It’s been a week of finding your voice for a lot of college football programs. These teams are built within a total societal spectrum. You have players from Ottosen, Iowa, and you have players from Newark, N.J., and you have everything that comes with that.
Amid the national outcry over the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, Power Five college football coaches started issuing statements left and right on social media late last week.
Iowa players wondered when they would hear something from their head coach, Kirk Ferentz.
That eventually happened Monday night, but during a video conference with reporters Wednesday, Ferentz shared his thoughts on what to say and when to speak. Social media is not Ferentz’s preferred mode of communication, but in this case, Ferentz said he could see the value in a quick response.
It’s what his players wanted.
“If I had to do one thing over again, one thing I’ve learned from our players is the value of putting something out there on social media to show support,” Ferentz said. “In retrospect, what I’ve learned is how important that is to our players.
“... Sometimes, it’s too easy to just put something on paper and throw it out there. To me, it’s more important to deliver the message face-to-face. That’s one thing I’ve heard loud and clear, not from every player I’ve talked with, but several.”
During that time, Iowa’s assistants had already gone to work on the concept of togetherness. In a position video conference meeting last week, an Iowa assistant coach asked his players what instructions their parents have given them if they’re ever pulled over by the police.
As you can imagine, two very different perspectives emerged.
“I think it was a really good exercise for all of our players to realize that there are a couple of different sets of rules,” Ferentz said. “That kind of takes me back to what I heard Sunday morning, that there’s something inherently wrong about that.”
Ferentz made sure his players walked into the week knowing listening and dialogue will be keys in communication, enlightenment and any path toward harmony.
“In any program that’s done right, it’s all about the players being educated,” Ferentz said, “whether it’s their coursework or real-life events, and this is certainly part of that.”
In 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the anthem and controversy exploded, reaching into Iowa’s weekly news conferences. Ferentz was hard core on the kneeling topic. He wanted his team to be uniform on game day and not focused on an individual element. He said that again Wednesday. This time he said if everyone wants to kneel, then everyone would kneel.
“As we move forward now, I think it’s important we’re all together,” Ferentz said. “Whether it’s appropriate or not in a sports venue, yeah, that’s a discussion to be had, and certainly, when we come back, we’ll talk about that as a team. My goal as the coach is whatever we decide to do, and if it pertains to that particular thing, I’d just like to see our team be together, so everyone is taking a knee or everyone is standing at attention, but the big thing is to be together as a football team on game day and present a uniform appearance as a football team.”
In regard to football and the team, yes, COVID-19 is shaping what is turning out to be the start of the 2020 football season. The Hawkeyes will meet June 8 with veteran players and staff reporting. There will be masks, there will be social distancing, but there also will be football. Twenty-four first-year players will report June 15.
There will be one entrance to the Hansen Football Performance Center. Check-ins will include a temperature check, a medical survey. Those who make it through will be given wristbands to signify they’ve been checked. Times for workouts will be spaced out for proper cleaning.
All players, coaches and staff will be tested as a baseline before this gets started. Iowa players haven’t officially worked out since March 13, with the majority of the team finding workout arenas close to their quarantine homes.
During video meetings with Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, Ferentz picked up on what he considers a “bright spot” for the potential return to the game. Warren pointed to the previous 40 days and noted everything that’s been learned and the implementation of procedures for safety.
What could the possibilities be 40 days from now?
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“I think the picture is a little brighter right now, certainly,” Ferentz said. “And then we’re hopeful. If we’re smart about things moving forward. When we come out of the July 4 break, hopefully we’ll continue to see daylight and have a chance to proceed.”
And then maybe Ferentz’s staff will be able to quit using Zoom for meetings, which is something they’re still doing even though most of them are back in the building.
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