IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz has accomplished a lot already this season. Perhaps nothing has been more impressive than his ability to control his emotion during press conferences.
Critics often knock the Iowa coach for being too stoic or for lacking the fire and brimstone to motivate a team. They’re quiet now with the Hawkeyes off to a 7-0 start (3-0 Big Ten) with a No. 12 AP Top 25 ranking at the bye week.
Maybe the only thing more ridiculous than judging Ferentz’s often calm demeanor as a liability is when it’s said that he plays his favorites. Both beliefs are far-fetched and completely off base.
Ferentz cares about his players and winning as much as any coach I’ve been around. He’s completely invested. He will be until he rides off into the sunset.
Standing in front of a packed post-game press room after Saturday’s 40-10 win at then No. 20 Northwestern, Ferentz, as he had several times this season, choked up. He fought back the tears of pride we’ve witness him shed throughout his 17-year career leading the Hawkeyes.
The first time I remember seeing and understanding Ferentz’s passion for his job and with whom he works, players and assistants, came at the Big House in ’02. He let it out following Iowa’s 34-9 demolition of mighty Michigan. The Hawkeyes were four years removed from a one-win season, his first one in charge, and the Wolverines had captured a national championship six years earlier.
Tom Hanks said in the League of Their Own that there’s no crying in baseball. Football coaches and players are taught to be tough so being sentimental or sensitive about your accomplishments is discouraged.
Dick Vermeil was made fun of for his tendency to break down when reaching great heights. The derision could not take away from his winning championships at the high school, junior college, Division I and NFL levels. His players loved him and he loved them back.
Each week during this climb to 7-0, we see former Hawkeyes who played for Ferentz celebrating the success on social media. If they didn’t enjoy their experiences in Iowa City, they wouldn’t bask in the sunshine with their alma mater.
Ferentz, the coach, has been left for dead several times during his run here. Heck, he started out behind the eight ball for many Hawkeye fans who wanted Bob Stoops when Hayden Fry retired. But then, after ’07, ’12 and now following ’14, he’s rejuvenated the program.
During his Sunday interview with the team’s website, Ferentz said he’s traveled back to different seasons in comparing his current group of Hawkeyes. He said at first he thought about ’08 but since has recalled ’02, ’09 and ’13.
Really, they’re all great examples of when the coach is at his best. Each year those teams rose above pre-season expectations from the outside. They did so following the blue collar lead of the man in charge.
There’s nothing wrong with getting emotional when you invest so much. It’s natural. It’s admirable.
Please remember that if Ferentz fails to fight back the tears at some point this season. Think of it when things might not be going well in the future and you want to play the he’s-not-a-raving-lunatic-on-the-sideline-screaming-at-his-players card as reason for him not succeeding. He’s always cared more than his critics.
Dillon the Kid: It’s not glamorous, but Iowa squads traditionally don’t fare well if the special teams are subpar. This year’s units are an asset.
Punter Dillon Kidd has been sensational after an inconsistent ’14 that had him fighting for his job in camp. The senior from Florida pinned Northwestern back at it’s 13- and nine-yard lines on his first two attempts allowing his team to win the field position battle.
It was an emotional day for Kidd, whose brother, Garrett, is a wide receiver for the Wildcats. Their father, John Kidd, punted for 16 seasons in the NFL after playing at Northwestern. Dillon remained focused and did his job as he had all season.
An inconsistent first season at Iowa following junior college ended with a thud for Kidd in January’s Taxslayer Bowl. He punted four times with an average of 32.0 yards.
This fall, Kidd is averaging 44.8 yards per kick, second in the Big Ten. Perhaps more impressively, 10 of his 27 punts have been downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. He’s recorded 10 punts of 50 or more yards as well.
RAPID FIRE ROUND:
- Cole Fisher led Iowa in tackles on Saturday with 10 (nine solo). What a great story. A fifth-year senior finally breaks into the starting lineup and he leads the team in stops with 61, which ranks 8th in the Big Ten. It reminds me of when Bradley Fletcher waited his turn, finally winning and starting spot at cornerback on the ’08 Hawkeye team that won the Outback Bowl. He’s in his seventh NFL season, now with the Super Bowl favorite Patriots.
- Stanford is ranked two spots ahead of Iowa in both major polls this week. I’ve never been one to get wrapped up in them and it’s an example of why. Their validity is put into question when you have the Cardinal ahead of the unbeaten Hawkeyes, who just won by 30 at Northwestern, a place Stanford fell, 16-6 this season. It makes no sense.
- Am I worried about Iowa Kicker Marshall Koehn, who has missed an extra point in three consecutive games? Nope. Maybe I’m naive but being around the kid, he’ll figure it out or die trying. He’s made 10 of 12 field goal attempts this season, including the one we’ll all remember for a lifetime.
- I watched Iowa commitment Barrington Wade Friday night in Skokie, Ill. I’ll write up an evaluation and will have game film soon. Right now, the coaches say he’ll get a shot at running back. He’s certainly capable and I like him at that spot after seeing him tote the rock. I liked him a little better at linebacker, however. He showed excellent instincts and athletic ability at that position.
- Speaking of recruiting, and I wrote this a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t expect a big bump from this season’s on-field success in the ’16 Class. The clock has sped up so much now that it will greater impact the next cycle and beyond. Immediate dividends could be returned with top senior targets Matt Farniok, Jovan Swann, K.J. Sails and Alaric Jackson, however. And it could open a door with one or two other uncommitted, high-end prospects we’re unaware of at this point.
- If you’re looking for a possible replacement if Noah Fant finds a new home or has Iowa’s offer pulled, turns your eyes to Cedar Rapids. Unbeaten Kennedy High features talented TE/LB Shaun Beyer (6-5, 210), who is verbally committed to North Dakota State. He’s an intriguing prospect with excellent upside. He’ll be considered a fallback by some if he ends up here but so were Josey Jewell and George Kittle.