IOWA CITY — Brian Ferentz had been radio silent since early June, when dozens of former University of Iowa football players tweeted a lot of unflattering comments about the Hawkeyes football program.
Many were about racial insensitivity. Some suggested comments and actions were racially abusive. If you discounted all of them, you were choosing to bury your head in the sand. The program’s reputation was damaged.
The eye of the hurricane was longtime strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who quickly was bade farewell with a substantial buyout. Brian Ferentz, the offensive coordinator who is the son of head coach Kirk Ferentz, had his name come up less frequently than Doyle’s, but it indeed came up.
For instance, former Iowa defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson of the Minnesota Vikings tweeted “Coach Doyle is the problem in that building. And so is Brian Ferentz. Things won’t progress until those two fix themselves.”
From June until Thursday, Brian Ferentz had no public comments. Clamming up goes against his essence, but either he or his Iowa bosses decided letting things cool down was a smart play. He kept his job. Had the same things been said about him at many other places, he would have been an ex-coordinator.
On what was the Hawkeyes’ 2020 Media Day of sorts Thursday with Kirk Ferentz and his assistants available in individual segments to take questions, Brian Ferentz selected the wisest option he had. He didn’t play a victim, apologized, and emphasized the need to make the environment better for the players.
“It was surprising and difficult and at times very painful to hear those things,” Ferentz said about the barrage of June tweets followed by in-person conversations with former and present Hawkeyes. “I want to make sure I say how appreciative and how much I admire and respect the courage of those players to come forward and tell their truth and be as thoughtful and open and honest as they were.
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“It should be a positive experience for everyone that comes to our program. They should never feel anything but respected and valued as a human being. If any player had a negative experience in our program or at any point did not feel liked or respected on a human level, I am deeply sorry and I offer a sincere apology.”
This essay isn’t about glorifying or vilifying Ferentz. Some will surely complain about this all being brought up again, but Ferentz addressed it Thursday before being asked to do so.
“Growth is difficult,” Ferentz said. “As I think everyone knows, it requires much introspection and it requires a lot of reflection.”
Ferentz said he has “no recollection” of making racially insensitive comments.
He said a former Iowa player told him 'Coach, sometimes you’re just abrasive and your comments could be flippant, and I didn’t know how to take them all the time.'
“When I hear something like that, it’s disappointing. I’m disappointed in myself, that I couldn’t understand how I was being perceived by that player. Not so much what did I say. It’s more about asking the question ‘What did you hear?’"
A coach won’t simply accept a player saying he won’t repeat a mistake without proof, and this coach is now keenly aware it’s a two-way street.
“I think you need to hear from our players a year from now that things are better for them as a more-welcoming environment, a more-inclusive environment, where the players feel more comfortable in that environment,” Ferentz said.
“So a year from now — and I would hope a week from now, two weeks from now all the way up to a year from now — that’s what we’re hearing from our players because that’s what is important.”
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Iowa’s coaches aren’t fools. They knew if they didn’t win back the players, it was game over. The team’s still there, and so the coaching staff is still the same minus the strength guy. A new season for the Hawkeyes, one assumes, is upon us.
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