Longtime coach Kirk Ferentz overhauls Hawkeyes
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) It all seemed so very unlike Kirk Ferentz.
There was the 60-year-old Iowa coach, whose approach to football has often been mocked for being too old-fashioned, teasing new ”blackout” uniforms in front of his Hawkeyes as a song by rapper Rick Ross played in the background.
A fashion show during fall camp?
That would seem to be the last thing the Ferentz of old would ever allow.
”We had some sharp young guys think about some stuff and come up with some ideas and did a little unveiling with our players. It was well-received,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz couldn’t help himself from chuckling that he found it ”amazing” that anyone would be so interested in new uniforms. Still, it was a sign that Ferentz is trying to adapt to changing times after winning just 34 games in the last five seasons.
”It’s a new era, right? New millennium and all that stuff,” said Ferentz, who will open his 17th season at Iowa on Saturday against Illinois State.
And instead of the new coach many fans were hoping for, Iowa has apparently gotten a new Ferentz.
Ferentz, the nation’s second-longest tenured coach, has spent the last eight months overhauling the program. It began in January, when Ferentz seemingly acceded to the howls of a frustrated fan base by elevating backup quarterback C.J. Beathard over two-year starter Jake Rudock.
The move came just a week after Tennessee blew Iowa out in a bowl game and was announced in a depth chart released to the media, a first for Ferentz for that time of year.
It was costly, too. Rudock responded by transferring to Michigan.
It was around that time that players and staff members finally moved into the Hansen Football Performance Center, a 76,000-square foot building that, paired with a new indoor field, is as modern as any football facility in the country.
Ferentz and his staff took advantage of the new digs by snagging way more early commitments than they have in the past. The Hawkeyes currently have their best-ranked recruiting class in about a decade as a result.
Ferentz, who visited with a number of schools in the offseason for new ideas, also switched Iowa’s practices from the afternoon to the morning. The move has been met with wide approval by the players, who’ve said they’ve felt fresher as a result of the switch.
”You’re always looking to get better and always looking for better ways to do things. The world of recruiting has changed dramatically. I think we’ve picked up the pace a little bit. You have to because it’s a national trend, and then this facility has made a big difference,” Ferentz said.
But it’s not as though Ferentz has made all these changes in a vacuum.
Unlike contemporaries like Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and Georgia’s Mark Richt, Ferentz doesn’t have a ranked team that appears poised to compete for a playoff spot.
Ticket sales have also plummeted in recent years for the Hawkeyes. After years of sellouts, they could have as many as 12,000 empty seats for Saturday’s opener.
And even though the $13 million buyout Ferentz would be owed if Iowa fired him before the season starts apparently makes him safe, change could be on the horizon for the entire athletic department.
Longtime university President Sally Mason retired on Aug. 1 – coincidentally the day Ferentz turned 60. Her replacement could be named as early as this week.
Whoever takes over will surely take a long look at the athletic department and director Gary Barta, who’s come under heavy criticism of late.
An internal e-mail from head track coach Layne Anderson obtained by The Associated Press alleges that athletic department administrators ordered a female to be hired over male candidates for an assistant coaching job regardless of qualifications. The Education Department is also investigating gender bias complaints against Barta over his firing of field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and other female head coaches.
But Barta’s decision in 2010 to sign Ferentz to what amounted to a lifetime contract – highlighted by that Ferentz-friendly buyout – has been the move that fans have been harping on as Iowa’s fortunes took a downturn.
So even though alternate uniforms, fancy facilities and more aggressive recruiting have been trends for years around the country, it’s symbolic that Ferentz and the Hawkeyes have joined in.
The game has undergone a revolution since Ferentz took over in 1999, and he finally appears ready to accept it.
”He knows that we have to adapt to the current situation,” Iowa running back LeShun Daniels Jr. said. ”I never thought we’d do blackout uniforms and stuff like that. I guess he’s sort of changing in his ways.”
Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP
On the Web:
Iowa uniform meeting video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0i6ige9fBNE&feature=youtu.be