If you’ve heard Kirk Ferentz speak lately, you’ve noticed him cough. A lot.
The Iowa football coach said he typically develops one late in a season. The work hours are long, there’s been a lot of travel, he’s working daily with a bunch of people, the immune system gets a workout.
So he was caught off guard when he was told he had COVID-19 last week.
“I was really kind of surprised when the positive test came back,” the 65-year-old Ferentz said Sunday afternoon, in a Zoom chat with reporters from his home in Iowa City, where he is isolating. “I’m very, very fortunate that I have not really had much issue. The cough is annoying, but it has subsided a little bit. I haven’t had much issue, and I feel really fortunate because I do realize a lot of people haven’t been so lucky. So I consider myself very lucky, and hopefully it’ll stay that way the rest of the way.”
Ferentz will coach virtually this week as Iowa prepares for the Music City Bowl. Missouri (5-5) will be the opponent Dec. 30 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.
ESPN will have the telecast. Tickets will be available to the general public for the game, which kicks at 3 p.m., through Ticketmaster, with a seating capacity of around 14,000 fans.
“It’s a great reward for our players,” Ferentz said. “An opportunity for us to be together another 10 days and have a chance to compete one more time.
“It’s going to be great for our players to actually play in front of fans. It’s been almost a year, and that’s exciting as well.”
Iowa (6-2) won its final six games of the regular season, had its Big Ten Conference Champions Week game against Michigan canceled Saturday because of COVID-19 issues with the Wolverines and ends up in a less-than-stellar bowl against what appears to be a mediocre opponent despite finishing 15th in the final CFP rankings.
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It’s simple logic that Ferentz is not the only person in the program who has COVID-19 right now, so it will be interesting to see how many coaches and players might have to miss the bowl game. Ferentz said it’s his understanding that he has to isolate for 10 days before returning to in-person coaching.
The Big Ten has announced an amendment to its three-week rule for any player testing positive, shortening time not being able to practice or play to 17 days. That still means any Iowa player who tested positive last week will not be able to play in the bowl.
Ferentz was mum when asked how widespread the virus is within the program. The Iowa athletics department’s weekly COVID-19 numbers release had just one positive test in the department last week.
There should be another one released Monday.
“We haven’t talked about COVID at all this year publicly and don’t plan on it now,” Ferentz said. “If I had my druthers, I would not have announced my (positive test), but it would have become obvious at some point, I think, and it is public knowledge, or at least public information. As far as the rest of our guys, we just haven’t talked about it with our team or staff. We have had staff members over the course of the last however many months test positive, we’ve had guys on the team test positive, probably like everybody else in the country.
“We’ll deal with it. As you know, we were able to play eight straight games, and it would have been nine, minus me, yesterday ... Unless there is a reason to comment, we’re just not going to comment.”
Ferentz said no official player or staff meetings were conducted in the football facility after the official cancellation of the Michigan game Tuesday. Players were told they could go home after completing their virtual final exams last week.
He said official bowl prep begins Monday, with the team scheduled to get together Tuesday and Wednesday mornings for workouts — at least those not in isolation or quarantine. Daily COVID-19 testing for everyone begins again Monday.
Iowa will not leave for Nashville until the day before the game.
“We went eight straight weeks without any issues,” Ferentz said. “We had issues, bumps in the road, but nothing that caused us to shut down the operation. I’m hopeful for 10 more days where we can do the same. I think that was all of our agreement, all of our understanding, that was our desire as a team (when practice first began).
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“We have enjoyed each and every chance to go out and compete, the eight games we have been able to compete in. It’s been great, we have enjoyed each other. If you were able to be in our locker room after games, I think you’d see what I’m talking about. That’s what it’s all about.”
Ferentz was asked if he anticipated any player opting out of the bowl game. For instance, junior defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, was ranked by NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. last week as his 10th-best prospect overall.
Would it behoove Nixon to sit out and not risk injury?
“I don’t anticipate (anyone opting out), but nothing surprises me. Very little in this world does,” Ferentz said. “I’m not sitting here predicting we aren’t going to have any bumps in the road moving forward here. I think it’s already been seen, it can happen anywhere, anytime. Anything can shut down. If it happens to us, it happens to us ... We’ll deal with whatever comes when it comes.”
Missouri lost its final two games of the regular season, including Saturday to Mississippi State, 51-32, a game in which it had just 52 scholarship players available. The Tigers have allowed 148 points in their last three games.
Mizzou has wins over LSU, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansaas and Vanderbilt. Its losses were to Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and MSU.
Quarterback Connor Bazelak has thrown for 2,366 yards and seven touchdowns. Running back Larry Rountree has 972 yards rushing and 14 TDs.
“These young men and coaches are tired. We really are,” Missouri Coach Eli Drinkwitz told reporters postgame Saturday. “I think you saw that tonight. They’re just tired. It’s just been hard. A lot of unknowns for nine months. So, we’re extremely proud to get to this point.”
These teams last played in the 2010 Insight Bowl, with Iowa winning, 27-24.
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