LOS ANGELES – Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz met with reporters on Tuesday at the Rose Bowl media day event. Here is a copy of his press conference interview:
[On making it to the Rose Bowl…] Yeah, first of all, it’s been great, and before we landed we were really excited about getting the berth here in the Rose Bowl.
For me personally, it’s been 30 years since I’ve been here, and I was here 35 years ago as well. My memories are so distant of the Rose Bowl, and it was a whole different experience too. We stayed in a little bit more remote areas, so this has just been totally different.
It’s really exciting to be back here, quite frankly. We thought we were coming back in ’02, and that didn’t quite work out. But it’s as good as it gets. If you’re a member of the Big Ten, I think everybody, it’s safe in saying everybody, feels that way, at least the charter schools. So that part’s great.
The hospitality, everything has been first class and tremendous. Our players, all of us are very, very appreciative of that. So the hospitality’s been great. The events are outstanding, yet there is ample time to prepare.
That’s what bowl games are all about. It’s a reward for players. An opportunity to see some things they wouldn’t see. I haven’t done the math, but we have a lot of guys that haven’t been to California on our football team, certainly haven’t been to California in this light and been treated so nicely.
So it’s just an outstanding thing. It’s fun as a coach to watch players experience that, and then the best part’s still ahead. We get to play in the best bowl game there is against an outstanding championship football team, so it’s going to be a great challenge for us.
[On the time change…] I don’t want to say I’ve been outspoken, but I have made comments about us coming out here in the regular portion of our schedule. To me, to play a Pac-12 team during the regular season is just stupid. Not that we haven’t done stupid things before, but the biggest issue there is just the travel and time adjustments.
So for a Midwest team to come out here and play a night game, which we’ve done a couple times, that’s a big challenge. I think it’s a competitive advantage for the home team, conversely, when a Pac-12 team comes to our place in the Midwest and plays an eleven o’clock kickoff in the morning Central Time, that’s a big advantage. The weather’s not much of a factor then, but where I’m going with this whole thing, for a bowl game, it’s really minimal. Because ever since our last bowl game, regular season game against Nebraska, we’ve been indoors. So we’ve been warm.
We worked prior to that, because we were going to play in cold weather, so we practiced in cold weather, and we’ve been out here since the 24th. So our guys are acclimated both time zone and weather-wise. It’s hardly a factor. If it was in the 80s, that may be a different story, but I think our guys are really enjoying this.
[On who Stanford is similar to…] Yeah, not the same as, but have I similar to one of the better Wisconsin teams we’ve seen over the last couple of years. Maybe not so much this year’s team. But just I’m talking about offense now. Wisconsin’s mixed their schemes a little bit over the years and a couple years ago they played in a way that’s very similar to what we’re seeing Stanford do. They’ve had some outstanding players. Defensively they’re a lot like Wisconsin, in their scheme. But it’s not exactly the same, but it’s similar.
The last team we played, Michigan State, very similar in that not the scheme as much as the people, the team. Michigan State is very, very physical, as is Wisconsin, a very physical team, very, very outstanding, very well coached.
So, you know, we just played a team that’s really good, and now we’re playing another team to me, again, they’re not identical scheme-wise, but they’re very similar. They’re well coached and they have really good players. They’re champions for a reason. They’ve earned it. They’ve run the race really well.
[On his team’s success…] Again, just as far as our team goes, as a coach, I’m just happy for them and very proud of them. They’ve had an outstanding season and played well and competed hard each and every game. So really proud of what they did. They’ve earned the right to play in this game, and that’s how you get to the Rose Bowl. There’s no – you don’t stumble your way into it.
So, you know, I’m really proud of them, proud of what they’ve done during the course of the season, and very happy to see them get rewarded by having this experience. It doesn’t get any better than to have an opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl, is something that we have haven’t been able to do in 17 years, so, really excited about that.
Then, this is so different than anything we’ve done. We haven’t been to California in my 17 years back at Iowa. We came here frequently in the ’80s when I was an assistant coach, both to the Rose Bowl and also to San Diego, Anaheim.
So it seemed like we were a West Coast bowl team back then, but it’s been just the opposite. So this has been new for our players. It’s a great experience. And any time you have an opportunity to compete in the Rose Bowl, that’s special, especially if you’re a Big Ten person or a Pac-12 person. Just there’s a real special significance to that.
[On each team’s only loss…] We were undefeated until the last game. Theirs was the first game, ours was the last game. Sorry about that. You can throw that one out too. That was about eight years ago for them, I mean.
Have you spoken to Bob Bowlsby? He hired both you and David Shaw. Yeah, the last time I spoke with Bob, coincidentally, was after our Nebraska game. We played on a Friday, and I was kind of hanging around the office Saturday afternoon. And my direct line at work rang, which is very unusual, the land line there. And I don’t know why I picked it up. I never pick it up if I don’t know who it is. But I picked it up that day, and it was Bob calling just to congratulate us on the season. We had finished our season at that point, the regular season. So just randomly he was calling to congratulate us, which I really appreciated.
But since then we haven’t talked. But it is unusual. I don’t know how many bowl games you play where one athletic director hired both the head coaches involved. So Bob did an outstanding job at Iowa for a long time. It’s interesting, we’ve had three athletic directors now since 1970. Bump Elliott was there for a long time. He’s in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame, Bob, and most recently Gary Barta. That’s something we’ve enjoyed is great stability. Bob did a tremendous job at Stanford and is now doing a wonderful job at the Big 12 Conference. So It’s a small world sometimes, especially in athletics.
[On losing in the Big Ten Championship…] Yeah, you know, as you might well imagine, it was really the team was really hurting after the ballgame and they were hurting the next morning when we traveled back to Iowa City. And that’s what happens when you invest so much, and these players have invested really in a strong way since January. It goes back to January.
So one reality of competition is when you line up and play any time, any week of the season, there is a chance you’re not going to come out on top. And my wife reminds me of that constantly, especially after losses. That is the reality of what we do. And then obviously the higher the altitude, the tougher the competition.
So the reality is it could happen. That was a great football game. Two outstanding teams. And I look at it, we came up short. Credit to them, they did a great job, but we came up short in the end. But really so proud of our players. And the good news is it’s not like the last game of the season. We still have another opportunity. It took a while to turn the page, quite frankly. It always does when you don’t have a game right in front of you.
But our guys are looking forward now and they’re so excited about this opportunity. Really, it’s a similar type challenge. You’re playing another team that’s every bit as outstanding as Michigan State. So it’s going to be a great – we realize the hill that we’re trying to climb right now. We realize what it’s going to take to be successful and the challenge is can we do that? Can we get it done this time instead of coming up just a little bit short?
Can you talk about McCaffrey and the Heisman Trophy? It’s kind of interesting you bring that up. I hadn’t thought about it until just now. But two of the three guys that were in New York we saw on film. We saw Wisconsin play Alabama early in the season, and that guy’s pretty good too. So you’re talking about two great players, and I’m sure the quarterback from Clemson is outstanding as well. I’ve not seen him on film.
The difference with McCaffrey is how versatile a player he is. How many things he can do so well. Special teams, he’s a huge factor there. A thousand yards plus on kick return. Punt return, his longest one was called back on a penalty. Not really a big factor in the play, but that would really increase his average there, and took significant yardage off his total. Then as a running back, he’s dangerous in the passing game and running game.
He’s an all-around football player, a tremendous player. They feature him for a good reason. And that’s what you do when you have a great player, and he certainly is a great player.
Is that a challenge for you? Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s just when you play in championship games or you play in BCS Bowl games – do we still use that term or not? Do we or no? Okay. CFP. Okay. When you play in big games like this, typically you’re going to be looking across the line at a guy or a couple guys, and they have a couple guys over there, again, an award winner up front, he’s not the only guy that can block, but he’s awfully good.
The quarterback is ridiculous. 35-10, I think his record is. And McCaffrey’s the same way. So they’ve got a lot of really good players. They’re very well coached. And it’s a big, big challenge for us. Not one guy is going to stop them. We’re going to have to play great team defense, and that’s the only chance you’ve got.
But it’s not just about stopping him. You have to try to contain him, but if you load up too heavy, they’ve got other ways to hurt you, and they’ve done a great job of finding those. Scoring 37 points, it’s not by accident.
Do you or the team still harbor any disappointment? We’ve moved on totally. My view of the playoff picture years ago hasn’t changed much. I’ve always thought the concept of a plus one, I don’t know if that’s politically correct either, but the concept of a championship game. I never had any problem with that ten years ago. I think that’s fine. I’m not a proponent of the eight-game deal. I just don’t know how that’s realistic with our players.
So the reality is as it pertains to us, we came up short in Indianapolis. If we had won that game, we were in the playoffs. It was not a gut sense, but I felt very confident that we were champions of the Big Ten and 13-0 we’d be playing in the playoffs.
We came up short. That’s life. You move on, and you deal with disappointment. That was very disappointing to all of us.
But we’ve got a great opportunity and great challenge in front of us, and that’s a lot more important than looking back. You spend your whole life looking back, and you miss a lot of life. Our focus after we got over the mourning stage, if you will, we’ve moved on and excited to be part of such a great game.
It’s been a long road for Iowa to get here. What’s it like? In all fairness, we thought we were coming in 2002, as did the Rose Bowl folks. They came out. We were done a week early. They traveled out like they did this year, laid the whole thing out to us. Again, it was the first year of the BCS system, and we got taken off the board by the Orange Bowl. We thought we were coming, and next thing you know, we’re not.
But we’re just excited. For me, personally, it’s been 30 years since I’ve been, 30 and 35 years. My memories are so distant. I can’t remember six months ago let alone 30 years ago. So on a personal note, it’s been really exciting.
But more importantly as a coach to see our players, our coaching staff get to experience it, that’s what’s enjoyable in sports, and that’s what’s enjoyable about coaching is watching a lot of people that have worked hard, that have earned the right to be rewarded in a nice way, be rewarded in the nicest way possible.
[On reloading the roster each year…] We’ve kind of been in a retooling stage since 2012 we’ve got six new coaches on our staff, two new coordinators, six new coaches, two of whom are former players, former captains, which indicates I’m getting older.
But it’s been great. I guess the way I look at this whole thing, I think really we kind of begin building a new foundation, if you will, in 2012-2013. We’ve won 27 games the last three years.
But going back to last year, the last home game against Nebraska, anybody that was there, any fan that was in the stadium that day, certainly the players and coaches walked out of there not feeling good about the way we looked.
And I’m going right back to 1999. We’ve had a vision of what we want to be and what we want to look like. So, you know, all that did was really open the door for us to really examine and talk and do a little more research about what tweaks do we need to make, what do we want to consider, et cetera.
And I think we’ve done a good job of that. We’ve done a good job after the bowl game. We talked about our personnel and decisions there. And when recruiting ended, we spent a couple months going through every phase of the program.
And little things make a big difference in life. They certainly do in football. I think that’s what’s happened this year is reflective of that. We’re not radically different. We didn’t go out and get new players. But our guys have been tremendously committed. They’ve worked hard.
I think the biggest story of this season is the way our leadership developed especially during the summer on. That’s given us a chance to be competitive at a really high level. So it’s a long line to each story.
But it wasn’t the Titanic sinking last November. Now, if you lived in Iowa, you might have felt that way, and I get that. I understand that totally. I’m not tone deaf. But a lot of times in life when things seem like the sky might be falling, it usually isn’t. When you look at things and just kind of make some smart adjustments and listen to the people that are around you that have good input, usually things are addressable.
So I don’t think anybody panicked at our place, and it started with our leadership on campus. But more importantly, people in the program. We looked at things and did some honest evaluation and tried to get better. Same thing we ask our players to do. It’s all it comes down to.
[On C.J. Beathard…] The one luxury we have as coaches is we get to watch our players every day, every practice, meetings. We get to track everything they do, and we do that. It had nothing to do with the other player.
It had all to do with C.J.’s emergence when he came to Iowa. He had a live arm. He had good feet. My sister could have told you that. She’s a lifetime elementary school teacher, but she could have told you that.
Really the story with C.J. is his development, his maturity, and he grew. That’s anything about college football. It happens in the NFL too. But when you coach high school or college, you really see guys change and he grow and develop. And that’s what we got to watch and witness. We threw it open for both players to compete in December, and that was a decision we made. On one hand, it is a gut decision, because usually very rarely is it absolutes when you talk about people.
So there is risk and reward with everything you do. But that was just the thing that we felt was best for our team. The thing that was best for the players involved, and luckily it’s worked out well for everybody involved.
[On longevity at Iowa…] I grew up in Pittsburgh, and I don’t know why nobody else can figure this out, I know you don’t have a team out here, but to me the Steelers have been the model organization over the last 40 years. They’ve had three head coaches since 1968, and they haven’t gone to the Super Bowl every year. Now they’ve gone more than everybody else.
But when they don’t go, they fix things. They look at it. They don’t just change laundry. But that’s the world we live in. So I’m not naive to that. I understand it. There’s a lot of money involved and pressure and all that stuff. But coaching is coaching. It’s teaching.
I think most things in life – and I know nothing about business. I’m lucky I get to talk to some people that do. It’s kind of the same thing there. It still gets down to if you do a good job, good customer service, got a good product, you got a chance.
But there are going to be bad quarters, and there are going to be bad stretches, too, in football. It’s just part of the deal. Especially if you hang around somewhere long enough. If you move every five years, you might stay out of the posse.
Talking about your longevity, does that help you guys? Well, when I was here in 1981 and ’85 I was still young, and I didn’t know what was going on. I was at Iowa nine years with Coach Fry. So it’s all a blur. But the nine years I was gone, I spent a lot of time wondering why that happened. Because when I went there, they had 19 straight losing seasons, 1981, went to the Rose Bowl, and I just thought that was how it was supposed to be.
But I figured out later on there was a reason all that happened. So to that point, studied really hard and thought about what took place under Coach Fry’s leadership. That staff continuity was a huge part of it.
I got there in ’81. Barry Alvarez picked me up at the airport. Barry was the first guy off the boat. Seven years later he went to Notre Dame hoping to become a coordinator, which he did a year later, and then he became head coach at Wisconsin. Bill Snyder was the next guy to leave. He went to Kansas State.
But when I look back and reflect, there are two things about it. Every guy on that staff was an underdog. None of us had a resume, including Bill and Barry. Barry was a high school coach at that time. Bill was a coach at Austin College in Texas when Hayden hired him at North Texas. So none of us had resumes.
The other part about it was we all worked hard and kind of bought into what Coach’s vision was for the program. But that continuity really paid off in recruiting. It paid off with our program. I don’t pretend to know much about anything, but I know a little bit about Iowa football and what works for us and what doesn’t work. Only because I’ve been there 27 years and you try to pay attention.
But I learned an awful lot from Coach Fry without even knowing it. It took me a decade, probably, to figure out what was going on and why it happened.
But, yeah, I think, again, it goes back to that discussion about when you do have continuity, you look at the Chuck Noll staffs, Tom Landry, the Don Shula’s. But that’s not going to happen again. Bill Belichick has done it in New England. Marvin Lewis has done it in Cincinnati.
But it’s really tough to do it. You’re not going to see much of that in college football anymore. In those days it was Nebraska and us and Penn State had great stability. Now name anybody other than Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, another Iowa guy. I think we’re making the turn right now.
Have you ever dealt with this level of attention? How do you feel they’re dealing with it? Does it get overwhelming at some point? I don’t think so. It’s something they’ve earned. It comes with the game. It’s not the same as going to Indianapolis. Obviously, it’s a little harder stage, it’s a little more drawn out of a period, but the way I look at it, those are good things. We talk to our guys, going back to mid-season, and just explain to the guys: The more you win, the higher the altitude. And that’s the goal, though. You want to get up there high.
But you’ve got to understand, too, when you start to rise, the competition gets tougher. The noise gets louder, all that stuff. But it still gets down to playing in a football game, and that’s our challenge. We’re playing a really good football team on Friday, and no different than we did in Indianapolis where we had a really good football team waiting for us. That was an eight o’clock game.
So, you know, when you get through all of it, it still gets down to trying to match up against a really tough team. That’s one thing we know for sure. We’re playing a championship team, and these guys are really good. So I think the guys have done a good job dealing with it. And I want them to enjoy it. This is something they’ve earned.
What has Drew meant, even after the injury, what’s he meant to this team? Drew’s an unbelievable guy. A sense of humor. A little dry, but he’s extremely witty. Just really kind of heart-wrenching what’s happened to him this year, quite frankly, to go through a couple significant injuries like that.
But the one thing about it, first of all, usually whatever rehab schedule the doctors give him, he’s going to beat that by days or weeks. That’s just how he’s wired. He’s extremely mentally tough. He was one of our team leaders coming into this. He’s been a team leader for us for a couple of years.
And to me he’s amped that up. He can’t play, but he’s amped up the leadership role, and he’s totally invested. And most specifically really helping the younger defensive linemen just trying to help them learn with every snap that they take. So, you know, he’s a captain for a reason. He’s a tremendous young man.
Marshall Koehn had a big field goal, he’s had a bunch of them. I’m assuming you feel pretty confident if it comes down to him trotting out there to win the game? Absolutely. To have a guy with his leg strength and being a senior, and he’s been in the big moments. Certainly it doesn’t get any bigger than the Pittsburgh game after he got iced and all that stuff like he did.
But, yeah, we feel great about having Marshall. And Dillon, the same way, another senior specialist. That’s two pluses for us.
Coach, winning a Rose Bowl, it’s only happened twice at Iowa. What would that mean to you? It would be great. It would be fantastic. Just so happens that’s where we’re at Friday. So we want to win regardless of where we’re at and who we’re playing.
But, historically, we’ve done some neat things this year. Historically, it’s the first time an Iowa team has won 12 ballgames and gone undefeated since 1922, I believe. Howard Jones, when he came out here to California shortly thereafter, Southern Cal.
So, we’ve already done some things that are historic. To win this, would be great from that perspective, but the big thing is it’s a reward for our players that have worked so hard. And I know Coach Shaw must feel the same about his team.
Is it remarkable to think where Desmond King was when he came here and where he is now? Absolutely. He got thrown in way before we thought he was ready. He responded in a great way. Last year played solid football, but he’s really taken the big step this year, and just really proud of him. It’s a tribute to his work not only on the field but off the field and the maturity, and things you hope older players exhibit. He’s demonstrated those traits.
You obviously had a handful of players in your years here that have gone on to the NFL. What do you tell him in terms of mentoring him in that regard? In simple terms to me, if you’re going to be a first rounder, then you have a decision to make. If you’re not, in my mind if I was his dad I’d say don’t do it. That’s just my feeling personally. Then we’ve had a couple guys like Bryan Bulaga, we had Riley Reiff that our people told us they’d be from 20 to 35, 40, and they both ended up going in the mid-20s. So that’s not a clear-cut decision. And Scherff would have had the same category a year and a half ago. He chose to stay. He won the Outland Trophy, ended up being the fifth pick in the draft.
But the nice thing is when you’re a good player, you’re going to win either way. When he’s 25, he’s going to be in the NFL playing well. So I’ve told Desmond and I told Brandon and I’ve told a lot of our players this: You’re in one rare situation where you may never be in this position in your life where you’re going to win no matter what you do. And it’s nice sometimes to be in a position where you can do what you want, not what you feel like you have to do. And I think that’s a position those guys are in. And Desmond’s a little different circumstance, but we’ll talk about that specifically after the game.
Ultimately whatever a player decides, I’m going to support them, because these guys are people. It’s their lives, their decision. But my only concern is they have good educational, good, accurate information, not what somebody off the street tells them, that’s all. Then they make a good decision from there.
C.J. hasn’t really been a hundred percent since probably September. What is it about him? How has he been able to keep up his uncanny play all season long despite all the injuries? The thing we found out about him early in the season is he’s extremely poised and extremely tough mentally and physically. So, you know, I think it’s just a tribute to his toughness, his determination. He feels a real obligation, I think, to lead this football team and play his position as well as he can. And if you’re a quarterback, you need to be a leader.
So he’s committed to that. He’s demonstrated that. He’s not a hundred percent right now, but he’s a lot better than he was two months ago, for sure. So he’ll be out there on Friday maybe next year we’ll have him at 100% if we get lucky.
What is the overall feeling of the team as you just get to a few days away here? I think good. They enjoyed Southern California. They had a good night last night at the Improv. Sounds like it was a big hit. It sounds like it’s all good. Now we’re at the point where things start to close down a little bit and the guys start to rein it in and get a chance to get in their game-week mode.
This is like a Wednesday for us right now. So once we finish this today, we’ll be on the practice field, and things start to close in a little bit for them.
But they’ve really enjoyed this trip. I can’t say enough about the hospitality that’s been extended to us. We’re very, very appreciative.
Was there a moment within the season that you started to see this team is capable of something special? I think every step’s been important for us. The biggest story of our team, they’ve worked hard and had a good attitude going back to January.
But I think the biggest story is our leadership, just the way it’s emerged during the course of the season. I think that thought that started during camp, maybe even before during summer conditioning. But as the year’s gone on, they’ve continued to ramp it up. We’ve gotten great leadership not only from our seniors, but a lot of underclassmen as well.
If there’s one moment I really have to point to, it’s probably the game at Northwestern where we had a lot of injuries and we’ve had a lot of injuries this year, and then Jordan Canzeri went down early in the game. I thought we went into that game a little thin. Then when Jordan went down, that was not reassuring.
But the team, one thing these guys have done all season is they’ve responded. So it’s going to get a little tough, but they’ll find a way to do something special. They’ve certainly been doing that all season long. They play off each other. And to me, the essence of teamwork, it’s about whatever’s working. They may have to carry the load one day and next week it may be something different.
So you look at our running backs, it’s a good illustration. We started out with LeShun and Jordan, then it was Jordan, then it was, boom, Akrum, and then we’ve kind of rotated around. But whoever has been in there has done a nice job. So that’s kind of what you’re hoping for.
In that Northwestern game when Jordan did go down, with some of the misfortune you’ve had in recent years with running backs getting injuries, was there a sense of oh, no, not again? I don’t play that game so much, but it was disappointing because LeShun was already down, now you’ve got Jordan down. And we had a bye week coming up. So the big thing was can we make it through this game somehow, some way.
And Akrum has done a lot of good things. His issue was ball security at that time. And that’s just maturity, that’s age and experience. Fortunately I think he was aware of what the concerns were. He did a great job that day and has done a great job since that time.
So I think that was a real turning point for him to grow up a little bit and become a college football player and not just a kid on the team.
As far as the team’s focus and intensity, what would you rate it as far as 1 to 10 at this point in time with just a few days away from the big game? I haven’t taught school since 1978, ’79, last time I gave grades out. I didn’t give them as a position coach. Here’s the problem with grades. You give guys grades and you go into the meeting and they look at the grades and want to argue every play instead of watching the tape and learning from it.
So I’m pleased with the way our guys have practiced thus far. They’ve done a good job on the field or in meetings focusing. They’ve done a good job relaxing away from the football part of things.
And now, as we start to get closer here, we’re just going to start to pull back on the social stuff and be in a more controlled environment. I think the guys have responded well. They’re taking care of themselves. They’re, I think, being aware of where they want to be on Friday physically and mentally.
But the whole idea was to come out here and enjoy things a little bit, see some things that are so unique to people that are from the Midwest. And they’ve done that. So, so far, so good. I hope I feel like that after practice today. We’ll see.
What’s been the biggest surprise as far as the social activities and the guys’ enjoyment as well as yourself? Yeah, really nothing. Probably the biggest difference from a personal standpoint, when I’ve been here two other times we stayed in locations that were a lot more remote. We didn’t stay downtown Los Angeles, so this is totally different for us. And it’s been great. The players like to be near places to go, and they’ve got that here.
So that part has been good. I don’t know what we’d change. It’s been fantastic. The people from the Rose Bowl have really, from my vantage point, done a great job of being sensitive to what players like. They’re doing a great job of letting the guys enjoy things. And I’m glad that Lawry’s Beef Bowl was a couple days ago and not a couple days from now. That wouldn’t be good. But it’s all been great. This is just fantastic.
What is the biggest difference between this Media Day than the Media Day back in August? Back in Iowa?
Yeah? I’d say the size of the room and the amount of people here. So, you know, but it’s all good. It’s all good. We’re thrilled to be here.
Coach, David Shaw said that seeing your success this season to him is everything that’s right with football. He said you represent the best that college football has to offer. What does it mean for you to hear the opposing coach talk about you in such glowing terms? Well, first of all, I’m honored. Mainly, because I hold him in high esteem. I’ve watched their program. I thought they were outstanding when Coach Harbaugh took over, and to me, Coach Shaw has taken them to a new level. What they stand for to me is everything great in college football. You watch their players, and we have watched them through the years mainly because I admire the way they play, and we’re not exactly the same schematically, but I think we share some conceptual or some similar beliefs, not so much concepts. But just the way they approach the game. They’re a tough-minded, hard-nosed team. They play great on defense, they play outstanding offense, they run the ball well.
So we’ve always been curious what they do. And the more you learn about Coach Shaw, it’s just very, very impressive. He with didn’t overlap in Baltimore, but I know people in Baltimore still that I worked with for many years, six years, they’ve always held him in high regard. He’s from a coaching family. His dad’s well respected in the profession. And to me, what he’s done there in five years is unbelievable. You can say conference champions, so that says it right there.
But it’s a tough conference they play in. They’ve done it their way. They stand a little bit alone in the league, but they play at a high level. So I’ve got tremendous respect for him and their program. I think it’s a great match-up. We’re honored to be playing a team like Stanford.
Coach, have you decided yet how new Kirk will show up for the Rose Bowl? Do you start the game with an onside kick or do you come out in a tank top? Yeah, I’m kind of doubtful of the kick, the onside kick thing. I don’t know. But tank top, I doubt that too. We’re probably going to stay right down the middle and see what happens.
How much has the Rose Bowl week changed since your last experience here? My memories of this are so vague. It’s 30 years ago, and I can’t remember 30 days ago, quite frankly. I think the big difference when he with stayed here in ’85 and also the ’81 season, we stayed way outside of the city limits. So the one thing I do remember is the long bus rides, and this has been great. We’re staying right downtown, so the players are really enjoying that part of it. A key thing – this may sound funny, but the key thing in a bowl game, enjoyment for players and coaches, easy transformation to the practice facility. We’re less than 20 minutes away.
On top of that, that StubHub Center is outstanding. It’s the best practice facility we’ve ever had.
So it’s all been first class, and the entertainment provided by the bowl community is super. So it’s been a great experience.
The best thing is still having a chance to go to the Rose Bowl the day before and for the players to see the stadium, a sense of history a little bit, and to actually compete and be in the Rose Bowl against a great team, a great championship team. It doesn’t get any better than that. So the best part is still ahead.
Coach, you have 50- to 60,000 Hawkeye fans expected as long as they can get here. What does that say to you about the way those fans support Iowa football? It kind of goes right back to the first year of 1981. I’ve said this many times. I’ll forget my first game in Kinnick coming out. We were playing Nebraska, and the place was packed. After 19 straight losing seasons, that place was sold out. You travel to bowl games, and traditionally the Iowa fans have been great.
But that first Rose Bowl, and I think it was Jim Zabel who said last person out of Iowa shut the lights off. I just remember the fan support then. It sounds like this is going to be similar. We saw that in Indianapolis. What a great showing of our fans. So there are a lot of things that are traditional with our program. Our fan support is right up there at the top. We appreciate that. It makes a huge difference for everybody involved. Our players appreciate that, as do the coaches.
So many of the players have talked about the chemistry of this team which they’re experiencing this week. Can you put a finger on what it is that makes a team come together and have that intangible that can put you over the top? Yeah, I think it starts with our seniors, and that’s been the biggest story of this team. There are a lot of stories with our football team, but as I’ve said, they’ve worked hard and had a positive attitude since January when other people maybe weren’t this positive.
But the biggest thing is our leadership base really started to grow, I think, over the course of the summer. I’m not sure I would have predicted a Rose Bowl or any January game back in April, but that’s okay. You don’t play in April. But as we got into camp and the season went on, just to watch the leadership emerge.
And it starts with our seniors. Our senior class has been not good, they’ve been outstanding. They’ve taken real ownership. And that’s each and every one of them. Guys that play, guys that don’t play have all been committed. And needless to say, we’ve had a lot of underclassmen jump in there as well.
When you get that building, it gives you a chance to do some things that maybe you’re not supposed to do; that’s why I think these guys enjoy themselves and each other so much. It’s genuine. They respect each other and care about each other.
Coach, in Iowa’s most recent Rose Bowl, Matt Rodgers said he came out and he was kind of – the whole team was kind of overwhelmed by the spectacle and the environment, and it took till the second half till the Hawks were ready to go. How do you get C.J. and the team to be ready to go from the jump? I think we certainly experienced that in ’81 as well. And I would say our 2002 Orange Bowl is a similar circumstance. Hopefully we’ve learned from that. We’ve handled the ’09 Orange Bowl much better than the ’02.
One thing to help us bridge into this game is the championship game, which is a great environment, too, against a great football team just like this will be.
I think we’ve got a good window. And then the other part, we’ve really been in a playoff mode probably since September. Our backs were against the wall back in September, so I think that’s the attitude the team has taken. I think they understand for us to compete against the best, we have to play above our best probably. That’s been the objective each and every practice for us.
What’s your message to the team before the game? We’re not going to change. We’ve been consistent all season long well. The objective is to get better each day and each week. The one thing about it, as the season goes on, the games do grow in importance. There is a little more riding on every game, every snap. But you can’t get caught up in that. The whole objective is just to improve and try to come together and play our best every time we take the field.
In Indianapolis, we came up short. And the other 12 times we’ve been able to take steps forward. Coming into this game, we realize it’s going to be the same thing. We’re playing another outstanding team. The challenge isn’t different than the last couple times we were out there. It’s just how much can we, you know, move forward and improve as a team? Hopefully we’re a better football team than we were the first weekend of this month.
Did you know C.J. played guitar and wrote songs? I do, yeah. He’s from a very musical family.
Did that surprise you? No, not at all. His brother gave up an athletic career to do it full time. So I’m glad C.J. didn’t. That would be bad. I’m glad his brother’s doing it, but I’m glad C.J. stuck with football.
Has he ever played for the team? Not yet. That might be an idea, though. That might be a good idea. I hadn’t thought of it. Thank you. You’re always learning, right?
You were here in ’81, and ’86. What did the Rose Bowl do for Iowa then? Do in terms of?
Raising the profile and that kind of thing. Yeah, I mean, just the ’81 season was so unique, as you know, because it was 19 straight years of losing, not no bowls, but losing. I think the other neat thing about that historically, you’ve heard me say this before, but for the 13 years before that, it was two teams that came out here in the Big Ten, period.
So, you know, it’s not much fun if you line up in August, you line up for third place. That’s just not the idea, I think in a conference. So to me, I think it really changed the history as it had an historical impact on the Big Ten, the fact that Iowa went.
Since that time I think all the two teams have been, if I’m not mistaken – the teams that were in the Big Ten at that time. So I think it’s kind of like the four-minute mile being broken like, oh, maybe we can do this. Now everybody else has done it now. Not everybody else, but a lot of teams have been out here. For our program, obviously, we were in dire straits.
It was 19 straight losing seasons not only to go to a bowl, but to go to a Rose Bowl. That was so, so special and such a magical time. Then to me, it was just the beginning of really building a program that was respected nationally and had a chance to compete with anybody nationally.
You’ve been to Orange Bowls, three BCS Bowls. What does Rose Bowl mean, though? What can the Rose Bowl do for you now? It’s the one that got away in 2002. That’s when we thought we had it. You know, we didn’t get too deep into it, but we thought for those five days we were coming out here. And, again, going to the Orange Bowl is not a bad deal. But we didn’t handle that one well. We probably wouldn’t have handled this well if we had come out.
So to finally get here and being a Big Ten institution, it’s really important. It’s really significant. The history behind it is just spectacular. It’s such a unique bowl, I think, in my mind. For our players to have that opportunity to be involved in this, it’s really a neat thing. It’s just outstanding.
Does it change, though? I mean, what the Rose Bowl did for this program in ’81, what can it do? What can you maybe expect? Just college football has changed so much. That’s the thing. It really shifts it. But, as you know, I mean, we had 14 teams in our conference, we’d have championship games all those different things. It’s really hard to get here. I think that’s one thing everybody would agree on. It’s really tough to get here.
So to get here, that’s significant to get here because you’re a Big Ten school, it’s even more significant. And then to experience playing in the game, it’s going to be a really – it’s going to be neat for our players. Just, if you play in the Rose Bowl, chances are you’re playing against a really good team across the field, and we’ve got to too. So that’s not a surprise.
They got their foot in the door and Stanford made it to a Rose Bowl, and they’ve kind of made that a standard. Yeah, they have.
Is that something, getting the foot in the door? You talked about renting here. When do you guys buy? It’s a real credit to them to be in three, four, five years, whatever it’s been. That’s really impressive. In any conference that’s hard to do. So that speaks to the type of program they have, the players, the coaching staff. All I know is us, and everything will come hard next year. Not that I’m looking toward next year, but I know this. 27 years, everything comes hard. Nothing’s easy. Everything’s earned. So you only handle that when it gets here.
But right now, doing well in this game’s going to come hard too. So that’s where we’re really focused right now.
What are kind of pride do you take in Brian, your son’s development as an offensive line coach in the four years you’ve worked with him here? I’d be remiss. We have five kids. Mary and I have raised five children. And, you know, I’m kind of taking some liberty there. Mary’s raised five children. I’ve been a by stander, I guess, in a lot of ways. But all five of the kids are very different. Really proud of all five of them. I think her encouragement, and my encouragement has been whatever it is you choose to do, try to do it well.
So we’re just really proud. We’ve got one daughter who’s a student. She went to law school. And got a master’s in public health, and she’s working in Des Moines doing really well. I’ve got a daughter who is an excellent teacher. I’d love to be in her classroom. I’ve got a guy playing football that is doing a good job. And a young guy that’s still in school here and loving every day.
But we’re proud of all five of them. Really proud of what Brian’s done. Selfishly I’m appreciative because we had a great coaching staff. Every guy on the staff plays a critical role, and certainly Brian does as well. So appreciative of what all the coaches contribute.
Do you see yourself in him, your young Kirk? Kids in general are way smarter today than when I was a kid. He’s like light years ahead of where I was. But that’s not saying a lot. I’m a slow learner. Slow reader and a slow learner.