CHICAGO – Iowa being called a developmental program irritates some folks who follow the team. They feel better recruiting could alleviate the need to rely so much on player progress over time.
Kirk Ferentz embraces the development tag. After 16 years as the Hawkeyes head coach and nine others as an assistant, he’s not expecting to regularly beat Ohio State and Texas for prospects.
"We can’t," Ferentz said of landing classes full of four- and five-star recruits. "We don’t have that luxury."
The drive to develop also conflicts with rising attrition rates. It’s not only at Iowa but across the country. Some kids don’t want to wait for their chance if it doesn’t happen early in their careers.
Iowa already has lost seven of 20 scholarship players it signed in the 2013 class. They left because they weren’t playing as much as they desired.
"Sometimes it’s a good thing for the players, and quite frankly, if a guy’s in a situation where he’s not totally happy, you have two choices – you can work through it or you can try something else," Ferentz said. "The bottom line is that if you’re not fully on-board, it’s probably not the best place to be at that point."
Ferentz admits that losing players early in their careers can be frustrating. Time spent developing those kids is lost. But, ultimately, it’s a numbers game with a limited amount of guys getting on the field regardless if they entered the program on scholarship or by walking on.
"One thing we tell all of our guys, and what we tell walk-ons, is once they become a Hawkeye, they’re a Hawkeye and we’re going to coach them; train them with all the intensity we can," Ferentz said. "Everybody’s treated the same and everybody has an equal opportunity to move forward. That’s probably why we’ve had so many great walk-on stories."
Ferentz preaches that each player develops at his own rate and that it’s important for Iowa’s success if they continue to do so until they leave the program.
"If our best returning players aren’t playing better this year, and if they haven’t grown or don’t grow, then it’s not going to work no matter what the other guys do. So, that’s first and foremost," he said. "The other obvious thing is the replacing of good seniors, which we go through, typically, every year."
The Hawkeyes’ success usually boils down to how the new starters have developed and prepared to replace the outgoing ones. And there’s no exact formula to that dynamic.
"You can only make the process go as fast as you possibly can. It only goes so fast but we’ll do all we can to make sure it goes as fast as it can," he said.
This season, Iowa’s outcome could depend on the development of offensive tackles Boone Myers and Ike Boettger, and defensive tackles Jaleel Johnson, Nathan Bazata, Faith Ekakitie and Kyle Terlouw. They’re replacing Brandon Scherff, Andrew Donnal, Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasta, all of whom were selected in April’s NFL Draft.
Watch Ferentz discuss extensively the foundation of his program in this AllHawkeyes.com exclusive video: