It’s a rare day when Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz gets surprised by something happening within his program.
The Hawkeye coach said today in Rock Island that long-time assistant Eric Johnson caught him off guard last week when he reached a decision to leave the Iowa program.
“That one caught me a bit by surprise,” Ferentz said.
Johnson, the Hawkeyes’ recruiting coordinator for the past decade and an assistant defensive line coach the past two years, is leaving coaching to operate a Culver’s restaurant in suburban Nashville.
A member of Ferentz’s original Iowa staff who came to Iowa at the recommendation of defensive coordinator Norm Parker, Johnson cited a desire to have more family time as his young twin daughters become more involved in activities.
“Eric has done a tremendous job with us and I understand his reasoning,” Ferentz said. “I don’t want to speak for him, but I sensed he felt he was at a point in his life where he wanted to review where he was at and where he was headed and he opted to make a change. I respect that.”
Ferentz said Parker’s recommendation to hire Johnson was one of many positive ways Parker impacted the Hawkeye program during his time on the Iowa staff.
The Hawkeyes conclude spring practices on Saturday with a 2 p.m. spring game at Kinnick Stadium and Ferentz said he has already thought about both the short-term and long-term answers for the position Johnson filled.
“I feel like we’re close to having things covered in the short team and we’ll continue to work toward the long-term answer as well,” Ferentz said. “It’s an important role and we’ll consider our options and go from there.”
It’s a rare day when Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz gets surprised by something happening within his program.
Brian Ferentz doesn’t shy away from making his point, even if it raises an eyebrow or two along the way.
The Iowa offensive line coach has on occasion turned to his Twitter account to get his point across, including last fall when he suggested that the game-day experience at Kinnick Stadium was lacking and encouraged fans to create their own energy as Iowa prepared to welcome Wisconsin to town.
“I know that the stadium experience is lacking but this needs your support – do it on your own. Best fans in the country!” Ferentz tweeted the day before the Hawkeyes and Badgers played.
The tweet led to an intense discussion among fans and today, Ferentz said he had no issues with what transpired.
“What I tweeted was exactly what I meant. I had a pretty good understanding of what might happen and I shared that information publicly,” Ferentz said. “Again, it goes back to whatever your personality is, what you’re comfortable sharing and what you’re comfortable commenting on from a social standpoint.”
Ferentz has seen the value of social media in recruiting and he understands as well as any coach on the Iowa staff how powerful a tweet – in 140 characters or less – can be in sending a message that he wants sent.
Ferentz said he attempts to limit his tweets to areas that involve the program he works for.
“I don’t tweet about politics. I don’t tweet about things like that,” he said. “I made a comment about something that I thought was relevant. Has it improved? We’ll find that out when we get to August.”
Ferentz didn’t apologize for stepping on any egos he may have brushed against with his tweet, saying he has the best interest of the football program as the cornerstone of his beliefs.
“What we’re trying to do is provide our fans with the best possible experience on a weekly basis and that starts with us winning football games, certainly that’s important. But, we also come at it with the understanding that fans have options nowadays, unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it,” Ferentz said.
“I know the NFL is dealing with it, and we’re trying to deal with it. What we want is to provide the best possible experience for our fans because we value the contributions, financially and from a time standpoint, that they make to support us.”
Ferentz said the Hawkeyes’ trip last weekend to West Des Moines for a public practice and the annual Kids at Kinnick Day are examples of that outreach.
“We’ll find out as we get to August if we’ve made any progress there or not,” he said. “I can assure you from our standpoint, we intend on winning more than eight games. So, we’re trying to do our part.”
The good, the bad and the ugly from today’s Iowa football open practice, the first impressions left by the Hawkeye team which is nine practices into the 15 it is allowed this spring:
Iowa’s depth is as advertised, improved, never a bad thing in the Big Ten.
The situation is leading to increased competition throughout the Hawkeye roster this spring and a situation where players no matter how experienced understand that playing time is up for grabs.
Iowa is particularly well stocked at the offensive skill positions although two redshirt freshmen running backs coaches hoped to get a good look saw little or no time during the two-and-a-half hour workout. Akrum Wadley saw the field ever so briefly because of a slight injury, while Jonathan Parker was excused from practice to attend a funeral.
The absence allowed Iowa’s receivers to shine. Greg Davis wasn’t simply a tall-talking Texan when he heaped praise in December on the progress he was seeing from four freshmen receivers who redshirted last season.
Derrick Willies, Derrick Mitchell and Andre Harris all had their moments Saturday, taking turns leaving the Hawkeye secondary red faced with a collection of big plays throughout the workout.
Coach Kirk Ferentz was quick to temper enthusiasm about the group, saying that the needed consistency from one day to the next and even the ability to fully grasp and perform within the structure of the offense remains a work in progress for the group.
Their ability to grasp that between now and the end of fall camp will determine just how much playing time those individuals will see, but there is reason to believe that at least one and possibly more will provide contributions to an expanded passing game in the fall.
Among other quick thoughts, Iowa’s three new starters at linebacker had solid days and the defensive front is solid.
On offense, the Hawkeyes’ quarterback depth chart and depth on the offensive line remains unchanged. Jake Rudock looks like a quarterback with a year of starts under his belt. He spent most of the day working with the starting unit, while C.J. Beathard and Nic Shimonek worked with reserves. Beathard is showing growth as well and like Rudock, seems to have a better under understanding of the short passing game.Shimonek has as strong of an arm as advertised and throws a beautiful spiral. On experience alone, he lines up behind the two more experienced arms on the depth chart but he has a bright future in Iowa City with continued growth.
I’ll clean this up, but at one point late in today’s practice assistant coach LeVar Woods took several steps on the field and yelled in the direction of the defense, ‘Would somebody make a $%*@! tackle?” and the suggestion didn’t seem too far out of line.
For nearly every big play a Hawkeye receiver made, a blown coverage or missed tackle opportunity was a factor.
Iowa’s defense did not have one of its better days collectively and it’s clear that both players and coaches weren’t pleased with the effort.
Ferentz mentioned that Iowa probably made as many mistakes Saturday as it had in its previous five practices combined.
Iowa’s secondary remains a work in progress, with Desmond King and Sean Draper opening at the cornerback spots and Jordan Lomax and John Lowdermilk taking the field at the safety positions with the No. 1 defensive unit.
It was an area where some experimentation was anticipated this spring after Tanner Miller competed his eligibility and at least from this one glimpse, it remains a segment where the work continues.
Winds were a factor today, howling out of the south throughout much of the workout to create some chaos in the kicking game.
Punter Connor Kornbrath does appear to be make some strides as he is challenged by Dillon Kidd.
Iowa did have a kick blocked, drawing one of the bigger responses of the day from the crowd. Marshall Koehn and Alden Haffar handled the kicking duties, but breakdowns up front allowed one of the uglier plays of the day to occur.
The latter was simply a reminder that it is April, not August, and performances now – or lack of performances now – will lead to the lineup that will eventually take the field when UNI shows up at Kinnick Stadium.
Ferentz was less-than pleased with today’s performance, probably a sign that he’s seen better in the eight practices leading up to Iowa’s public debut.
There will be five more closed-door workouts before the public gets its next look at Iowa during the April 26 spring game at Kinnick Stadium.
It’s safe to assume that Ferentz and Iowa coaches will be looking for a more consistent performance, particularly on defense, when the Hawkeyes take the field that day.
As was the case a year ago, Iowa is spending plenty of time on the practice field this spring working with a no-huddle approach to offense.
The Hawkeyes used it sparingly last fall, but utilized it as a way to change the pace within the flow of a game as needed.
It led Iowa to average around seven more snaps per game in 2013 than it did in 2012 and offensive coordinator Greg Davis would like to see that average grow from 72 in similar fashion this season.
The first steps in that process are taking place now, testing the reaction abilities of the Hawkeye defense and the ability of the Iowa offense to successfully execute at a higher tempo.
“We’re trying to play faster,” offensive tackle Brandon Scherff said today. “We’ve started working with the no-huddle again and I think it is something that can help us in the fall.”
Running backs coach Chris White said the current objective is bring all personnel groups up to a level where they can effectively execute the no-huddle.
“Whether it’s one tight end in the game, three wide receivers, two tight ends, three tight ends, we want to be able to play as fast as we can in all personnel groupings, which I think will help,” White said.
That is the next step in the development of an offense which made strides in Davis’ second season as Iowa’s coordinator, but still has room for growth.
White said the Iowa playbook has grown in the offseason, although it will remain rooted in fundamentals which have led the Hawkeyes to success in the past.
The challenge this spring at running back, White said, is to figure out where Iowa’s younger running backs fit.
“We’re trying to find out where we can put them, whether it be in the backfield or whether it be in some of the fly motion stuff and sweeps and bubble screens and things like that,” White said.
When discussing the task of filling three starting linebacker positions created by the graduation loss of Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey and James Morris, Iowa assistant LeVar Woods doesn’t believe like to use the term “replace.”
Instead, he understands that what the three players brought to the heart of the Hawkeye defense cannot be replaced. What transpires next season will be an evolution brought about the skills of the indivuduals who eventually earn the starting opportunities.
Woods, who coaches the outside linebacker position, and Jim Reid, who coaches Iowa’s inside linebackers, are tackling the challenge with teamwork.
“We have a lot of young guys that are here now working, some guys with experience in games, some at linebacker and some as part of different packages,” Woods said. “We also have a lot of young faces that no one knows about yet, and we as coaches don’t know about yet. We’re trying as coaches to find out and see if they really are who we think they are, trying to determine if they can put themselves in a position to play and compete and help us win.”
Reid, 63, said the enthusiasm that Iowa’s young players bring to the field and the enthusiasm that Woods offers entering his third season as a linebackers coach in the program, helps keep him young.
“It’s like father son,” Reid said. “Dawned on me the other day that I’m probably not going to do this another 42 years because that would make me 105 years old, as I told one of my players, but you never know.”
Reid said the linebackers Iowa coaches are working with — a group led by Quinton Alston in the middle, Reggie Spearman on the weakside and Travis Perry on the outside — are making strides.
“Every practice that we’ve had, I feel like we’re moving forward and that’s something we need,” Reid said. “Every practice we need to be better in some fashion. We had three tremendous players last year and it was a privilege to coach all of them.”
Reid, who arrived at Iowa from Virginia where he worked as the defensive coordinator from 2010-12 after two seasons as a linebackers coach with the Miami Dolphins, said working with Woods has been enjoyable.
“One thing I can tell young linebackers is that if you come here, you’re not only going to be coached by an Iowa graduate, but that you will be coached by someone who was a great player here and then played seven years in the NFL before he returned here to coach,” Reid said. “It’s a great situation.”
Woods said Reid, much like former Hawkeye defensive coordinator Norm Parker, has become a mentor to him.
“It has been awesome for me, a huge, huge help,” Woods said.
Iowa lost more than a football game on New Year’s Day in Tampa Bay.
The Hawkeyes also spent just under $200,000 more than they were allowed for expenses to play in the 2014 Outback Bowl game, largely due to an increase in cost of charter aircraft.
According to figures released today by the university, Iowa spent $195,249 more than the expense allowance it received of $1.825 million to be the Big Ten representative in the bowl.
The biggest difference between the dollars Iowa spent on a bowl trip following its 2013 season and its most-recent bowl experience prior to that — the 2011 Insight Bowl — can be singled out in increased transportation costs.
Iowa spent $747,227 on round-trip air costs for the team, coaching staff, marching band and the official university delegation on its trip to Tampa.
When it flew to Tempe, Ariz., for the 2011 Insight Bowl, Iowa spent $525,851 on charter aircraft to transport the same groups.
Iowa assistant athletic director Mick Walker, who handles financial operations for the athletic department, said in a statement the increase was anticipated as budgeted for this year’s trip because of similar increases in the cost of charter service expeirenced by other Iowa teams as they have traveled recently.
Walker said bids came in higher than expected in part because of a tight supply of available charter aircraft.
Through its contracts with bowls, the Big Ten assigns a dollar figure to expenses that schools can spend or pocket as they choose based on the bowl the institution qualifies for.
Iowa typically attempts to budget as closely to the dollar figure it receives and this year’s deficit is the first for Iowa since the 2009 Outback Bowl.
The report issued by Iowa indicated that its official travel party numbered 663 people, including players, coaches, support staff, the band and spirit squad. The team spent nine days in Florida, while members of the band, spirit squad and universityu officials made a three-day trip.
Iowa sold 9,085 tickets from the allotment of 11,500 it was required to sell as part of the Big Ten’s agreement with the bowl, nearly 3,000 more tickets than it sold to the 2011 game in Tempe.
Current high school juniors cannot sign binding letters of intent for a little over 10 months, but the Iowa football program has already doubled the size of its recruiting class from the state of Illinois.
Linebacker Jack Hockaday’s verbal commitment over the weekend gives the Hawkeyes two 2015 recruits from the Land of Lincoln, joining quarterback Jack Beneventi in accepting early offers from Iowa coaches.
The large number of Division I players typically produced in the state’s high schools and the proximity of the fertile recruiting turf makes it a natural for Iowa.
However, the Hawkeyes landed just one recruit from Illinois in its incoming 2014 class, linebacker Ben Niemann of Sycamore.
So, the commitments from Hockaday, a quarterback/safety from Maroa-Forsyth in central Illinois who will play linebacker in college, and Beneventi, who quarterbacks Lisle Benet in Chicago’s western suburbs, are significant.
On signing day this year, coach Kirk Ferentz addressed the need for good recruiting results in Illinois for the Hawkeye program.
“I’m confident we’ll be strong in there and we need to be,” Ferentz said. “Same old deal, you can go to the Chicagoland area and back in the time it takes for you to get up to a high school in northwest Iowa. … We need to be strong in there and that’s something we’re working hard on.”
Illinois, and the Chicago suburbs in particular, have been good to the Hawkeyes over the years but the area is a competitive one for talent.
That won’t change – the proximity of O’Hare makes the suburbs of Chicago an easy landing spot for recruiters from across the country – but an expanded presence by Iowa coaches in that area only benefits the Hawkeye program.
The Iowa Board of Regents today approved the naming of new football facilities at the University of Iowa, recognizing a legacy of giving to the Hawkeye football program.
The 76,000-square foot football operations building, currently under construction and scheduled for completion, will be named the Richard O. Jacobson Football Operations Building.
The combined operations building and attached two-year-old indoor practice facility will be known as the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center.
The Hansens have been season ticket holders at Iowa for more than 25 years and made a gift of $8 million to the Iowa Football Legacy Campaign which raised money for construction of the Hawkeyes’ new practice areas, strength and conditioning and training facilities as well as office spaces in a building located west of the UI Recreaton Building.
The Hansens also contributed to Iowa’s recent arena improvement effort.
Jacobson’s generosity extends well beyond the confines of the corner of Melrose Avenue and Evashevski Drive in Iowa City.
His gifts have benefitted football programs at Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa.
The chairman emeritus of the Jacobson Companies, Jacobson’s name was on Iowa’s previous football office and training facility because of a gift he made to fund construction of the Jacobson Athletic Building in 1995.
Elsewhere on the Iowa campus, he contributed $3 million to the Tippie School of Business in 2007 to establish the Richard O. Jacobson Institute for Youth Entrepreneuership.
At Iowa State, the Jacobson Athletic Building sits beyond the north end zone of Jack Trice Stadium, housing offices, locker rooms and training areas for the ISU football program.
In Cedar Falls, Northern Iowa athletes train in the Jacobson Human Performance Center, which houses not only strength and conditioning facilities for the Panthers but also student recreation space.
Elsewhere on the Cedar Falls campus exists the Jacobson Center for Comprehensive Literacy, a program based at UNI which works with Iowa schools to ensure improved literacy of youths.
In today’s announcement of his latest recognition at Iowa, the Belmond, Iowa, native who made a living in businesses ranging from warehousing and logistics to renewable energy, Jacobson explained the genesis of his generosity.
“I am extremely proud to be an Iowan, and I have a deep appreciation and admiration for our state. This state has been very good to me. I enjoy giving back to the place where I grew up,” said Jacobson, a 1958 graduate of Iowa. “I also have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to support all of our Regent institutions. I believe strongly in what they do and how they do it.”
The depth and range of generosity shown by Jacobson illustrates that he also knows how to do it, something all Iowans can learn from.
I can’t say it fast enough – thank goodness.
A day before the NCAA’s 11-member Playing Rules Oversight Committee was scheduled to vote on a 10-second rule it has been tabled.
For once, logic, reason and sanity have seemingly prevailed.
For those of you who have been busy shoveling the driveway – which includes nearly everyone in the Midwest – the panel threw out the notion three weeks ago that it was contemplating the implementation of a 10-second rule in college football.
The rule would have given defenses a 10-second window to substitute and would have prevented offenses from snapping the ball until 29 seconds remaining on the play clock.
A handful of coaches lobbied for the idea, touting it as necessary for player safety. They expressed the notion that the inability to move fresh defensive players onto the field against the growing number of rapid-fire offenses left those players fatigued and thus, increased their risk of injury.
I don’t buy it and wisely, the rules committee didn’t either.
The dirty little secret is that a number of coaches simply don’t like dealing with the proliferation of spread offenses that have become more commonplace in the college game.
There is no question the change in tempo has created headaches for defensive coordinators and has resulted in higher-scoring games that when run effectively provide more entertaining contests for fans than a 10-3 slugfest.
I enjoy a good pitcher’s duel as much as anyone, but at $75 a seat, fans expect more for their three-hour investment and while defenses do win championships, offense still sells tickets.
Iowa has never been accused of playing basketball on grass, but offensive coordinator Greg Davis wants the Hawkeyes to continue to push the pace and increase the tempo.
Iowa increased its average number of plays per game from 67 to 72 last season and Davis indicated prior to the Hawkeyes’ Outback Bowl game that he would like to see that number continue its upward trend.
He threw 79 out as a workable number, something that would allow Iowa to do what it truly wants to do on offense — control the tempo, sometimes playing fast, sometimes playing at a more measured pace as dictated by time and score.
The proposed rule would have altered the Hawkeyes’ ability to do that as they desire and frankly taking that out of the hands of coaches managing games on the sidelines was a bad idea.
Fortunately, the decision to table the proposal means that it will either receive another year’s worth of thought and study or hopefully, it will simply be filed away as an idea that was discussed but deemed unworthy of implementation.
Several years ago, Jim Delany apologized when the Big Ten was forced to move a Minnesota home football game to a Friday night because of Major League Baseball playoffs.
That was then.
This is now.
The Big Ten commissioner is testing the waters, attempting to gauge public opinion about the possibility of scheduling a handful of conference football games on Friday night.
There are already some college games being played on a night traditionally reserved for high school football, but nearly all are made-for-TV match-ups that are being playing by outside of the power conferences.
What Delany is attempting to learn is how interested Big Ten institutions and the fans of those institutions might be about attending an occasional game on a Friday night in the fall.
He’s not talking about the Friday before Labor Day where the prep season has not started in some states or the annual Iowa-Nebraska game played on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
His curiosity has more to do with late September and October and the possibility of providing the Big Ten Network with live game action on those Friday nights.
He’s not talking about doing this anytime soon. It’s more of a thought as the Big Ten prepares for its next round of negotiations with its TV partners once the current contract with ABC and ESPN expires following the 2017 season.
Among his reasons?
With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten beginning this fall, the conference will have more product than ever to peddle to television networks including its own.
Delany is wise to test the marketplace and attempt to learn if there is an appetite for Big Ten football on a Friday or if even a small taste of that would be unappealing to fans.
The idea was first floated yesterday through writers who work for the Big Ten Network. It’s been a launching pad for other ideas in the past, including the geographical division names that will be used in football starting this fall.
There are risks involved in playing on Friday nights during the heart of the high school season, a spotlight traditionally reserved for high school heroes throughout the heartland.
There are logistical issues as well in bringing thousands of fans to a campus on a workday when in many cases parking is already an issue.
Delany appears ready to take his time with this idea, weighing the positives of added exposure and potential additional television revenue against logistical challenges which would impact every campus once every handful of years.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of the idea and in states like Iowa where a number of fans travel a great distance to attend Saturday games, even an occasional Friday home date will be a difficult idea for many fans to swallow long before they face the prospect of getting tangled up in 5 o’clock traffic on a Friday on the Coralville strip.