Leistikow: Kirk Ferentz delivers big-picture perspective about football, COVID-19
There was something comforting about hearing Kirk Ferentz’s voice on the first day of April. This is a time of year when we are normally interacting with Ferentz about spring practices, discussing position battles and the coming Iowa football season with growing anticipation.
And even though “normal” is an elusive thing to find these days, Ferentz brought his typical, big-picture perspective to the conversation. And that felt normal … and much-needed during this stressful, uncertain time.
Near the end of what became a 45-minute news conference over the phone with dozens of reporters, Ferentz was asked point-blank if he’d thought about a fall without college football. To his credit, Ferentz didn’t dodge the question. He spoke honestly, and a little ominously.
“Anything’s possible right now,” Ferentz said. “I think all of us need to realize that. Selfishly … we all want to get back to work tomorrow, because we miss this. It’s what we do.”
The global COVID-19 pandemic that seems to be hitting America harder each day is not lost on Ferentz, who knows that every day that passes without normalcy puts the 2020 football season as we know it in a little more peril.
The clock is ticking.
“What’s it mean if we’re not back? That’s not good,” Ferentz said. “What’s it mean if we’re not able to return to some semblance of normality, just in our daily lives, three months from now? It means that we’ve got bigger problems than missing football.”
That’s a quote that needs to settle in right now, as much as we might not want to face it.
If we want football to return, then we all need to be rigorous about stay-at-home measures to diminish the spread of COVID-19. Ferentz said he has watched more TV in the last two weeks than in the past 15 years combined, and it sounded like it as he talked about the need to “flatten the curve” as it relates to the deadly coronavirus and health-care system capacities.
On that note, Ferentz and his veteran coaching staff are encouraging players to not “burn too many brain cells” worrying about when football might return. The Ferentz approach to COVID-19 isolation — with campus facilities closed — is to check in with each player frequently to make sure they're staying in shape, concentrating on academics, eating right and getting ample sleep.
Ferentz said, by rule, coaches can have up to two hours of interaction with an athlete per week, but Iowa is intentionally not using that time.
“Whatever we do now wouldn’t substitute for what we’re missing,” Ferentz said. “So, we’ll worry about that later. I guess that’s kind of my attitude right now on all this.”
Again, there’s that needed perspective.
On that big-picture front, maybe the biggest question on my mind Wednesday: For a college football nation that has had little to zero spring practices, how much prep time would be required to be able to play actual games?
Because with that answer in mind, you can get a better idea of when the season could realistically start.
And listening to Ferentz, there would need to be a minimum of about two months of training and practice before games could safely begin.
Normally, Iowa players have their 15 spring practices from late March to late April. Then they report for summer conditioning in early June, and that lasts until mid-July. Then training camp begins around Aug. 1. Iowa’s football opener is scheduled for Sept. 5 against Northern Iowa.
So, if two months is the minimum … players would need to be together by early July, at least as Ferentz sees it, in order to start the season on time.
Chris Doyle and his strength and conditioning staff, Ferentz said, would need at least four weeks of summer work with players “before we started to think about practicing aggressively. To me, that would be bare-bones (minimum) after having a chance to talk to Chris about that topic. That’s about as close as you can cut it, quite frankly.”
Then, four weeks of August camp are essential. That's what teams normally get. But that's normally a time to build on a base with what developed during spring practices. Four weeks might not be enough, but again, it would be the bare-bones minimum.
The player-safety issue — and that’s not even factoring in what’s going on with COVID-19 come summertime — could be the biggest piece of the conversation about whether we’ll see college football as it is currently planned in the fall of 2020.
“Hopefully the coaches have a voice. And hopefully maybe as important as anybody, the strength and conditioning and medical field have a voice, too,” Ferentz said. “First and foremost when we come back, we want to make sure we do it in a safe way for our players. Where we’re not putting them at risk by asking them to do something that they’re not capable of doing based on their training.”
We did talk to Ferentz about quarterback Spencer Petras, about how he and wife, Mary, are passing the time at home and about his players’ surprising craving of vegetables they normally enjoy at the team facility.
But, those didn't feel important to write about Wednesday.
Even if it wasn’t all optimistic, Ferentz's perspective was what we needed to hear the most.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.