IOWA CITY — Last season was Kirk Ferentz’s 20th at the University of Iowa. He set the school’s record for victories by a head coach in the opener. The milestones are multitude.
Last season also was strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle’s 20th at the UI. Ferentz hired Doyle almost 21 years ago with the idea that strength and conditioning was going to be an element that pulls Iowa forward. If the Hawkeyes couldn’t recruit game-ready linemen, Chris Doyle was going to develop them.
“Chris has been the one common denominator throughout the whole thing, from start to finish,” Ferentz said in 2016. “That’s one of the things I really value. Beyond his expertise of coaching, Chris, not that we’re the same, but we were schooled the same, the same school, I guess. Both of us have a common denominator with Joe Moore (late college football O-line coach who Ferentz considers an important mentor). We’re constantly exchanging ideas.
“Probably everybody has somebody like that throughout their careers. And it is unique, we’ve both been here awhile now, so we’ve seen the same history. Maybe I know something he doesn’t know or he knows something I don’t know about certain experiences he had, but there’s a lot of common ground there.”
When you’re somewhere 20 years, your world within grows. You own your thing, 20 years of service screams that. You also raise your hand for other things.
Doyle is on the constant lookout for innovation and motivation. He generates the “Break the Rock” and “Enter the Black” and many of the themes you’ve heard the program embrace through the 20 years.
Motivation? Remember O-lineman Tristan Wirfs hang cleaning 450 pounds four times?
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“They say the lead dog sets the pace for the pack,” Doyle said. “When you see that going on in the weight room, as much as anything, I’m a believer that elevates everyone’s performance. ... So, when someone looks over and sees Tristan Wirfs and he hang cleans 450 through a set of four, they’re all into that. That’s a really huge lift.
“ ... Everyone in the room looks over and thinks, ‘If he can do that, maybe I can hang clean 300 four times for the first time? Maybe I can do something I haven’t done before.’”
When it’s NFL draft time, Doyle is the one in the Hansen Center chatting with NFL scouts, giving them insight into Hawkeyes.
This year, a lot of that talk has centered on tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant. They’ve been invited to the draft. You will see them on TV in the first round of the NFL Draft Thursday night.
“They both come from great families,” Doyle said. “They come in here and I believe iron sharpens iron. They benefited from one another. When you walk into a room and there’s another guy who’s potentially a first-round draft pick at your position, I believe T.J. benefited from Noah and Noah benefited from T.J. and that continued to drive each other’s game up.”
When you’re somewhere 20 years, especially when it comes to the relationships you need to build a healthy football team culture, you’re part of the story, you’re ingrained in the history.
In a way, Doyle is the historian. This works in a natural manner.
Former Hawkeyes who are in the NFL and in the Iowa City area work out in the Hansen Center. Marshal Yanda played with the Hawkeyes in 2005-06. He was picked in the third round of the 2007 draft by the Baltimore Ravens and he recently signed a one-year contract extension for his 13th season with the team.
Yanda is “of” the Iowa program. He was lightly recruited at Anamosa High School. He needed two years at North Iowa Area Community College to get his academics right. He arrived at Iowa, played guard and tackle and elevated himself into the third round.
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“There’s not a more respected player in the National Football League than Marshal,” Doyle said.
Living in the area, of course, Yanda has a locker in the Hansen. Of course, there’s a ton of value in having former Hawkeye NFLers working out along with current Hawkeyes in the building.
Doyle told the story about the shoes Yanda keeps in that locker. They’re a pair of Nikes (red and gray “Frees”) from his first Pro Bowl (there have been seven of those, by the way) in 2011.
He still trains in those shoes.
“I said, ‘Marshal, ...’ he can afford any shoes he wants,” Doyle said, “I said, ‘Why?’ He said because it’s a reminder what it took. ‘It keeps me grounded and it reminds me of what I did to achieve that level of success and what I need to continue to do on a daily basis.’”
The shoes sit in the Hansen. They only come out of the locker when it’s time to work. And when it’s time to work, Yanda is doing his thing alongside current Hawkeyes. They do the same stuff and they do it side by side.
“When our kids see someone with that kind of humility, that kind of work ethic,” Doyle said, “he doesn’t look back on the dominance. ‘I don’t need to do that anymore.’ He says, ‘I have to do exactly what they’re doing, because they’re growing and I need to keep growing.’”
See how the culture actually fosters itself? That’s what Doyle has been doing for 20-plus years. Among other things, a whole bunch of other things.
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