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Keeler: Ferentz, Barta provide mostly meaningless explanations

[ 67 ] December 14, 2010 |

Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz, right, and athletic director Gary Barta conduct a press conference Tuesday about recent events with the football team.

Iowa City, Ia. — Kirk Ferentz looked like he’d been hit by a fruit truck. Iowa’s football coach bore the haggard mask of a man tired of the questions, tired of the innuendo, tired of the dissent.

Mostly, he just looked tired. Utterly, physically exhausted.

“I anticipate everybody else on the roster to be ready to go, at least on the plane,” Ferentz offered Tuesday morning at the Hayden Fry football complex. “I don’t know about health status, but I expect them to go and play well against Missouri.”

And that was that was that, pretty much, at least as far as hard news. This one wasn’t for us. No, this one was for the parents, the recruits, and the pockets of panic on the message boards; a chance to grab the rumor wheel again before the train takes another crazy turn.

Lose the Monday news cycle, try to salvage the rest of the week.

And in their defense, none of the crazy scenarios bandied about the Internet or theorized on talk radio saw the light of day. There were no mass suspensions. No new transfers. No seismic shifts in the coaching staff. No words of condemnation for Ferentz from his boss, sitting to his right.

“The state of the program is in great hands,” athletic director Gary Barta said. “We’re dealing with some important and challenging issues, but I have great confidence in Kirk’s handling of them.”

While Ferentz sounded more demure than usual, Barta was playing the role of Chip Diller from the movie “Animal House,” imploring Hawkeye fans to remain calm, that all is well. Despite the arrest of star receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos on multiple drug charges last week and whispers that more players might’ve been in on the action, the athletic director even extended a vote of confidence to Chigozie “Chick” Ejiasi, the Hawkeyes’ director of player development.

“In hindsight, I’m pleased from an administrative standpoint with the hire and the decisions,” Barta said. “One of the things we knew when we hired the position, sort of like a quarterback in a football game, they get too much credit when things are going well and too much blame when things aren’t going well.

“We can’t monitor all of our student-athletes. It would just be impossible.”

And so on. As press conferences go, it was little more than a 45-minute Hawkeye infomercial — light on specifics regarding player departures and heavy on platitudes, reassurances and minutiae.

Which is probably what we should’ve expected, really, given that there were university administrators huddled in all corners of the room, most wearing dour, serious glances. Barta even had expert witnesses on hand, including associate athletic director Fred Mims and psychiatrist Del Miller, whom he referred to as an “outside consultant” for the Hawkeyes’ drug-testing program.

“It’s unfortunate that people will get a bad situation,” Mims said, “and apply it to the whole program or department.”

That said, Barta admitted that the athletic department’s testing protocol needs tightening up — the range of charges in the Johnson-Koulianos case raised serious eyebrows — but insisted that the receiver’s arrest; the transfers of Brandon Wegher and Jewel Hampton; and the apparent suspension of Adam Robinson were isolated incidents.

Sometimes, where there’s smoke, there’s just more — well, smoke.

“My guess is, the behaviors of this year’s team off-the-field — I’m just guessing at this — probably aren’t much different (from last season),” Ferentz noted. “We had a lot of the same parties on the team last year. When you win 11 games, everything’s fine. And when you win seven, it’s a whole different level of scrutiny.”

As he said it, his voice seemed to tail off into the distance. The last six weeks appear to have aged Ferentz appreciably. In that, he is hardly alone.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Sean Keeler: Sean Keeler has been a sports columnist at The Des Moines Register since 2002. Got a story tip, comment, complaint? E-mail him at skeeler@dmreg.com. You can follow him on twitter at twitter.com/seankeeler or on Facebook at facebook.com/smkeeler. View author profile.

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