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Pat Harty: Ferentz not concerned with making a splash

[ 0 ] February 5, 2014 |

I used to look forward to college football’s national signing day, but not as much anymore.

The first Wednesday in February has turned into a circus as more and more high-profile recruits announce their decisions before live television audiences and with adults hanging on their every word.

Football is the ultimate team sport, but you lose that sense on national signing day. It’s all about individuals basking in the spotlight and changing their minds at the last second.

There is nothing wrong with a recruit holding a news conference in order to share his special moment with family, friends and the media. These kids all have worked hard to earn their scholarships, so they deserve a chance to celebrate the occasion.

Picking a college is also a life-changing decision, so it makes sense that some recruits would change their mind.

The problem is that some recruits get carried away with the self-adulation and turn a special moment into an embarrassment. The growing trend in which recruits play the hat game by placing three or four hats from each school on a table in front of them and then faking like they’re grabbing one hat before picking another sends the wrong message.

There is also more pressure on kids to commit earlier these days because the recruiting process starts much sooner for them, with some recruits being offered scholarships in the eighth grade. The rush to make a decision often leads to the wrong decision being made.

So much of what happens on signing day sends the wrong message. Class and dignity in many cases are in short supply. Loyalty often gives way to self-entitlement.

That’s not the case at the University of Iowa, though.

That’s partly due to the fact that Iowa rarely lands the kind of high-profile recruit who would draw a national television audience on signing day.

But the self-absorbed way of thinking that persists on signing day also goes against everything Kirk Ferentz believes in as a coach.

Ferentz held his annual signing day news conference Wednesday, and it was similar to all the previous ones he has held. He spoke optimistically about the new additions to the program and he showed his appreciation for the process.

“The thing I remind people, it’s interesting with recruiting, it’s become a big industry, a lot of interest is devoted to it,” Ferentz said. “But it’s really hard for a high school athlete to earn a scholarship at any level. It’s really a significant accomplishment. It’s a real opportunity.

“It’s an opportunity for them to open a new chapter of their lives, earn a degree at a higher-level institution, certainly, and play football at a higher level, too. So as we get past this, that will be the next thing that we’ll be looking forward to, is how that new chapter unfolds for each and every one of the guys.”

Iowa’s 2014 recruiting class won’t scare anybody on paper, but Ferentz’s classes rarely do. Losing four-star offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher to Alabama after he had been committed to Iowa for more than six months was a major blow because Pierschbacher grew up in Cedar Falls cheering the Hawkeyes, and because he’s extremely talented.

But what can you do? Life goes on.

Ferentz was asked what his staff needs to do, besides win more games, in order to attract more four- and five-star recruits.

“I never got too hung up on that,” Ferentz said. “That’s probably a good thing. One of our inherent challenges is population. We’re a state of three million people, so it’s going to be a little tougher that way. Anytime you go on outside of your state or region, it becomes more and more of a challenge unless you’re one of those big brand-name schools.

“We’re proud of who we are. But to think that we’re going to go head-to-head with some of the brand-name schools outside of our region probably isn’t realistic. So we try to spend more time finding guys that remind us of some of the players that have had success here.”

In other words, the Iowa coaches are more concerned about finding the right pieces to the puzzle than trying to finish high in the recruiting rankings. That’s the way it should be.

Ferentz has won enough in 15 seasons at Iowa to say that his approach works more times than not. He has knack for finding hidden gems and his staff has a knack for developing them.

It makes signing day more routine, but I’ll take routine over a circus anytime.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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