IOWA CITY – Four years ago, I asked Kirk Ferentz how he would spend a year if an Iowa law required state employees to take a one-year sabbatical after 17 years of employment.
A European vacation? Mountain climbing? Anything he couldn’t take the time to experience because he is tied to being the coach of the University of Iowa’s football team?
“I think I’d go watch other coaches coach,” Ferentz said.
Woefully lacking imagination? Some would say so. Others would suggest you can’t effectively do a job like Ferentz’s if you don’t eat, sleep, breathe and love it 24/7/365.
Last week, Ferentz and several of his assistants spent a couple days in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to observe how Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots staff go about their work.
Ferentz knows how to run a football organization and run a football practice. But who gets better at anything once they think they know it all?
The Patriots just finished their spring practice schedule, with four of their eight on-field practices open to the media. Iowa’s coaches were at two practices the media attended. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t have known because 1) it was Ferentz and 2) it was the Patriots.
“It was a great trip,” Ferentz said last Thursday when he was back home in Iowa’s football building.
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“They gave us total access to all the meetings, and watching practice. We get there at 7:30 a.m. and then just watch them coach, watch them teach, how they’re organizing things.”
Such an excursion is nothing new for Ferentz and his assistants. Last year he spent time with the Chicago Bears.
“The (minicamp) practice is not like (summer training) camp, but it’s still good to watch. You see things. I’ve always enjoyed watching other people teach. I like going to clinics, but I’d rather watch somebody actually working and see if you can pick something up.”
The Ferentz/Belichick connection dates to 1993 when Belichick hired then-Maine head coach Ferentz as his offensive line coach when Belichick coached the Cleveland Browns. They were together three years. Belichick got fired, and Ferentz followed the Browns to Baltimore when they moved and became the Ravens. Three years later, Ferentz got the Iowa job.
Belichick became New England’s coach in 2000, and proceeded to build an empire that four months ago won its sixth Super Bowl. Brian Ferentz, now Iowa’s offensive coordinator, worked for Belichick from 2008 to 2011. James Ferentz is a center on the Patriots, and got his second Super Bowl ring last season after collecting the first with the Denver Broncos.
After a practice last week, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com reported that Belichick had Ferentz address the Patriots. He later said this to the reporters there:
“He’s the winningest coach in the history of Iowa football. He’s the longest-tenured FBS coach at one school in football. He’s coached at every level very successfully, so I think his resume speaks for itself. He’s a tremendous person, I learned a lot from him in the three years that he coached for me at the Browns and I’m grateful for our friendship and relationship and the family members that he’s sent us.”
You couldn’t picture Ferentz hanging out with the Dallas Cowboys or Oakland Raiders. The Patriots? Oh yeah.
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“There’s a feeling about their team,” Ferentz said. “You can just kind of feel the way they do things and the togetherness they have for a pro team. Guys just understand what they should be doing, how they should do it.
“This is no big news when it comes to the Patriots, but they’re extremely detailed in terms of their teaching and the things that they do teach. No detail is too small with them. They just really do a good job of not only articulating it, but they show it and then they go out and practice it. They’re not the only team doing that, but they appear to do that on a daily basis, which is pretty good. It’s pretty impressive.”
But there’s always a reminder we don’t really know these people.
The always-stoic, all-business Belichick canceled the last two practices of their OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and instead had his team go paintballing. The 67-year-old Belichick tagged Pats linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
I don’t expect to ever see a photo of Ferentz with paintball gear and garb. But it’s a lot more likely than bumping into him while sightseeing in Paris or hiking up Pikes Peak.
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