Leistikow: After bowl-game drubbings, Ferentz makes a change

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Something needs to change with Iowa’s bowl-game preparation.

Something will.

While the Hawkeyes’ past two football seasons were polar opposites — one an extreme disappointment, the other a stunning string of successes — there was a can’t-miss similarity not lost on Kirk Ferentz: a finishing bowl clunker.

So, as Ferentz approaches his 61st birthday and 18th season as Hawkeye head coach, he’s fixing to change things up. (And you thought New Kirk might be a one-year anomaly.)

Part of the plan?

Shorten the duration in bowl paradise.

“Kind of treat it more like an extended business trip, if you will — or an away game with an extension on it,” Ferentz told me during a 45-minute, wide-ranging interview scheduled to air in its entirety on Wednesday night’s “Hawk Central” radio show/podcast.

In each of their last two bowl trips, the Hawkeyes arrived eight days prior to kickoff. The game outcomes were equally consistent.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz looks on prior to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, in which Stanford beat the Hawkeyes 45-16. Ferentz's salary increased $875,000 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016, a new database shows.

In the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl, Tennessee raced to a 28-0 lead in the first 17 minutes, 58 seconds. Iowa lost, 45-28, and … it wasn’t that close.

Stanford needed even less time (15:48) to put the Hawkeyes in a 28-0 hole in the 2016 Rose Bowl. Iowa lost, 45-16, and … it wasn’t that close.

As Ferentz sees it, the new $55 million Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center has everything the routine-driven Hawkeyes need — even more than a pristine set of Carson, Calif., practice fields Iowa used during December’s Rose Bowl preparation.

“Having this building is going to afford us a better opportunity to stay here longer,” Ferentz said. “I used to like to get to the bowl site a little bit earlier. But I think we’ve got a first-class place to train up here.”

Bowl prep was on my list of interview topics that I took into Ferentz's office. But before I could ask, he beat me to it.

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In other words, a bowl victory is at the top of the mind for Ferentz, who spoke with newly-placed national coach of the year trophies behind him following last season's school-record 12 wins.

In the Hawkeyes' last four bowl games (and especially the last two), something's been way off. They're 0-4 and trailed those games by a combined 98-7 at halftime. 98-7.

It’s said that insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.

So, good for Ferentz for making a travel change.

“We haven’t won one since 2010,” Ferentz said. “That’s first and foremost in our thoughts.”

Will an itinerary adjustment — say, showing up four days before game-day instead of eight — really improve on-field performance?

A fair question. Zig-zagging Christian McCaffrey had a lot more to do with Iowa’s flailing New Year’s Day performance than bowl-arranged 8 or 9 a.m. player interviews.

That said, for better or for worse, this is a developmental program that relies on routine and repetition to find slight edges on game day.

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“The media obligations in the morning, that was really different,” Ferentz said. “I’m not complaining about it. But it took five people out of your equation. So when those five people are out, it hamstrings the whole operation. That was a little bit different to navigate, but that certainly was not the deciding factor in the game.”

About that game: Was it really that bad?

I recently cued up the DVR to find out.

Quite simply, I saw a Hawkeye team having a rough three hours; making mistakes that it mostly hadn't in four previous months.

Bad angles. Safeties Miles Taylor and Jordan Lomax miscalculated McCaffrey’s speed.

Missed tackles. Linebacker Cole Fisher failed to wrap up on a key third-and-9 early.

Mental errors. Fifth-year seniors Henry Krieger Coble and Jordan Walsh committed false starts, drive killers for a run-oriented offense.

Poor timing. Hobbling C.J. Beathard misfired on a third-and-3 out pattern by a few feet, a miscue that went the other way for a pick-six interception and a quick 21-0 Stanford lead.

Unsure footing. Hawkeye defenders repeatedly slipped and fell on the well-manicured Pasadena grass — an equipment issue to rectify before the next bowl trip.

“It was the first time out of 14 games,” Ferentz said, “that we didn’t look like the team we want to look like.

“I kind of put that in the category of the Orange Bowl in 2002. We had a great season (11-1, 8-0 in the Big Ten Conference), and then we just didn’t play in a way that was representative of that football team. My regret is that.”

So, enough with viewing a bowl trip as a reward for a strong regular season. It’s about time Iowa wins one.

Of course, there’s one other bowl-prep detail on the list for the Big Ten's early West Division favorites.

“Now,” Ferentz said, “we’ve just got to get there.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.


In Sunday’s Register: Leistikow writes about some of the more personal moments that came up during his conversation with Iowa's football coach.