting experience. I know going into last season we talked a lot about the growth in terms of maturity of the guys up there. Is there anything that you’re seeing or that you want to see to take them to that next level of maybe being a little bit more consistent this year?
KIRK FERENTZ: There has been a lot of talk about our offensive production, and quite frankly — I still go back and look at film. Execution, and then part of that’s been we haven’t been as good up front as we’ve been in years past.

Typically we’ve been pretty good on defense, try to be good on special teams, and historically our better teams have been pretty good up front. It’s nobody’s fault. There’s no finger pointing. It’s nobody’s fault that we’ve had injuries.

We’ve had a recruiting class or two where we’ve had some things work out not in a way we had hoped or maybe would have planned, so all of a sudden you’re a little deficient, and then that’s showing up. It’s tough to separate offensively within most systems if you don’t block as well as you like.

The good news is I think we are more veteran. It’s not like there’s any pixie dust we can sprinkle on those guys last year or the year before. In some cases we’ve had guys playing probably before they maybe were ready, fully ready to play at a high level. I think the good news is right now we have an opportunity maybe to develop into a good line because we do have pretty good experience. I think we have good leadership in there, too, and that’s paramount to any group, any team.

I think those guys are shaping up, and it’s just a matter of taking the steps in front of them and just keep working. The guys that are out there right now are working hard and doing a good job so far.

Q. As a head coach, how do you navigate change? It seems like the offense is changing, portal is changing, recruitment is changing. How do you as a head coach navigate it all?
KIRK FERENTZ: It’s just life. Life changes. It keeps it interesting for sure, to start with.

You know, you just try to rely on the people that you are with every day basically. There’s a lot of things I — I’ve joked about it, but if it’s on social media I don’t know how to get there because I don’t live in that world.

But fortunately I have people that keep me apprised of things I need to be apprised of. I hope they do. It’s that way in every area.

Probably the biggest change is our staff has grown now because we never had social media staff before. You have to now. The recruiting staff has grown because we have visitors all the time. It’s just kind of a natural process, if you will.

Then you make decisions along the way about how many people do we need in our recruiting department or our social media department. I’d rather go less than more typically, but it’s about relying on all the people you have. There’s a lot of teamwork that goes on in this whole operation.

I’ll go back to the first game I coached. One of my friends I taught school, John Bridge, was here. He was amazed how many people were involved in just the gameday operation.

I said, yeah — he was a basketball guy, so he was used to smaller groups. You have 100 plus players, there’s going to be a lot of people involved, and now those numbers have really grown since then as far as support staff.

It’s just relying on everybody and trying to have good communication and getting everybody’s ideas on what do you think we need to be doing, what are we missing, how can we improve, and still keep it in the framework of the way we want to do things, not just be like everybody else.

Q. You guys were able to retain a lot of guys on defense. What was it like for you to watch the process of a bunch of starters come back, and are there any favorite moments you can share of guys telling you they’re coming back or anything like that?
KIRK FERENTZ: I mean, every one of the guys that said they were coming back was a good moment. Just like when guys leave, you hate to see it — you have mixed emotions. Selfishly, all of us would love to have Cooper back, but he felt it was a decision that was best for him, so totally get that and totally support him.

I’ll go back a couple years ago when we had a little break and both LaPorta and Campbell walked in my office within a half hour of each other. They had come back from that from that break and thought about it and said, hey, we’re coming back for our senior years. That’s always a good thing. You want to keep good players around, but you don’t want to do it again if it’s not what’s best for them.

They have to make that decision. That’s not our decision to make for them. But getting all the guys back was great.

I think some momentum. Once a couple guys decided they were going to do it, we built some momentum that way. I think these guys feel a brotherhood or whatever. There’s teamwork, there’s a team aspect where they all kind of want to keep going here and keep playing, see what they can do.

Q. Going back to the offensive line, that guard spot that Rusty, his graduation leaves open, what’s your thought process there? When you’re saying the three tackles, I assume that means you want to keep Nick on the outside or where do you stand there?
KIRK FERENTZ: No, not necessarily. Just that Nick can play out there, so we don’t envision moving Dunker in there at all, and I don’t envision moving Mason in. It’ll probably be our tackle spots.

Then everybody else is competing, so it may be Nick, it might be Elsbury. I don’t know. Logan is out right now with a surgery repair, so he’s rehabbing. So Tyler is working more at center position.

It’s going to be the five best guys will be the five guys out there, and we’ll figure out the equation, whether that works, how they are going to line up, and just let the guys compete.

Again, it’s March right now, so who knows what it’s going to look like in August. But bigger pool of experienced guys that hopefully ae more confident. I think they will be more confident and more proficient at what they’re doing.

Q. I wanted to ask about Cade, how much he’s been able to work now, and then how do you see him fitting in an offense like this where I think he has some RPO experiences. I think he did at Michigan when he was there. How does he fit into this type of an offensive skill set?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I don’t see it being a major transition for him at all. He can’t really do much physically right now other than throw a ball, just stand and throw. They don’t want him running around or doing any sudden movements.

But he’s throwing the ball just fine. That’s not an issue. Then the good thing is he has game experience and positive game experience. He’s played well when he’s healthy, and unfortunately we never really saw him at full speed last year.

I’m eager to see him when he can move and be mobile and adjust and do some things, but mentally he’s right there in the muddle with the guys. He’s relaying calls to his teammates that aren’t in the huddle, that type of thing. He’s 100 percent involved in it and engrossed in it.

It’ll be good to get him back because he’s got good experience, and that’s the positive. It creates a good window for the other guys to have more reps, more quality reps and see what they can do, too. Really interested in all the positions on our team but really curious to see how the two guys competing right now look at the end of spring ball.

Q. I wanted to get your reaction to this hip drop rule in the NFL, if you’ve even heard of it or what the impact could be.

KIRK FERENTZ: I said last night I was going to Google it and look at it, but I didn’t do it, so I apologize. But it’s interesting. I’ve heard a lot of talk about it, and then going home last night, it was on the radio and they were talking about it on the NFL Network. Sounds like it’s about once a game. Those are the numbers I got and the injury rate is high.
I’m not sure I know exactly what it looks like. The horse collar, they referenced that a couple years ago, and it’s probably good to have that out of football. It’s not the same as the hip drop, but the tight end from the Rams last year got hurt.

It’s when guys are catching a ball and getting hit blindly. That’s a whole different discussion, too. Not that we’re on the rules committee, but it’s almost like you’re better off hitting guys high and we don’t let our guys hit low in practice like that. It’s just a really dangerous situation. We have blindside blocks, and to me that’s like a blindside tackle.

I think the other takeaway I have, my concern, and I see this in our game, worry about the rules just putting so much on the officials. That’s my biggest concern.

We just passed a — I don’t know if it’s a suggestion or a mandate — where they’re going to go back to uniform police. It’s like, just get the pass interference calls right. Don’t worry about the damn knee pads, because that’s a nightmare job. It’s like being the study hall supervisor for the sixth grade. That’s a hard job.

That is one takeaway I have is just overloading the officials with so much judgment, I know you watch these basketball games, I don’t know how they officiate those. That’s a tough job, too.

Anyway, I’m all for player safety, but I just don’t want to make people have to be over officious, I guess. It’s interesting.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

Q. Seth, talk us through the conversations that led you to getting to this position this spring.
SETH WALLACE: Yeah, I don’t know that there were too many conversations, other than just an opportunity to sit down with coach. He pulled me aside a while back and said this is what he wanted to do moving forward. Used a lot of the comments and remarks that he used earlier. I wouldn’t say that there was a set of conversations or a process to this. It was more just a conversation and an opportunity.

To be real honest with you, I don’t see it changing a whole lot of my day-to-day, as Coach mentioned. My opportunity to be on the defensive side of the ball and continue to do what I’m doing there I think takes enough of my time, but this is certainly a welcomed opportunity, and obviously excited for it.

Q. Seth, can you take us through kind of how you saw the dominos fall with guys coming back on defense? Obviously Nick, Jay, a lot of other guys, just how was that all for you kind of seeing a bunch of them come back?
SETH WALLACE: Well, to be honest with you, Kyler was the first one. Kyler did have the opportunity to move on. He immediately came in and said that he was coming back, and then certainly the other two held on until the last minute.

Nick, of course, but Jay waited, and I think he did his research, and I think he spoke with those that he needed to in regards to his opportunity at the next level. He reached out. He called — same thing Nick did. It’s a breath of fresh air for any coach or for any program, for any side of the ball to be able to get back two guys that — certainly in Nick’s case, I don’t know that I was betting on that one happening. I felt like Jay we had a good shot on, but when you get both of them back, a combination of the three of them that started for us, it’s a pretty big deal.

Q. You’ve traveled the road. You’ve GA’d at a smaller college to this point. What does this mean to you personally as a kid who grew up in Iowa, to have the faith of a head coach like Kirk Ferentz?
SETH WALLACE: Yeah, I talked about the love and admiration. I think you can use those two words if you’re looking for a response right now.

The conversation that I had with Coach was — it was probably a real big moment, but really just knowing that — I grew up a coach’s kid, my father was a Division III coach, that was the path I felt like I was headed down, and I was good with it. I was okay with it, other than my mom kept reminding me, if you’re going to be at the Division III level, you’d better — no different now than what we’ve created in Division I, but the Division III level, it’s a tour of duty, and she kept reminding me that your wife better completely understand what’s going on here and she’d better understand what’s going on here in the current state because this is a little bit crazy what we’re dealing with in college football.

But it’s certainly not what I set out to do, but it’s a welcomed opportunity, and I think I’m very fortunate.

Q. We got to talk with Kirk and Tyler about these three linebackers coming in. I know they’ve all been committed for quite a while, all eastern Iowa kids. What are your thoughts on them, and what attracted you to them, and what are your expectations for their potential when they do get here?
SETH WALLACE: Yeah, I don’t want to pigeonhole myself in recruiting, but it was a little bit by design. I don’t know that you can count on three linebackers or three on the defensive side of the ball. I know you can count on more than three in the state being scholarship players at the highest level, and that’s a tribute to our high school coaches and what they’re doing in this state and the development and the type of kids we’re getting.

But to say that we were going to find three linebackers all within a 50-mile radius of Iowa City, and I don’t think that any of you would write a negative article on those three after being around them and seeing their storied high school careers because they’re all state champions in some regard, which is really fascinating when you think about it, and then they’ve all come through our camp.

We’ve had a firsthand opportunity to be around them, their families, but more so to vet them from a football standpoint or from an on-the-field standpoint, it’s a little bit unique. Not counting on it. I can’t talk about next year’s kids. You guys read about it or at least reached out to them this weekend.

Q. You were mentioning in your opening statement having opportunities elsewhere. What are the things that have kept you here and made this such an attractive place to stay?
SETH WALLACE: Yeah, I think there’s a want to be here. I wouldn’t say there’s a need to be here.

Where I’m fortunate and where I separate myself from a lot of other people is I’m from Iowa, my wife is from Iowa. My parents are around, her parents are around. Anything, any decision made beyond that would probably be pretty selfish on my part, and I might have to do it by myself, and I don’t want to do that right now.

But the way we play defensively, the success we’ve had here, and defense gets a lot of the notables, but Coach alluded to it, you can go back to nine years ago and you can see that we’re one of five programs that’s won 62 percent of their games or more a year. We’re not much like any of the other four.

There’s a lot that keeps you here, that you get a chance to win, you get a chance to coach good people, good players, work with good people, good coaches, good staff. It would take a lot to leave here for a lot of things, to be honest with you.

Q. Seth, along those lines, I know in this neighborhood, I think at least four different schools in the former Big Ten West have reached out to you, talked to you in different facets in the last couple years. What is your aspiration in the future? Not this year; we know what you’re going to do this year. But five, ten years down the road, do you want to be a head coach, and if so, is succeeding Kirk a step towards that in some regard?
SETH WALLACE: Yeah, I appreciate your question, and I don’t know that I’ve ever thought much beyond where things are right now. I think that’s always been — I was around my father growing up, and I saw him do it, and there were times where I got nervous of the potential that you could wind up in that type of position just because of all that it entails.

It’s not that I wouldn’t want to get there at some point. I just think it’s a byproduct of doing your daily job, and really that’s kind of all I’ve been about for the course of my career is just see how well you can do your job, where you’re at, and with those that you’re doing it with, and then the rest will take care of itself.

But there’s a lot that keeps me grounded. I get to work with Phil. I said he was an acquired taste a couple weeks ago, and some people have asked about that. Don’t ask me right now because I’ll pass on the answer because I don’t want to get into it. But having worked with him, having GA’d for him, having worked with him, I don’t claim to have much of an ego. I know we all do to a certain degree. There’s not much that I need other than just the opportunity to coach our players, make some suggestions in regards to what we’re doing defensively, and then turn the page the next day and keep doing it.

I think a lot of it just keeps me grounded. Opportunity to be around some really special people is a big part of it.

Q. You had a pretty good off-season in terms of returning guys that you really wanted to retain. Sort of the downside of that is you’ve got a lot of linebackers on scholarship, guys who are capable of contributing to this team. How do you manage a situation like that, especially with the scholarship count where it is right now?
SETH WALLACE: Yeah, I recognize that, and I would preference it as maybe an inconvenience, not a downside. We’ve got a lot of good players on our team.

The room that I’m responsible for is a foundation and a catalyst to what we do special teams wise, so there is opportunity there. But there are some guys in that room that have been waiting around for three, maybe four years for their opportunity, only to think that that opportunity was going to come available this coming year and then you have two or three guys come back.

So I do recognize it. It’s the ever changing world that college football is. They have choices to make. I would welcome their choices. I would give the two sides as best I could in regards to it, but at the end of the day, they’ve got to make some decisions, and I would say that is where we are fortunate. There’s not a ton that is good about the transfer portal, but there are kids that can leave now and maybe try to find a better situation if, in fact, they’re set on not being here.

That’s hopefully an answer that sums it up.

Q. I think there’s a lot of questions about the wide receiver usage. Iowa has only had one wide receiver with 600 or more yards since 2016. It’s a position that comes with a lot of ego and wanting touches. Coming into Iowa City, how are you going to reinvent the wide receiver positions because I think you said in your opening comments you want to put a product that people want to be a part of, so from a strictly wide receiver perspective, how are you planning to do that?
TIM LESTER: Well, obviously wide receivers are a huge part, no matter what you’re running, schematically. But putting them in position is the biggest key.

Through my time in coaching, I think we’ve been around quite a bit of pretty good ones, and we’ve been able to find ways to get the ball in their hands. There’s a lot of ways to do that, whether it’s screens, whether it’s straight drop-back, whether it’s putting them in the backfield. The flexibility of an offense is key.

I haven’t had a chance to meet all the wide receivers yet, but I want to make sure that the quarterback understands that we are going to spread the ball around and he’s going to read his keys as he’s supposed to. It’s my job to make sure that one of those first couple options is the guy that we want it to be.

Had some success with that and plan on keeping it going.

Q. Were you calling plays in 2021 at Western Michigan?
TIM LESTER: Yes, Jake Moreland and I. Jake is my best friend, and we think the exact same. We played together, we coached together 80 percent of our adult lives, and we kind of groomed and he was ready. We kind of hopped in and kind of team did it that year, but three years before that I called him.

Q. I’ve been studying the 2021 season because that was a terrific offensive year for Western Michigan. I’m curious what you remember about that season in terms of the production, how that could maybe apply to what you want to do here. I see a lot of things here like rushing attempts, time of possession. The wins were good ball security, those types of things.
TIM LESTER: Yeah, I think we were top 10 in the country in time of possession. Never huddled, which was unique.

Team, I felt like we did a good job running the ball, finding our run lanes, and the pass comes after that. We never even talk about throwing the ball until we figure out how to move the ball on the ground.

That was an explosive team. The one thing that people don’t — maybe it’s because I’m a quarterback, always have been and coaching them. We’re going to do what that person does best, and Kaleb was good at it.

Before that we had Jon Wassink was my first couple years our quarterback, and he was great at drop-back, going through a progression. That was his thing.

I just saw a trophy, the Campbell trophy in there. Jon was a finalist for that, which is an award that Jack won. Jon was a finalist when Justin Herbert won it.

It changes every year depending on who you have and what he does well. That guy behind the center matters.

Figuring out what he does well, because if you have a flexible enough offense, we can call it anyway he wants it. That year Kaleb was really good at the RPOs. We had some pretty dynamic wide receivers, D’Wayne Eskridge and Skyy Moore. We had two second-round draft picks out there running around. So that combination that year was a great mix. We had a great combination with Jake upstairs and me on the field.

Yeah, every experience can help us moving forward, but we’ve got to figure out kind of what we’ve got and what’s the best way for us to be efficient, aggressive, run the ball and help the team win, and we’ll do those things whatever they are.

Q. How do you blend or what’s the process of blending stylistically what you’ve done before with the RPO with other things with what Iowa has done historically and has found success doing historically?
TIM LESTER: It’s a process that started a couple days ago. But it’s an exciting process. To get everyone’s opinion in and I have all kinds of playbooks, what’s going to jibe with what they know and where we think we can improve.

I’ve coached long enough now that I’ve run a lot of systems. In 2008 when I was a Division III coach, Seth was talking about that, we ran the Shanahan system. He was the quarterback coach at the Houston Texans. Matt, who I played college ball with, got him coffee. I think that was his official role. So I got the playbook then and we ran that at Elmhurst. At Syracuse when I took over we took over a spread offense that didn’t even have a tight end and we tried our best to blend them together.

Then we went to Purdue and got to run the Saints’ offense, which was cool. Learned a ton. Then on to Western where I had an offensive coordinator my first year and then when I took over, tried to put a little bit of that in it.

Then to go back and work with Matt this year was full fledged, that system. Everyone runs that system a little bit differently but it’s fun to get back after 10 years of being versions of it, it was fun to just be in it and watch all the teams in the league run a version of it, not all of it but a good portion of it.

There’s a lot to choose from, and I hate to keep going back to this, but I can’t wait to see what we have.

But I definitely know how to tie them together, and a lot of the formationally and how we’re going to build it, what gets called will be dependent on kind of what we see in the spring and what we see as the guys move around here in the next couple months.

Q. Iowa’s offensive struggled are well-documented from last year. In taking a look at the roster and the personnel, what gives you confidence that you can come in here and help move this program in the right direction?
TIM LESTER: Well, I love tight ends. I’m a huge fan. Everywhere I’ve been, our tight end has been all-conference normally. I guess as a quarterback, that’s the guy you start with. Some people use them, some people don’t. I love the fact of what they can do to a defense in the run game, in the pass game, in the play pass game, in the keeper game. It also can open up things out on the edges, too.

I know there’s an unbelievable tradition here of that, and I’ve heard we have some good ones. Everything is I’ve heard this and I’ve heard that. But I can’t wait to see with my own eyes.

But that part of this offense of running 12 personnel, which is really what we did at Elmhurst and a little bit at Syracuse, that fits what I have a lot of experience in. Let’s put it that way.

But none of those work if you can’t run the ball. So you go to a place if you want to run an offense that’s going to be physical and run the ball, you’ve got to go to a place that can run the ball. I have looked at the numbers there to make sure that that can happen, and we’ve had success, and we have to continue to have success to get the rest of it to go.

So that combination of those things make me really excited about what’s coming.

Q. Sidelines or press box for a game? And Cade McNamara is likely going to miss most of the spring. What is the challenge when your starting quarterback is not available to you on the field for spring ball in trying to implement your offense?
TIM LESTER: I would say to the first question, A. Question A, I would say up. I prefer being up. I like to see the game from up there. I think being an offensive coordinator is about making adjustments. I’ve called games for a long time. I was a head coach at I want to say 24 years old or 25 years old, so I think I’ve called a game with 70 passes, and I’ve called 70 runs in a game. You have to make adjustments as it’s happening because they have a plan, too.

When you’re having to think and make adjustments, I just think being in the environment up in the booth is a way better learning environment than sometimes on the sideline where it gets very emotional.

I know as the head coach I had to call from the sidelines, so that guy up in the booth was the most important person in the world to me, that we thought the same way.

But it became my preference. Pretty sure I’ll be up.

The second half of your question is the one thing I would tell you is we need to get the horses to the race. Whenever Cade is ready to go, I’m looking forward to working with him. But there is absolutely zero way that you can discount his experience. When you have experience in playing in games, I’m very confident that he’ll pick it up when it’s time, when he’s healthy, when he’s ready. If he didn’t have a ton of experience, I’d be more scared, more worried.

But he’s got to get healthy and be good to go when he gets his chance, and he’ll be out there every single day we’re out there whether he can throw it or not. He’ll get a lot of learning in, but he has played games, and that is invaluable when it comes to quarterback play, so I’m excited about that part of it.

Q. A question about Cade McNamara; he’s somebody who’s had experience as you mentioned. What are some ways, assuming he’ll be healthy by the start of the season, that you can accentuate and elevate him as a quarterback?
TIM LESTER: You have to make him comfortable, number one. Everybody is comfortable doing different things. I think sometimes quarterback coaches, they have things they like to do. I’m not married to anything. I’ve run a lot of things. I have a unique experience as far as levels and have been a D-coordinator.

I have to figure out what he’s good at, and I have to put him in those situations as much as possible.

I’ve watched a little bit of film on him, not enough that I can comment on any of that. But the things that I need him to get better at, we have to focus on. You get what you emphasize.

We’re going to make sure that he can do the things that I think this offense should be able to do well, and if there’s things he’s really good at, we’re going to do them. Much like we were talking about the RPOs earlier, Kaleb was great at them, so we did that a lot, and it worked. I’ve got to get to know him and make sure — every quarterback. There’s a couple — the year I was the offensive coordinator at Syracuse, we lost our starting quarterback, I want to say it was play seven. It was an achilles, like an Aaron Rodgers thing, and then the backup went down and I ended up playing walk-on, and the offense totally changed. We had to change.

I’ve got to get to know each guy and what they do well so that we can call the offense to have the most success when he’s in there. But that’s on me to make sure I can figure that out and put them in good position to have success.

Q. You’re going to be coaching quarterbacks?
TIM LESTER: Yes, sir.

Q. Route concepts, what structure do you like to run, especially because you ran so much RPO? How do you like to build your concepts beyond the line of scrimmage? You’ve run a lot of 11 personnel, probably 90 percent of it that I’ve seen —

Q. How do you anticipate that working within kind of the foundation of what Iowa likes to do because 12 is such a staple here?
TIM LESTER: Yeah. I look at myself as a 12 guy. The years we had 12, I can remember my first couple years at western we had 12, and those were good years, where I felt more comfortable with what we were doing.

At Elmhurst College we were 100 percent 12. That’s all we ran the entire season.

Either way, when it comes to route concepts, you’ve got to understand the timing of the quarterback’s footwork, and we can build — it’s kind of like piecemeal every week. You’re building the concepts.

There’s some full fields where we’re going to call it, he’s going to know his progression and we’re going to go to work. We’ll have four, five or six of those that he’s comfortable with. But I think the flexibility in the passing game is what makes the offense I ran in college, which is more of a Spurrier stuff compared to what Shanahan does and how they build their progressions every week. It might look like a different route combination every week, but we will change them based on coverages and what we’re seeing, but I want to get the quarterback comfortable with the same thing over and over again. The key is to have him do the same thing over and over again and have the defense think it’s a different play.

We like these two or three things against this coverage and we like this on the backside against this coverage and you can mix and match them and you get five on the front, five on the back, and the iterations of those two, and then you add shifts and motion to it, you can really put a guy in a comfortable situation where he knows what’s going on. It might not look like that to the defense. That’s the plan. But it all starts with what we’re getting and what he’s comfortable with.

So we have to get him — we’ve got to get it installed, figure out what he’s comfortable with, and then we can build it from there.

It always starts with the coverages we’re getting and what our guy is good at, and then I feel like we can always build it from there.

I’ve got 600 pages of pass plays in there, figuring out what he’s good at and getting good at something, jack-of-all-trades, master of none is not what we need to be about. We need to figure that out so we can get really good at something.

Q. What you said before, RBO, relationships before opportunity, regarding that, a lot of coaching is not just Xs and Os but a matter of trust, building relationships. A lot of guys you haven’t met, guys who were playing for a different guy under a slightly different system four months ago. What is the key in coaching you’ve been around different places and being an offensive coordinator and earning trust of those guys, especially in these first few weeks when you’re meeting them for the first time, showing them these new things?
TIM LESTER: You’re exactly right. I think the biggest thing is sitting down and learning who they are because it does matter. We have cut-ups and they get to watch some NFL cut-ups, and I think they always appreciate that, running some of the things that they’ve run at that level that we’ve had success running at that level. But it’s the most important thing is for me getting in front of them and really just asking where they’re from because I don’t know for a lot of them. Some of them are from my backyard in the suburbs of Chicago. Some are from Iowa. Some are from Australia. I met him the other day. He didn’t have to tell me where he was from. I knew. It was awesome to meet him.

That’s the key because I know once we have that relationship, then it’s time to go to work. I’ve got to show them kind of our ideas of what we want to do. I really want to see them all move around. I’m excited to start getting the playbook put together, which is going to take some time, and really watching all of last year’s film to watch the guys play.

I haven’t had a chance to do that yet over this weekend, these four days, but that’s what’s coming soon.

Q. How much do you value mobility at the quarterback position, and will that be a priority moving forward when recruiting?
TIM LESTER: I value efficiency at the quarterback position. Mobility would be a bonus. If I can get both, 100 percent I’m all for it. Who doesn’t want that, right? But there has to be efficiency first, and I think sometimes people get enamored with the mobility, and when they have to drop back on a 3rd down to get us a 1st down or a two-minute drill to go win us the game, we can’t fall short in that scenario. You have to play quarterback first. You have to be able to move the sticks with your feet, and the more you can do, the more we can do when it comes to running the ball.

It’s a great icing on the cake if you can have it, so I’m always looking for it, but I’m not going to go away from a guy that I think can really execute an offense and make throws and be efficient as a quarterback just because if he can’t do that, I’m not going to just take him because he can run a little faster.

Q. Back in 2022 at Western Michigan, how much of the play calling were you involved with, and what did you take away from that season?
TIM LESTER: Well, I hired a new offensive coordinator. He came in and put in his system. I was going to be more of a head coach. I took over the last three or four games. We were struggling. We weren’t playing complementary football. We were turning the ball over. We lost our quarterback in Skyy Moore. They had two years left before they were done with their eligibility, and they left in January to go to the NFL Draft. Obviously I was excited for them, but it threw us off guard a little bit. It’s worked pretty well for Skyy, obviously won one Super Bowl and is going to another one. Excited for him.

So we were struggling personnel-wise. So I think we won three of our last four. It wasn’t pretty. It was what we had to do. I played a true freshman quarterback and two freshman wide receivers, and we kept ourselves in games, let our defense play great. We found a way to win those games when that’s what we had. That was our best foot forward.

Yeah, I think I called the last four that year and had to call different words than I’m used to calling, so I had to read it off a sheet, which is harder for me than normally the guy that puts it in his back pocket and doesn’t take it out.