By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor
Q&A with University of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz
Kirk Ferentz is the winningest coach in the history of University of Iowa football with a lifetime record of 152-101. Ferentz led Iowa to Big Ten Conference championships in 2002, 2004 and 2015.
Thanks for joining us for the summer edition. What are some of the things you’re working on during this time of year?
“For coaches, it’s a great opportunity to go through your system on film and do some advanced scouting. We do more self-study. Maybe I’ll visit with other people about ideas that I might want to integrate into our program. Take advantage of the resources you have around you, and visit with people that you think do things that might be beneficial to your program. It could be anybody, any sport, or any business. There are millions of people you could visit that would help you.”
From a strength and conditioning standpoint, what’s changed at the college level that maybe hasn’t yet trickled down to high school football?
“My encouragement there is this: Whatever position you’re coaching, whatever you’re responsible for, learn from people who are qualified in that field. My high school coach went to the Pittsburgh Steelers to learn about their strength program. Whatever you’re responsible for learning, make sure you find people who are knowledgeable in that area. Sometimes, the quality of the college facilities and equipment might not transfer directly. Take what pertains to your program and fit it to the athletes.”
Why haven’t you taken any NFL head coaching jobs you’ve been offered?
“One of my mentors once told me there are two kinds of coaches – coaches who are in it to be head coaches and coaches who love coaching. I’ve tried to enjoy every day as best I could at my given responsibility. I’ve tried to learn. That’s incumbent for all of us. We do the best we can do as coaches, and we ask the players to do that too. I wouldn’t describe myself as someone who is preoccupied with the next job.”
You coached on a Cleveland Browns staff with Bill Belichick and Nick Saban. What did you learn from those two?
“It’s kind of interesting; I’ve been in two situations like that. When I came here in 1981, that staff included Barry Alvarez, Bill Snyder and Dan McCarney. The commonality is that somebody had to pick the right people. It was Coach (Hayden) Frye here in the 1980’s, and Coach Belichick in Cleveland. The bottom line in Cleveland was it was a great atmosphere and football environment. At the time, not many people recognized how gifted Belichick was. History has proven that to be a fact. He was a Hall of Fame coach in Cleveland, just a rare person and coach. We were all young, and we learned that if you pay attention to what you’re doing and keep your mouth shut, you might learn something.”
How do you handle a player who is getting into trouble or not going to class?
“I’ve read that the problem with millennials is they always need you to explain why. I think that’s ludicrous. The best teachers always explain why. That’s the essence of teaching. Discipline is getting people to understand this is why we do this. Some things are negotiable, some are not. It comes down to education and explaining why this is important.”
How do you keep the parents of players from becoming negative influences on the program?
“We’ve got to educate the parents on what this experience is about. What are the goals? What are we trying to accomplish? The reality is very few high school players are going to become scholarship athletes. Educate parents on what the realities are. The best thing I’ve heard about this was from legendary De La Salle (Calif.) High coach Bob Ladouceur. He said the goal of his team every season was for the players to have the ultimate team experience. That takes a little bit of salesmanship and education to get the parents to buy in. They might say, ‘My kid’s 5-8, and Bob Sanders was 5-8.’ Well, Bob Sanders was dynamite. Our guys might dream of making it to the NFL, but every player SHOULD get a degree. That’s realistic. Make sure you’re advocating for that.”
What new piece of technology are you using that helps your team?
“We’re fortunate to be able see the way our GPS technology puts science behind our intuition. Everybody develops senses, and now this puts science behind it. Our strength coach might say that two guys are getting up their high-speed volume workload. Maybe it’s a receiver/return guy, and he’s a good voice of caution to have the player sit out a punt. Maybe he’ll develop a hamstring issue if we leave him out there. Teaching a safe and effective way play is critical. I stress the importance of three simple things with my players. The first is the importance of sleep and rest. The second is good training and nutrition. The third is social media. I encourage them to track their sleep and social media use, and it’s usually tied together. Take those three steps, and your guys can get an edge.”
Ferentz’s Recruiting Philosophy
Ferentz takes pride in running a program like a high school coach. He takes the best local talent and takes pride in developing the players.
“If you find a really good high school coach, chances are he’s a really good teacher who understands the basics,” Ferentz said. “In high school, you coach the athletes you have.”
Ferentz encourages high school coaches to recruit in their own schools.
“The best recruiting in high school is done within the hallways,” Ferentz said. “If you’re not doing that, shame on you. If you see a guy playing basketball or running track who isn’t playing football, you’re crazy not to recruit him.”
The Iowa coaches don’t set minimum requirements for height and weight at each position because they understand players ca outperform those metrics.
“We have 3 million people in our state,” Ferentz said. “We’re playing in a conference with teams that have stadiums that seat 100,000-plus. We can’t turn our nose or look down our nose at a 6-foot center.
“A player who impacted our program more than anybody in the last decade was Bob Sanders. He was 5 feet, 8 inches tall out of high school, 5 feet, 8 inches out of college, and 5 feet, 8 inches when he was the defensive MVP of a Super Bowl. If he wasn’t 5 foot, 8 inches tall, he wouldn’t have come here.”