A new book about Iowa Hawkeyes football has some good perspectives from former players

Quinn Early and Kirk Ferentz in 2009 (Mike Hlas photo)
Quinn Early and Kirk Ferentz in 2009 (Mike Hlas photo)

Normally, I roll my eyes when I get sent a copy of a book about University of Iowa football.

I know how the games turned out. I’ve heard (and covered) the stories. So I seldom read the books. But I’ll step out of character and recommend one called “What It Means to Be a Hawkeye: Kirk Ferentz and Iowa’s Greatest Players.”

The reason I think it’s worth a look is it’s Iowa players from the 1940s to 2010 telling their own stories, what led them to come to Iowa, their memories and feelings about big and little moments in their careers. It’s people with some distance from the program who have a perspective about their college experience.

“What excited me about this book, unlike some others,” co-author Neal Rozendaal said, “is it’s really human-interest. It’s almost autobiographies in a way.”

The book (excerpts are courtesy of Triumph Books) is available at some major online booksellers, and will be in area bookstores as football season nears. It opens with a 10-page foreword by Ferentz, which caught my attention right off the bat.

“That was from a couple of interviews my co-authors (Lyle Hammes and Michael Maxwell) did at different times,” said Rozendaal, an Iowa graduate who is an economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C.

Ferentz emphasized how the Hayden Fry-led staff he worked on at Iowa in the 1980s heavily influenced the model he successfully tried to create as the Hawkeyes’ head coach. His words:

“That was something I was hoping to re-create, and that’s why I took so much time putting my staff together. It was the thing I was probably the most meticulous with. A lot of people had opinions about the pace I worked at, and there were a lot of people questioning the background of some of the people we hired.

“I think the most important thing was getting the right kind of people on board. If you’re doing a good job there, then you’re not getting coaches who only end up being here for two years before leaving for something different.”

Quarterback Matt Sherman played for Fry in the mid-1990s. He talked about Fry coming to Sherman’s tiny high school in St. Ansgar and meeting Sherman’s parents in the guidance counselor’s office.

Sherman’s mother taught German. Fry knew that and began speaking German to her. That made a favorable impression.

“That’s the type of recruiter he was,” Sherman says. “He always won over the mom.”

Quinn Early, who went on to a 12-year NFL career, says he and fellow Iowa wide receiver Robert Smith “hated” Iowa offensive coordinator Bill Snyder early in their Hawkeye days, but came to appreciate and thank him for his drive to make them better.

Warren Holloway said making the game-winning, last-second touchdown Capital One Bowl reception against LSU helped his social life.

Holloway was at a video store looking for a movie, and started flirting with a young woman in the store. An older gentlemen approached him to request an autograph, the woman was impressed, and Holloway got her phone number.

Former Iowa center Brian Ferentz was pretty blunt about the lead-up to that pass from Drew Tate to Holloway in Orlando.

“It was clear to us that we had mismanaged the clock terribly,” Ferentz said. “Of course, we didn’t feel great about that as the last snap went off. While it pains me to say it, one of the things that ran through my mind as I got down in my stance on that last play and noticed the clock running was, How are we going to explain this to the media after the game?”

That’s how a coach thinks more than a player. And Brian is now an assistant with the New England Patriots.

This isn’t a tell-all. It’s a feel-good tome assembled by Hawkeye fans for Hawkeye fans, with a lot of cooperation from the Iowa football program.But these are good stories from people who describe far more than winning ballgames, and who have found real value in sports. It reminds us why we like this stuff.

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