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IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz is in his 23rd season as Iowa’s football coach. For all the success and stability in his program, there have been times when being blind or hardheaded about things set him back.
People believe what they believe, and if what they believe worked well for them? If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it, right?
But things corrode if you don’t keep your eyes and mind open. The issues many Black former Hawkeye players brought to light a year ago more than suggested Iowa’s football program needed changing.
A pending $20 million federal racial discrimination lawsuit by eight former players accusing Hawkeye athletics staff members of racially motivated discrimination, harassment and bullying has been set for a jury trial in May 2023.
The university attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed. Some of the defendants from the lawsuit, including Ferentz, were dropped. Two counts, including one alleging current offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and former strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle “regularly used verbal abuse and racial epithets” and “intentionally discriminated” against the players, remained in the suit.
It’s a subject that seldom surfaces now. If any Black players on the current team have qualms about the current Iowa coaching staff, they have hidden them well.
Changes in the program on a less-critical level also have happened,
As of Tuesday afternoon, Iowa offensive line George Barnett was scheduled to meet with media members Wednesday morning via Zoom. That in itself isn’t news. However, a Ferentz assistant coach doing an interview during a game week may be unprecedented.
It once was media could interview the assistants on the team’s Media Day in August. We got one media session with the coordinators during the Hawkeyes’ bye week. We got them again during the week of an Iowa bowl game if the bowl required it.
This summer, Brian Ferentz did a three-hour podcast with the Des Moines Register’s Chad Leistikow. Three hours!
The Gazette’s Leah Vann had webcasts this offseason with two Iowa assistant coaches, its strength and conditioning coach, and its recruiting director. Assistant coach Kelvin Bell gave a chalk talk on defensive line play. For the world to see!
“Evolution, right?” Kirk Ferentz joked Tuesday when asked about bringing down his iron curtains. “I'm trying to get another ‘New Kirk’ round going.
“Seriously, we’re trying to do what we think is good for everybody. We’re going to try to do our part and share information as much as we can that's going to help us and help everybody else, too.”
Iowa went 7-6 in 2014 and got handled by Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The season’s unhappy ending wasn’t helped by Ferentz not being particularly graceful in late-season postgame press conferences. He said that bothered him upon reflection.
In 2015 he hired Wixted & Company, a West Des Moines firm that helps clients present themselves to the media. They worked with him to craft and prioritize his thoughts before press conferences, including those immediately after games.
His messages and delivery got tighter and have remained that way.
This is 2021. Everyone, everywhere is fighting for a piece of everyone else’s attention span. Home sellouts aren’t a given. You can still hound high school recruits via phone, but now you need to catch their eyes as they look at those phones.
Assistant coaches can’t be nameless and faceless, and Iowa now gets it.
“I think part of it is self-serving,” Ferentz said. “I think we've got great bench strength. We have a great group of coaches.
“We're trying to get a little more exposure, a little bit more perspective for not only you folks but the people that follow you to learn a little bit more about our program. So it's a little more sharing of information, sharing of people in the program and trying to do it in a judicious way.“
Were it up to Ferentz things would be like they were 10, 20, maybe 50 years ago. But they aren’t.
“My number one concern right now is everybody doing the job they're getting paid to do,” he said. “During the season, especially. And so I'm not against access. But boy, I tell you, everybody's busy right now.”
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