Harty: Kirk Ferentz in position to do something extremely rare
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Isn’t this fun?
Five in a row, and doing so in spectacular fashion, from scoring 62 points against a vastly overmatched North Texas squad and then needing just 10 points against Wisconsin this past Saturday in Madison, Wis.
The 2015 Iowa football team has made the fall fun again by starting 5-0, by winning two trophy games and by playing what fans perceive as a more exciting and aggressive brand of football.
The nation has started to take notice with Iowa cracking the top-25 polls for the first time since 2010.
Junior cornerback and return specialist Desmond King is having the kind of season that makes legends, while the Iowa defense is showing with each performance that the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl debacle was an out-of-body experience in a negative sense.
It was a temporary lapse in everything that Iowa stands for as a program under veteran coach Kirk Ferentz, along with the second-half meltdown against Nebraska in the 2014 regular-season finale.
But it also was fuel for this season, the driving force behind what is now turning into Ferentz’s third or fourth rebuilding project based on whether you give him credit for the temporary 8-5 bounce back in 2013 after finishing 4-8 the previous season.
“It’s something that we’ve just been putting in since January of just this concept of not giving up and doing the little things and always fighting and always finishing,” senior running Jordan Canzeri said Saturday after rushing for 125 yards during the 10-6 victory at Wisconsin. “Just the fact that we were able to do that and our defense stood their ground and did an awesome job, it shows up in the locker room when we’re all celebrating.
“It’s just like all that work is paying off. But we all still have that focus and mentality that we’re not done. We’re hungry. We want more and more.”
That statement should inspire hope because it suggests that there will be no letting up on the gas. Of course, it’s only words. But so far, the 2015 Hawkeyes have backed up everything they’ve said.
This is so rare what we’re seeing now, a veteran coach staying in one place long enough to lead multiple rebuilding projects.
The only other coach from a power five school who is in a similar situation as Ferentz is Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer, although, his circumstances are more extreme. Beamer has held his position since 1987, leading the Hokies to 13 double-digit win seasons and to runner-up for the 1999 national championship.
His program has been more elite than Iowa’s program under Ferentz. But that makes the fall more stunning.
Virginia Tech lost to Pittsburgh 17-13 this past Saturday at home, causing Beamer to say in his postgame briefing that changes were coming in response to being 2-3.
“We’re not staying where we are right now,” Beamer said. “Where we are right now, it’s not good enough.”
That’s where Iowa stood back in January after being demolished by Tennessee 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Oh, by the way, Tennessee fell to 2-3 on Saturday, losing 24-20 to Arkansas at home.
It just shows that the situation rarely is as good or as bad as it might seem. That has especially been the case under Ferentz.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or read that Ferentz was finished, that the game has passed him by and that he was too stubborn, too rigid and too secure to do anything about it.
It was premature to think that way, just like it’s premature to think that Iowa has arrived again.
I’d be willing to bet a farm if owned one that Ferentz will downplay everything when he meets with the media on Tuesday. His offense might not be as predictable as before, but Ferentz is when it comes to dealing with success, even New Kirk.
He will praise his players for being focused and determined and will show appreciation for being ranked again.
But the self-promotion won’t go much beyond that, nor should it.
All that will matter by Tuesday is preparing for a 4-1 Illinois team that just defeated Nebraska at home this past Saturday.
Iowa’s 2015 schedule is evolving on a weekly basis to where Illinois and Indiana might be considered bigger wins by the end of the season than Nebraska or Wisconsin.
That’s why you just have to let the season play out before reaching any conclusions, good or bad.
It was suggested heading into the Iowa-Wisconsin game that the winner would be in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten West Division title. Really?
How can a team be in the driver’s seat after playing just one of eight conference games? Iowa hasn’t even opened the car door yet.
That doesn’t diminish what Iowa has accomplished so far this season. Just don’t get carried away at this still early stage of the season.
The decision to switch quarterbacks from Jake Rudock to C.J. Beathard after last season now looks brilliant, considering Beathard is 6-0 as a starter.
In fairness, though, Iowa was 5-1 under Rudock midway through last season, including 2-0 in the conference. The West Division title was well within reach until the roof caved in at the end.
You’d like to think that the current team is too unified and driven to unravel down the stretch. That could be the case, but only time and Iowa’s performance will tell.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for optimism is the performance of the Iowa seniors, particularly offensive guard Jordan Walsh, who is quietly playing at a star level, along with senior center Austin Blythe and senior defensive ends Drew Ott and Nate Meier.
Leadership comes in different ways, but nothing sets a better example than seniors getting it done on the field.