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How Iowa keeps its offensive line tradition alive

[ 0 ] April 20, 2013 |
Offensive line coach Brian Ferentz during practice this spring. (Benjamin Roberts/Iowa City Press-Citizen)

Offensive line coach Brian Ferentz during practice this spring. (Benjamin Roberts/Iowa City Press-Citizen)

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Brian Ferentz coaches a tradition-rich position at Iowa.

He’s in his second season as the Hawkeyes’ offensive line coach. Thirteen offensive linemen at Iowa have been selected in the NFL Draft since 2003, the highest number of any program nationally. That includes first-round picks Robert Gallery, the 2003 Outland Trophy winner; Bryan Bulaga in 2010 and Riley Reiff in 2012. But Ferentz is more concerned with the process than the pros.

“Certainly you better have reverence for the past, and you better understand it,” Ferentz said. “And understand how it impacts what we’re doing today and the future. But what we worry about every day is the process. And what will we do today that is going to determine our success in the future? If that means putting guys in the National Football League, then that’s a great by-product.

“But what we’re more worried about here is graduating guys, and winning football games.”

MORE: Has Iowa found its next great offensive lineman?

Iowa’s offensive line reputation started when Kirk Ferentz, now the head coach, was hired by Hayden Fry to coach that position in 1981. Kirk Ferentz coached three first-round NFL picks in Ron Hallstrom, 1982; John Alt, 1984; and Mike Haight, 1986. Brian Ferentz is the fifth man to hold the offensive line position since his father, following John O’Hara, Frank Verducci, Joe Philbin and Reese Morgan, now Iowa’s defensive line coach.

Kirk Ferentz left Iowa to coach Maine in 1990, then coached the offensive line in the NFL at Baltimore and Cleveland for five seasons before returning to Iowa to succeed Fry in 1999. Kirk Ferentz said Iowa’s best offensive linemen have one similar trait.

“The desire to be good and the willingness to work hard at it,” Kirk Ferentz said. “I don’t think that’s changed, and it’s been 30-some years.”

Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo was watching a recent practice when Brian Ferentz split up the offensive line. Brian took the guards and centers, and Kirk Ferentz took the tackles.

“After the drill I said to Kirk, “Brian’s got a pretty good graduate assistant there,’ ” DiNardo said. “My point is that Kirk is an offensive line coach by trade. Brian’s a very good offensive line coach. But I think it does a great thing for an offensive lineman’s morale when the head coach is coaching you.”

DiNardo said that Iowa’s reputation for developing offensive linemen helps keep the pipeline open.

“Iowa obviously benefits from that reputation in recruiting, that they have a lot of really good offensive linemen who come through there and go on to the NFL,” DiNardo said.

Brian Ferentz will mold this season’s offensive line from 16 pieces – seven players who redshirted last season and nine who played at least a snap in 2012. Seven of those nine have started at least one game. Three-year letterman and right tackle Brett Van Sloten has 12 career starts. Austin Blythe (nine career starts) has moved to center to replace James Ferentz, one of two seniors in the offensive line last season. The other was Matt Tobin.

How many future NFL players are on today’s roster remains to be seen.

“The only pressure I feel is to give my best to the players we have to get them prepared for whatever we are doing that day, because those things will all stack up in the end,” said Brian Ferentz, who returned to Iowa after three seasons on coach Bill Belichick’s New England staff.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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