Leistikow: Chris Doyle remains bullish on Hawkeyes' football culture
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Externally, four Iowa football seasons stand out in the 20-year Kirk Ferentz era.
The 2002, 2009 and 2015 teams won at least 11 games apiece and were chosen for a major bowl game. The 2004 team shared a piece of the Big Ten Conference championship and cemented legendary status on a desperation throw from Drew Tate to Warren Holloway.
“Those are the four years that oftentimes people will point to,” 20th-year Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle told the Register in a sit-down interview that aired on Wednesday night’s Hawk Central radio show in Des Moines.
But internally, two others stand out.
“As you sit back as a coaching staff,” Doyle continued, “I don’t know of more rewarding years than ’08. (It) was a really special year for us. And also, ’13 was a special year for us.”
The 2008 team experienced close losses throughout an 8-4 regular season.
Ditto in 2013.
Ring a bell?
“In both of those seasons, we had an incredibly committed senior class,” Doyle said, “that really got the most out of everything they had to offer. They both experienced four-loss seasons. Yet at the end of the year as a staff … we felt really, really good about the progress that was made and about the impact that senior group had on it.”
Those senior groups had varying success in bowl games; the 2008 team won the Outback Bowl against South Carolina to finish 9-4; the 2013 team lost the Outback to LSU to finish 8-5.
The 2018 Hawkeyes — with a small, 13-player senior class mostly devoid of stars — can do no better than 9-4. But Doyle, who knows more about this team’s culture than anyone as the year-round catalyst in Iowa’s “developmental” label, still sees the possibility of this story ending well.
The 2008 finish set the table for 2009’s 9-0 start and Orange Bowl win.
Best-case scenario, the Hawkeyes repeat that formula one decade later.
“The leadership in our senior class has been extraordinary all year, right from the get-go,” Doyle said. “All the way through the winter, spring, summer and through August and the fall. High-character group, great work ethic, high integrity.”
A few other interesting things I discussed with Doyle ...
What is his primary in-season role?
At Iowa, Doyle explained, the 70 or so guys on the travel roster are on one program. The other 50 or so, typically the youngest players, are on another — primarily focused on intense strength and conditioning.
"They are in an offseason mode, essentially, in-season,” Doyle said.
The guys who play on Saturdays, though, take part in weekly concentrated programs with Doyle that are low in volume, but high in intensity.
Put simply: "Peak performance on game day takes priority."
The facility arms race is getting wild.
Iowa’s opening of its $55 million Hansen Football Performance Center after the 2014 season was seen as a groundbreaking success for Hawkeye football. As far as Doyle was concerned, it was more about keeping pace with programs such as Nebraska and Ohio State.
Massive, football-centered projects are popping up all over the Big Ten West. Purdue’s $65 million facility opened in August 2017. Minnesota’s splashy, $166 million Athletes Village opened in 2018. So did Northwestern's $270 million Walter Athletics Center on the shores of Lake Michigan (aka "The Fitz Mahal"). Illinois has a $79 million facility on the way in 2019.
The Hawkeyes' facility edge didn't last long; Doyle didn't expect it to.
“You need to stay in the game from a recruiting perspective,” he said. “In pro football, they pay the guys. Right? In college football, kids want to see good facilities. They want to see a school that’s committed to their development over four or five years.”
What does Iowa's 2019 leadership look like?
Doyle pointed to quarterback Nate Stanley and fullback Brady Ross, both juniors who have been captains this season, as being leadership catalysts next season. He added running back Toren Young and tight end T.J. Hockenson (both redshirt sophomores) to the list.
Defensively, look for defensive end Anthony Nelson, linebacker Kristian Welch and safety Amani Hooker (all juniors) to lead the push.
“We have a great group of younger people in our program," Doyle said. "There is outstanding leadership in our younger class."
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.