Harty column: Brian Ferentz makes his feelings abundantly clear when asked about Oliver Martin’s playing time
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Brian Ferentz was in no mood to discuss Oliver Martin’s playing time and he made that abundantly clear when asked it about it on Wednesday.
All three of Iowa’s coordinators met with the media on Wednesday, continuing a bye-week tradition, but it was the roughly 25 seconds that Brian Ferentz spent answering why Martin only played two snaps in this past Saturday’s 18-17 victory at Iowa State that stood out the most.
Iowa’s 36-year old offensive coordinator, and son of head coach Kirk Ferentz, basically dismissed the question and made what appeared to be a veiled reference to the controversy surrounding Noah Fant’s playing time last season.
“Have you not seen enough production out of the other guys?” Brian Ferentz said of Iowa’s top four receivers on the depth chart. “I’m being serious.
“And I’ll tell you right now, I’m not going through that again this year, like if this guy plays, or this guy doesn’t play. If guys are out there producing, they’re going to be on the field.”
It isn’t just what Brian Ferentz said about Martin that raised eye brows, and now has fans talking on social media, but how he said it.
He was sort of dismissive and snarky, and obviously, sensitive about the subject of playing time in the wake of what happened last season with Fant.
Brian was asked a follow-up question about Martin in which the reporter said that questions about Martin's playing time is what the media gets asked the most about.
"Then you guys can answer it," Brian Ferentz said. "That's your problem."
Again, it was more snark and dismissiveness from Brian Ferentz, but he was trying to make it clear that he didn't want to address that topic.
It was another reminder that Brian Ferentz is different than his father with regard to their personalities and with how they deal with the media. Brian isn't afraid to speak his mind, and sometimes without a filter, while his father is more guarded and soft-spoken.
Brian’s answer about Martin seemed fair and reasonable, if you can just look past his delivery, and the hype and expectations surrounding Martin as a Michigan transfer, and as a former four-star recruit from Iowa City.
Fans want so much for Martin to live up to their expectations because it is an intriguing storyline, and the kind that doesn’t get told very often about an Iowa City kid transferring back home from Michigan where he played for two seasons under Jim Harbaugh.
Martin has only played in three games as a Hawkeye, and he plays one of the deepest positions on the team with four pretty talented receivers currently listed above him on the depth chart, including proven starters Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
The other two receivers listed ahead of Martin are redshirt freshmen Tyrone Tracy Jr., and Nico Ragaini.
Tracy Jr., and Ragaini are both one year behind Martin in school, and in eligibility. But Tracy and Ragaini also have been a part of the Iowa program for a year longer than Martin has been as a June transfer.
Martin’s limited role, so far, has been surprising, especially getting in for just two plays against Iowa State on a day when it was humid and in game that lasted for six hours because of two weather delays. But I’m not willing to say that Iowa is holding him back and not playing the best players.
Why does everything about playing time have to a conspiracy?
And there still are nine games left in the regular season, so it’s way too early to push the narrative that Oliver Martin isn’t being treated fairly or being utilized properly.
Iowa is also 3-0 and senior quarterback Nate Stanley has thrown six touchdown passes and zero interceptions, while averaging 229.7 passing yards per game. It's hard to find much wrong with those numbers.
So let’s just wait and see what happens, and remember that Brian Ferentz is trying to fit Martin in with four receivers who were already here and committed to the cause, and who are all pretty talented. And that takes time.
Kirk Ferentz helped to fuel expectations by saying that Martin would be a big part of the offense moving forward after Martin was ruled eligible for this season., But the head Hawk didn't say exactly when that would happen.
And coaches, even Kirk Ferentz, say things during a celebratory moment that might be a slight exaggeration.
Martin’s time to shine will come at some point, maybe not fast enough for some fans, but it’ll come. He showed his potential in the season opener against Miami of Ohio by catching a nine-yard touchdown pass from Stanley.
Iowa’s practices are closed to the media so nobody outside of the players, coaches and support staff knows what happens in practice on a daily basis.
But I’ve never given any credibility to the narrative that the best players don’t always play under Kirk Ferentz.
Brad Banks has told me multiple times, both publicly and in private, that he wasn’t ready to be Iowa’s starting quarterback in 2001 over Kyle McCann, and yet, some still use Banks as an example of Kirk Ferentz not using his best players because Banks made a miraculous ascent from reserve in 2001 to Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2002.
There is the assumption that Banks would’ve been almost as good in 2001 as he was in 2002 if given more playing time, and that he definitely would’ve been better than McCann was in 2001.
Maybe so, but we’ll never know.
Iowa tried to downplay the Fant controversy last season, but judging from Brian Ferentz’s response on Wednesday, it struck a nerve.
Fant’s older brother complained on social media that Noah wasn’t getting enough snaps last season as a proven star at tight end, and the story festered throughout the season.
And while it did seem odd that Fant spent long stretches on the bench last season, it was probably due partly to T.J. Hockenson’s shocking rise to stardom at tight end last season.
Fant was supposed to be Iowa’s star tight end last season after having played that role in the previous season with 11 touchdown catches, which is the most by an Iowa tight end in a single season.
But then Hockenson emerged as a force and became the featured attraction at tight end.
It’s hard to argue with the results, considering Hockenson won the John Mackey Award last season as the nation’s top collegiate tight end. He was also selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions, and with the eighth pick overall as a third-year sophomore.
Fant also made first-team All-Big Ten last season and was picked in the first round by the Denver Broncos as a third-year junior.
Martin just has to be patient and keep working hard because nobody ever said that playing time would come easy at Iowa.
And if they did say it, then shame on them for not being truthful.
Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette are both just coming into the prime of their careers as third-year juniors. They’re playing with more confidence, with more swagger and with more trust from their coaches.
Throw in Tracy Jr., and Ragaini and that’s a tough top four to break into, especially in just three games, and after just three months in the program.