CHICAGO – Kirk Ferentz hears the criticism. And, the Iowa coach takes it to heart.
"You take everything personally. That’s my job. What I do for a job is who I am, too. It doesn’t define me totally but certainly it’s personal. Just like all of you guys (in the media) take pride in what you do and you want to do quality work. For us, the product is out there on the field. Good bad or indifferent, there’s always reflection," he said here at Thursday’s Big Ten Meetings.
The Hawkeyes dropped four of their final five games in 2014 to finish with a 7-6 record. The last two contests were a 37-34 loss to Nebraska at home in which they blew a large lead and a 45-28 beat-down at the hands of Tennessee in the Taxslayer Bowl.
"The point I want to make perfectly clear is that all of us (connected with the Hawkeye team) didn’t feel good about how it ended. Whether it be the last game in Kinnick or the bowl game, there’s really not a lot to feel good about coming out of those two games," he said.
While a lot of folks get angry when they fail, Ferentz said it motivates him.
"You go through a period of not feeling very good and then at some point you’ve got to say, OK, what are we going to do to correct it, get better and get back to where we want to be. There was a lot of cause for reflection, a lot of things we had to look even closer at," he said.
"I think our team has taken a lot of good steps since January. I think we’ve taken a lot of good steps internally. Now the challenge is to continue that and make things show up on the field. That’s ultimately the goal."
The Hawkeyes have posted an overall record of 34-30 during the last five seasons since the 2009 Orange Bowl win against Georgia Tech. They’re 19-21 in Big Ten play during that stretch.
The less than stellar results have created backlash against Ferentz. Season ticket sales have fallen to about 36,000 or half of stadium capacity. Critics have wondered if after 16 seasons it’s time for the old ball coach to ride off into the sunset.
Ferentz believes his way still works.
"We’ve been accused of maybe playing football that’s not attractive. In ’09, there weren’t a lot of complaints other than the two games we lost. There weren’t a lot of complaints coming out of the Orange Bowl," he said.
"I would suggest that it’s not so much style of play but it’s the way the play looks and the way the play turns out. For the most part, sports fans will embrace teams that play well, whether they’re spread, option or they line up backwards and spin around on the snap. There are lot of ways stylistically to approach the game, but to me it gets down to what’s that product look like, what’s it feel like."
Ferentz has accomplished a lot at Iowa. He’s the second-winningest coach in school history and the program has built state of the art facilities under his watch.
That said, Ferentz doesn’t believe his track record should earn him any free passes.
"I’ve never been big on that. That’s what we talk to our players about all the time. In sports, you have to prove yourself each and every time out. That’s the reality of it. You don’t get any bonus points, really, for what you did yesterday," he said.
Ferentz pointed to his team winning 15 overall games and nine in the conference the last two years as signs that things may not be as bad as critics on the outside portray them. He also realizes that last season was a step backwards.
"It’s very different feelings how the seasons were. And the interesting part of all of it is you could argue last year we were two plays away from being co-champs in the West. It tells you how close things are," he said.
"The key is to be focused on the things that are going to get us the identity we want to have. If you watched our team (in ’13), you would have walked away saying that’s a pretty good football team. Where as last year you’d say, you know, those guys turned it over, gave up a couple of big plays and couldn’t cover a punt. It’s hard to feel good about that."
More Attrition: Iowa announced Thursday morning that third-year sophomore defensive back Solomon Warfield would be transferring out of the program. He became the seventh member of the the 20-man 2013 recruiting class to exit.
“Solomon has elected to complete his athletic and academic careers elsewhere, leaving the University of Iowa and our program” Ferentz said a university release. “We appreciate his contributions during his time with Iowa football and wish him the best with his decision.”
The Ohio native joined classmates John Kenny and Malik Rucker in leaving Iowa since the end of spring ball. Derrick Willies, Nic Shimonek, Anjeus Jones and Colin Goebel also have chosen to move on.
Back in Black (and Gold): Sophomore Offensive Lineman Sean Welsh returned to the team this summer after missing spring ball for personal reasons. Ferentz said the Ohio product has looked good in workouts and is ready for the season.
"Sean is back with us and we expect him to have a really great season. We’re hoping for that. We’re all hoping for that. He’s working towards that," Ferentz said.
Welsh played in 13 games last season and started seven of them. He was listed as the back-up left guard to Eric Simmons in the two-deep released on Thursday.
The BTN.com named Welsh to its first-team all-freshman team.
Still Climbing Hill: Senior defensive tackle Darian Cooper continues to recuperate from knee surgery he underwent last August.
"He’s progressing but he’s not cleared yet," Ferentz said. "We all knew going into this it was going to be a real steep hill to climb. He’s working really hard. He’s got a great attitude but it’s just going to be a matter of time. Hopefully he can make it."
Ferentz wouldn’t put a timetable on Cooper’s return or acknowledge that they might seek another year of eligibility if he doesn’t make it back in ’15.
"First and foremost, it’s in his hands," the coach said. "At some point your body tells you, hey, it can do this or it can’t do this. But it’s a significant thing. It’s not a walk in the park by any stretch. It’s really admirable the way he’s tackled his rehab and the way he shows up every day with a great attitude."
Crucial Time: Porjecterd starting tight end Jake Duzey still is working his way back from spring leg surgery. Ferentz said the next few weeks will be critical to the senior’s recovery.
"He’s really moved along really well. As well as we could have hoped on the chart. Now it gets a little tougher, the level of challenge for him and being able to do the things you need to do to be a football player," Ferentz said.
"The next month or so will be…you know, it’s not insurmountable by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just how fast can you make that process go and then we can get him out there where he’s playing some football? And the last part, you have to have confidence to say I am OK and I can function the way I could before I was injured. Those are the steps he has to take but so far so good."
Duzey, on the Mackey Award watch list, caught 36 passes for 392 yards and three touchdowns last year. The Michigan native was an honorable mention all-Big Ten selection by the league coaches.
More Recognition: Defensive end Drew Ott was named one of five players to watch in the West Division of the Big Ten. Nebraska’s Maliek Collins and De’Mornay Pierson’El, Wisconsin’s Michael Caputo and Corey Clement, and Northwestern’s Justin Jackson were the others.
Ott already was named to the Nagurski Trophy watch list and tabbed as a second-team all-Big Ten pick by Athlon’s and Phil Steele. The media voted the Nebraska native second-team all-conference a year ago.
Depth Chart: A new depth chart was released in the media guide here on Thursday. One change was very noticeable.
LeShun Daniels, who had shared the No. 1 running back spot with Jordan Canzeri in the spring, was listed by himself at the top of the latest two-deep. Canzeri was at No. 2.
Ferentz said he expects both guys to play a lot and also mentioned Derrick Mitchell has a player that has made a lot of progress and could contribute in the offensive backfield.
Ferentz said that the punting job is still being contested but the depth chart listed Dillon Kidd on top of Marshall Koehn, the starting place kicker.
Freshman receiver Jay Scheel appeared on the two-deep for the first time. He’s posted as the backup to Matt Vandeberg. Ferentz said that after the top three guys – Vandeberg, Tevaun Smith and Jacob Hillyer – the race for playing time is wide open.
-Ott said he lost the Solon Beef Days hay bale toss three years ago to former Hawkeye Matt Kroul. Ott said he learned a lesson in that go-around that led him to being the reigning two-time champ:
"Look for the smaller bales," Ott said with a smile.
-Iowa senior offensive lineman Austin Blythe, a two-time state high school wrestling champ, hopes the rumor that the Hawkeye grapplers will compete in Kinnick Stadium this November comes true. He said cool weather shouldn’t be a concern.
"For seven minutes your clenching every muscle in your body and I don’t think they’ll notice the cold at that point," Blythe said.
-Some of the players at meetings here mingle and get to know guys on other teams. Iowa defensive back Jordan Lomax isn’t interested.
"Not really. That’s not something I care to do. I like the (Iowa) guys that came with us," he said.