By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz hasn’t changed from who he is as a person, and he probably never will change in that respect.
But with so much of the world changing around him, including things that have to do with the Iowa football program, Ferentz is more willing to embrace some of the changes.
He is more willing to allow things that are connected to the Iowa program to be updated and modernized from a style standpoint, and that is part of his substance.
Successful leaders know when to expand and when to cater to a changing environment, even if it doesn’t fit their laid-back personality, or even some of their old-fashioned beliefs.
The 64-year old Ferentz, who is entering his 21st season as the Iowa head coach, still values substance way more than style, but he also realizes that style matters in this age of social media and self-promotion.
That was my immediate thought after seeing the pictures that Hawkeye Football posted on Twitter showing the recent facelift to the tunnel where the Iowa players enter the field at Kinnick Stadium.
The old look in the tunnel sort of resembled Joe Cocker or Jerry Garcia in how its appearance was simple, plain and dull, while the new look is more like vintage Elvis Pressley in the 1970s when he wore bejeweled jumpsuits and matching capes.
Elvis always had plenty of substance in his music, but even the King felt it was necessary to change his style and appearance to match the changing times.
And now Kirk Ferentz is doing the same with the Iowa football program, and actually has been for a while.
Ferentz still prefers to use zone blocking schemes, a power running game to set up the pass, traditional uniforms and a defense that bends, but rarely beaks, and that'll probably never change. Ferentz has made it this far in coaching by trusting how he believes football should be played and is steadfastly committed to those beliefs.
But Ferentz is now more willing to think outside of the box and to value style points because he realizes that a little bit of flamboyance matters, maybe not to him, but to the people that help him win football games, meaning his players and assistant coaches.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Ferentz’s transformation seems to have started in earnest when his son, Brian Ferentz, joined the Iowa staff as a full-time assistant in 2012, and while still in his late 20s.
Brian Ferentz has since risen to the role of offensive coordinator and it’s reasonable to think that he has convinced his father to swallow his pride and do some self-reflecting in order to sort of reinvent himself as a head coach.
Kirk Ferentz still is the same when it comes to dealing with the media in that he never brags or says anything controversial or politically incorrect.
He still prohibits his players from being on Twitter, and the odds of Kirk Ferentz ever being on Twitter are slim to none and much closer to none.
Ferentz's practices still are closed and he still prohibits his true freshmen from speaking to the media.
But Ferentz has allowed for some things to change around him, the latest example being the facelift to the tunnel at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa wears alternate uniforms now more than it used to, and Kirk Ferentz also has shown a willingness to take more chances on the field.
The Kirk Ferentz that punted late in the fourth quarter from near midfield at Ohio State with the 2009 Big Ten title on the line probably would go for it now, and Ferentz has even indicated that he would. Iowa lost that game 27-24 in overtime and Ferentz was criticized for being too conservative and for playing not to lose.
If somebody had told you a decade ago that Iowa would have switched from its traditional 4-3 defensive alignment to a 4-2-5 in the wake of one loss, you probably would’ve called that person delusional or a fool.
But when the Hawkeyes take the field against Miami of Ohio for the Aug. 31 season opener at Kinnick Stadium, they more than likely will have five defensive backs and just two linebackers starting on defense.
“The personnel of the teams that we play and face, and the world keeps going in the direction of three, four receivers on the field at one time,” Kirk Ferentz said. “I think that makes it more of a viable possibility, and then the other factor is how we do.”
Iowa switched to the 4-2-5 alignment after losing to Wisconsin 28-17 last season at Kinnick Stadium. The Badgers took advantage of a mismatch in space with one of its receivers being guarded by an Iowa linebacker and that led to what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker responded by installing the 4-2-5 alignment, but the head Hawk had to sign off on that change before Parker could do anything.
It seems highly unlikely that the Kirk Ferentz from 10 years ago would have allowed such a dramatic change to occur after just one loss.
Football coaches are filled with pride and they're stubborn and they all have egos, even someone as humble as Kirk Ferentz.
But there is a lot that goes into being a good leader, including a willingness to let others lead if it helps the team win.
The buck without question stops with Kirk Ferentz, but head coaches also have to evolve or risk becoming stale, outdated and unpopular as a boss.
Part of Kirk Ferentz’s evolution is realizing that style matters and that players and fans want to be entertained more now than ever.
Hawkeye Football also posted several pictures on Twitter of some of the players posing together in the tunnel. You could tell from the expressions on the faces of the players just how much the facelift means to them. You could see the pride and excitement on their smiling faces as they basked in their new surroundings.
Iowa football is evolving, even with a highly conservative head coach who is more than 40 years older than his players leading the way.
Kirk Ferentz now has some style to go with his substance, and part of that style comes from knowing that the world is changing, and that you have to change with it.