Kirk Ferentz stood at the podium Thursday in the Hansen Football Performance Center. His voice quivered at one particular question.
Not surprising. What a difference a year makes.
Ferentz stood at that podium for his second-straight January press conference, and the circumstances from this year to last were vastly different. The question which made him emotional — at least for a brief moment — referenced how much more enjoyable standing up there was this time around following a 12-0 regular season, a berth in the Big Ten Championship, and a berth in the Rose Bowl.
"I’m not going to say I’m ‘Happy Kirk,’ but (the 2015 season) was enjoyable because of the people," Ferentz said. "That’s what makes coaching special. When you see people do things they weren’t sure they could do or attain, that’s the joy in coaching or teaching. That’s the most gratifying thing you get to enjoy."
By contrast, Ferentz assessed the state of the program in January 2015. There were more questions than answers after a 7-6 season in 2014, which followed an 8-5 mark in 2013 and a 4-8 mark in 2012.
If this year proved to be a test for Ferentz and the Iowa football team, consider the test passed.
Iowa won all four of its rivalry games, went undefeated in the regular season, lost by only a field goal in the conference finale in Indianapolis, and returned to the Rose Bowl for the first time in a quarter-century.
"There were a lot of experiences last year that were really gratifying for everyone here," Ferentz said. "For the players to see what it takes to be on a good team — you don’t have to go 12-0 to do that — but that’s the fun in this whole thing."
Quarterback C.J. Beathard flourished, passing for 2,809 yards and 17 touchdowns and running for 237 yards and six scores. Beathard piloted an offense that finished fifth in the Big Ten. Running back Jordan Canzeri piled up 984 yards and 12 touchdowns. Receiver Matt VandeBerg caught 65 passes for 703 yards and four touchdowns.
On defense, the Hawkeyes ranked sixth in the league. Desmond King won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back, recording eight interceptions to tie a school record. Linebackers Josey Jewell and Cole Fisher posted 126 and 116 total tackles, respectively. Defensive end Drew Ott made five sacks before his injuries.
The outcomes of 2015 make 2016 much anticipated. The team will regroup and begin offseason work Jan. 19.
Iowa could be ranked in the preseason top 10. With Beathard and King returning for their senior years, among other returnees, the Hawkeyes will be favorites to repeat as Big Ten West champions.
"We’ll be back together for the first time on the 19th," Ferentz said. "We’ll turn the page at that point. The reality is this is a new team coming together on the 19th. It’s a new year and we’ll have new challenges in front of us."
Despite those challenges ahead, Iowa built a profile in 2015 on both a regional and national level that will pay dividends for the foreseeable future.
That's something to remember. And something to build further upon in 2016.
"It was a really special year," Ferentz said. "We’ll enjoy it for a couple more days, which is tough because we lost a bowl game, but big picture-wise, it was a really fun, enjoyable, and gratifying year.
"Now the challenge is to not surpass that, but what can we do with this opportunity ahead? What’s the best this team can do? That’s the race we’ll be running here in a couple of weeks."