By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – In his 23 seasons as the Iowa football coach, Kirk Ferentz rarely has said the wrong thing publicly.
Ferentz is polished and respectful, sometimes to the point of being boring and redundant.
It’s never about him, and his players are held in the highest regard.
But even Kirk Ferentz can drift out of his comfort zone and put his foot in his mouth as he did recently when he joked to the media about the possibility of having to use Deuce Hogan at quarterback against Nebraska in the regular season finale.
Ferentz made the comment during his post-game interview following Iowa’s 28-21 win over Nebraska on Nov. 26 in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“If it was Deuce, with all due respect to Deuce, I might have stayed in Iowa City,” Ferentz said.
Just a few days later, news broke that Hogan, a redshirt freshman from Southlake, Texas, had entered the transfer portal and then he confirmed it this past Sunday on Twitter.
And, yes, Ferentz’s comment fueled Hogan’s exit based on what Hogan’s mother recently posted on her Facebook page.
In fact, Amy Hogan said it’s the sole reason for him leaving the team abruptly.
“Deuce did not leave because of playing time, she wrote. “The head coach slandered him in a press conference. Very out of character for the head coach…he was trying to be funny …unfortunately, there was not backtracking on his mistake. He has since apologized to Deuce, to the team, and the media. But Deuce cannot play for him…and everyone in the facility understands why.”
It seems rather obvious that Ferentz was trying to be funny, but he failed miserably.
Iowa had just won an emotional game to cap a week in which Iowa’s the top two quarterbacks – Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla – had been hampered by the flu, and Ferentz was addressing the health issues at quarterback when he made the comment about Hogan.
The biggest problem is that Ferentz mentioned Hogan’s name, and Ferentz later said he regretted singling out Hogan.
It just wasn’t a good look for a coach who usually tries so hard to look good from a decency and public relations standpoint, and who tries so hard not to offend anybody publicly, especially his players.
Whether you believe that playing time wasn’t an issue, or if you believe that Hogan is using Ferentz’s comment as a convenient exit strategy due to being buried on the depth chart, it doesn’t really matter.
Ferentz said what he said, and it was out of character for him because it was disrespectful.
“In retrospect I wish I had not named the name,” Ferentz said last Tuesday at weekly press conference. “In the team meeting, that might be — hopefully everybody laughed, that type of thing, because the bottom line, I’m not going to coach a player through the media or say something that’s hurtful or malicious towards a player. To me, it’s not appropriate.
“I did share that with the team on Sunday, that exact point. I wanted to make sure I understood, if I have an issue with any player, we’ll have a private visit. That’s where that will be, because I don’t like to air that kind of stuff out in public. It was by no means that way, but in retrospect I wish I hadn’t said it, quite frankly.”
Some head coaches don’t have a filter and will speak their mind publicly, even if it means offending one of their players.
Kirk Ferentz isn’t like that.
He not only avoids criticizing his players publicly Ferentz, sometimes, will defend his players publicly when others, including the media, criticize them.
That’s why the comment about Hogan was shocking because it was so out of character for Iowa’s 66-year old head coach.
The timing of the comment also left much to be desired with Iowa struggling at the quarterback position.
Hogan already was a fan favorite when he came to Iowa because he was the first player to commit to the 2020 recruiting class, and because he helped recruit other players to the class.
He also came from talent-rich Texas and had some impressive scholarship offers.
But after two years of being a Hawkeye, Hogan still was buried on the depth chart despite Iowa’s lack of productivity at quarterback.
It seems obvious that Hogan never came close to starting just based on what Ferentz said after the Nebraska game.
This is an unfortunate situation that could’ve easily been avoided, an isolated incident involving a head coach who should know better.
Ferentz basically gave Hogan a way to leave without making it about playing time, even if it was mostly about playing time.
It’s hard to think of another time when Kirk Ferentz said or did the wrong thing publicly as the Iowa head coach.
You maybe have to go all the way back to when Ferentz recognized then Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle at an I-Club event in 2011, and just a few months after multiple Iowa players had been hospitalized due to a muscle disorder following grueling offseason workouts that left them with extreme soreness and discolored urine.
It came off as a slap in the face to the players who were hospitalized.
Doyle is no longer at Iowa after having been relieved of his duties in the summer of 2020 in the wake of multiple former black Iowa players accusing him of racial disparities.
As for Ferentz’s comment about Hogan, there is no taking it back and the damage already is done.
The only option for all parties is to move on, and for Ferentz, that means preparing for the Citrus Bowl where Iowa will face Kentucky on New Year’s Day in Orlando.
Hogan’s departure leaves Iowa with three quarterbacks currently on scholarship: Petras, Padilla and true freshman Joey Labas.
It seems highly unlikely that Kirk Ferentz will now start poking fun of his players on a regular basis to the media because he has too much class.
Ferentz is more likely to restructure his offense than start throwing players under the bus.
What caused Ferentz to break from character at Hogan’s expense is hard to understand.
But Ferentz has apologized for his comment, and that’s really all he can do at this stage.