Harty: We can learn from the Iowa football team’s unselfish commitment to winning
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Instead of just celebrating the success of the 2015 Iowa football team, we can learn from it, too.
The players and coaches who have led this historic journey to Big Ten West Division champion and to 11-0 have been through a lot together since the TaxSlayer Bowl debacle in January.
They’ve bonded in the wake of adversity, with each player making a solemn vow to be his very best in all phases of life.
They also checked their egos at the door to the Iowa Football Complex because improving as a team was the only priority.
And they have just gone to work, one day, one practice and one play at a time with no thrills attached and with no guarantees for success.
Senior tight end Henry Krieger Coble said he never envisioned being the West Division champion or being on the first Iowa team with an 11-0 record because he wouldn’t allow himself to think that far ahead.
“We really didn’t think this far,” Krieger Coble said after Saturday’s 40-20 victory over Purdue at snowy Kinnick Stadium. “If anything, this team has done a pretty good job of just going back to work every single day.
“And that’s kind of been what we’ve tried to do from the day after the bowl. We have guys that just focus on the next game, the next day, the next practice, the next play whatever it is.”
There isn’t a better way to handle adversity then to meet it head on with a daily dose of positive energy and focus. That’s what this Iowa team has done under veteran coach Kirk Ferentz, who thrives on living in the moment.
Now, of course, the team also has benefited from the switch at quarterback because it’s clear that junior C.J. Beathard is no ordinary quarterback and no ordinary leader. He is special in both regards, a master at converting on third down and at inspiring confidence.
Beathard has owned the spotlight this season, but he hasn’t basked in it.
I made the mistake of telling Beathard after Saturday’s game that he has provided a spark this season and he quickly corrected me.
“I don’t think I’ve provided a spark, I think it’s a team deal,” Beathard said. “We’ve done a good job as a team of putting games together and playing tough as a team.
“I had confidence in myself going into it. I just knew when I got the opportunity, that hopefully, I was going to play the best that I could do and give it my all.”
Mission accomplished, at least so far.
Winning the Big Ten West Division for the first time is a significant accomplishment, especially when it comes wrapped in an 11-0 record. But it’s just another step in a journey that gets more spectacular with each victory.
Iowa is among just a handful of teams in late November that still have a realistic chance of winning the national championship.
That’s incredible when you consider where the program was in January. Iowa looked over-matched and listless during the 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
But that same Iowa team also had a 7-3 record before losing to Wisconsin and Nebraska by a combined five points in the final two regular-season games.
I bring that up because it’s important to remember that the Iowa program wasn’t in shambles when last season ended. Some fans were convinced that Ferentz couldn’t lead another resurgence and they were bored and frustrated with him after 16 seasons on the job.
But the program still had combined for 15 victories over the past two seasons. That would make Ferentz a legend at some schools, including the other BCS school in Iowa.
“If you’re involved in sports, if you’re involved in anything competitive – if you think every day is going to be a parade, you’re in for a tough life,” Ferentz said. “You’ve got to endure some tough times, and I never thought we were off that far last year. But you know, being off that far, sometimes, makes a big difference.
“I wouldn’t rule it a total catastrophe. We won seven ballgames. But I’ll go back to that last game in Kinnick. It just didn’t feel good.”
Ferentz was referring to Iowa’s 37-34 overtime loss to Nebraska in the 2014 regular-season finale at Kinnick Stadium in which Iowa led 24-7 in the second half. Iowa also had lost to Wisconsin 26-24 in the previous game.
“To avoid those kind of performances, that certainly was a goal,” Ferentz said. “And it gets back to just doing things right, preparing right, competing, and then you live with the results.”
Speaking of Nebraska, it’s all that stands in the way of Iowa finishing undefeated in the regular season. The Cornhuskers would like nothing more than to derail Iowa’s pursuit of a playoff spot. Nebraska also will have had two weeks to prepare, will be playing at home and needs a victory to qualify for a bowl game.
So it’s likely that Iowa will get Nebraska’s best shot. But something tells me this Iowa team will be ready for the challenge.
As for Krieger Coble, his performance this season sort of mirrors that of his team. He led Iowa with 76 receiving yards on four catches Saturday. His 22-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter expanded Iowa’s lead to 33-13. It also was Krieger Coble’s first touchdown of the season. The fact that it came on Senior Day was appropriate.
Krieger Coble was no slouch last season, but he’s taken his performance to another level this fall. He is Iowa’s second leading receiver with 27 catches for 338 yards and one touchdown.
“We’re a bunch of tough guys and we all focus on the goal of playing the entire game, the full 60-minute game,” said Krieger Coble, who was among 21 Iowa seniors honored before Saturday’s game. “And the guys we do have, have done a great job of doing that.”
The toughness factor can’t be overlooked because you don’t win 11 football games in a row at any level without being tough.
But the story of the 2015 Iowa football team is mostly about a group of young men who have persevered, persisted and performed on a consistent basis. It’s about the whole being better than the parts, but the parts are pretty good, too.
The story still doesn’t have an ending, though.
“We have just great guys and it’s just been a real thrill,” Krieger Coble said. “But we’re not done yet. We have a lot more work to do.”
So for Krieger Coble, it’s back to the daily grind and back to living in the moment.