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Keeler: Why did Ferentz take so long to say all the right things?

[ 49 ] February 2, 2011 |

Iowa City, Ia. — You know what’s funny? Few people get what we do better than Kirk Ferentz does. Iowa’s football coach is an English Education major, for crying out loud, a man who reads like a fiend. If Ferentz one day wanted to go the Urban Meyer route, hang up the whistle and become an ESPN desk jockey, in terms of candor, insight and perspective, he’d probably knock it out of the park.

But this — this was not good. We’re not talking about strength coach Chris Doyle’s workouts, although even the most rabid Hawkeye fan would admit that having 13 kids hospitalized at once with rhabdomyolysis is downright scary. Ferentz should’ve known the national pundits were going to see that headline, scream bloody murder, and whack him over the head with it.
No, in hindsight, the coach’s greatest sin was letting his program twist in the wind for a week before he finally stepped in front of the cameras, before he finally grabbed the story by the horns.

Because once he did take the microphone, Ferentz nailed it. He kicked Wednesday’s news conference like Nate Kaeding in wingtips, right through the middle of the uprights.
After being accused of basking in hubris, Ferentz countered with a slice of pathos. He recalled his own angst, as a parent, when his oldest son Brian suffered a staph infection that almost cost him a leg.

“A day in the hospital or a night in the hospital feels like a week,” the elder Ferentz said. “Your whole word stops. It’s a tough experience.”

Wednesday was no picnic, either, but Ferentz handled the hard questions and the softballs with thoughtful aplomb.

He refuted any claims that what happened was somehow the fault of the players. He explained that the grind in question had been attempted three other times — December 2000, June 2004 and December 2007 — without any serious injuries or repercussions. And, wisely, that it would be discontinued until all parties are assured that it’s safe.

He denied that the workout — which allegedly included 100 squats and the pulling of a sled within a certain timeframe — was punitive in any way. Ferentz also defended Doyle and corroborated a report that the strength coach had told Hawkeye players that they were going to find, out, in so many words, who wanted to be here, and who didn’t.

“I don’t want to work with people who aren’t committed and I don’t want to coach players that aren’t committed,” Ferentz said. “So I don’t have any problems with those words. And I will say this: Our workouts are challenging by design, and they’re also safe by design and (supervised).”
When pressed for a timetable, the coach explained that he’d returned from recruiting last Tuesday and attempted to reach the parents of all 13 of the players affected, getting a hold of nine and leaving voicemails with the other four.

“And the only thing I think I would inject there is I would guess that perhaps my appearance that day, my presence that day, could have provided a calming influence,” Ferentz said. “And I may have underestimated that.”

He did, but owned up to the mistake — just as he owned the presser and the controversial workouts. More than that, he owned the blame.

“Ultimately, it’s my responsibility,” Ferentz said. “I’m the head coach.”

A good one, too, which made his no-show at last week’s hastily-arranged news conference all the more puzzling. In fact, if Ferentz says last Wednesday what he said during this one — well, the story doesn’t go away, but at least the fiery rhetoric cools off a little.

“I could have done anything, that’s for sure,” the coach offered. “Perhaps it was bad judgment on my part. It’s a call that I made, like going for it on fourth (down). Sometimes you’re right, sometimes, you’re wrong.”

Wednesday, he was right on the money. Which begs the question: What the heck took so long?

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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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