IOWA CITY, Iowa – Sophomore running back Derrick Mitchell Jr., might have just served the shortest suspension ever for an Iowa football player.
It barely lasted three days, from late Friday afternoon until Tuesday morning.
“I had an opportunity to visit with Derrick last night and get more information,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “And after gaining a full understanding of the situation we were really pleased to welcome him back this morning. So he’s back with the football team and we’ll move accordingly from there.”
The situation to which Ferentz was referring is a chain of events that started last Friday with Ferentz being made aware of a letter from University of Iowa officials about Mitchell.
Ferentz was in Ames when he learned about the letter, the Iowa team having just arrived that afternoon in preparation for facing Iowa State the next day.
Mitchell also was with the team in Ames last Friday afternoon and was expected to be in uniform the next day and perhaps even play against the Cyclones. But Ferentz sent the St. Louis native home shortly after learning about the letter.
Ferentz then announced on Monday that Mitchell had been suspended for a football program and student code of conduct violation.
It now appears that Ferentz suspended Mitchell without thoroughly investigating what was in the letter and without getting Mitchell’s side of the story. Ferentz said as much on Tuesday.
Social media was abuzz over the weekend with some ugly rumors and speculation about Mitchell, so Ferentz decided to release a statement in which he said at the beginning that it wasn’t a legal matter.
“There was a buzz out there and I just wanted to acknowledge the fact that we did suspend him and sent him home,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “He was not there physically. He was there briefly and we sent him home. I think it’s important for me to explain why when we did send him home.”
What’s unfortunate is that Mitchell was prohibited from playing against Iowa State and then briefly suspended even though he apparently didn’t commit a violation.
That might sound as if I’m criticizing Ferentz, but I’m not. He was put in a difficult situation under serious time constraints and did what he felt was best at the time.
With the Iowa State kickoff in less than 24 hours, Ferentz kept the team as his top priority.
“It’s more timing than anything else,” Ferentz said. “And quite frankly, I probably should have gotten to him sooner and maybe I should have.
“But we’re busy on Sunday and Mondays, too. So we got to it last night and feel very comfortable with what I learned.”
I would agree that Ferentz probably should’ve gotten to Mitchell sooner, but in fairness, the circumstances were extraordinary.
Ferentz was locked in to facing Iowa’s intrastate rival, which has a knack for defeating his team. And then suddenly the day before the game he was made aware of a potentially serious issue involving one of his players.
“And as you might well imagine at that point, I wasn’t really too interested in investigating,” Ferentz said. “We were in Ames and less than 24 hours before kickoff. So we sent Derrick home at that point.”
I like that Ferentz put in the release that it wasn’t a legal matter because that helped to squash some of the chatter on social media. Letting the fans and media know that it wasn’t a legal matter is probably one of the reasons Ferentz issued the release.
You could argue that Ferentz acted too impulsively by suspending Mitchell without gathering all the facts. But I think it was more a case of Ferentz not wanting to take any chances because imagine the response if Ferentz had allowed Mitchell to play against Iowa State and then later we learn that Mitchell had committed a violation.
That would’ve sent the wrong message.
Ferentz probably could’ve handled the situation better, but I’m not sure how under the circumstances. He could’ve spoken to Mitchell in detail on Friday, but it would’ve come at the expense of the team on the night before a huge game.
It’s not for certain that Mitchell would’ve played against the Cyclones, or if he’ll play against Pittsburgh on Saturday because he is third on the depth chart and still recovering from an undisclosed injury. But he could’ve at least cheered from the Iowa bench during the Iowa State game and been a part of the swarm that went to get the Cy-Hawk trophy after the 31-17 victory at sold out Jack Trice Stadium.
I just wish for Mitchell’s sake that Ferentz would’ve investigated the matter on Sunday or early on Monday because the sooner a player gets cleared of any wrongdoing the better.
But I also understand the demands on Ferentz’s time, especially the day before and the day after a key road game.
So, yes, I’m riding the fence in this case because I feel bad for Mitchell, but also don’t feel justified in criticizing Ferentz. He followed protocol and did what he felt was appropriate under the circumstances.
But Ferentz still regrets that he didn’t act sooner. The fact that he shared that with reporters on Tuesday almost seemed like a public apology.
Mitchell still has 10 regular-season games to make a contribution. He might get a chance on Saturday against Pittsburgh with the status of starting running back LeShun Daniels uncertain because of an ankle injury.
One thing I know for certain is that Mitchell being reinstated has nothing to do with Daniels being injured. That’s not how Ferentz operates. He makes decisions based on what’s right and wrong. Ferentz wants to win, but not at the expense of his integrity and ethics.
Ferentz reinstated Mitchell because he apparently believes that Mitchell did nothing to warrant a suspension.
This was a delicate situation that surfaced at the worse time for Mitchell and for Ferentz.
We’re fortunate that timing was the worst thing about it.