Brown: Change, challenges ahead for Ferentz

Rick Brown

IOWA CITY, Ia. – It might have been the most eagerly anticipated news conference in Iowa football history, short of the firing or hiring of a coach.

For the last week, Wednesday's media gathering called by football coach Kirk Ferentz was discussed and analyzed. The internet message boards had a field day, with "good sources" claiming everything from Ferentz resigning to assistant coaches being fired to quarterbacks transferring.

On Wednesday, those looking for blood in the wake of a disappointing 2014 season didn't get what they wanted. Meltdown turned into letdown. Saying "my sense is we needed to talk," Ferentz spent 37 minutes offering a glimpse of how he plans to return the Hawkeyes to better days.

It felt like a husband seeking counseling to save his marriage. A popular coach for most of his 16 seasons as Iowa's head coach, Ferentz knows he's got to make some changes to keep the relationship healthy and avoid a messy divorce.

The fact that Ferentz wanted to talk was his public acknowledgment that Iowa football is broken. He didn't back down from the challenge Wednesday, sounding confident that he knew how to fix the problem. Is it a short-term repair or a major overhaul?

"What's important is to make sure we cover the territory we need to cover, to come up with a good plan, and again, not just change things to change things," Ferentz said. "I think that's really a waste of time and effort. But the big thing is to really look and find out what we need to tinker with and what we need to adjust and then go about it in a smart, logical way and make sure we do that right."

No assistant coaches will lose their jobs, Ferentz said, but some might take on different duties. He's open to anything.

On the field, the to-do improvement list is long: special teams, improving the turnover ratio, better production in the red zone, running the ball better on offense and doing a better job of stopping it on defense, as well as controlling their opponents' perimeter game

But possibly the most revealing admission from Ferentz was that he needed to roll up his sleeves and get back to work again. He spent a lot of time fundraising for the new football operations center, where Wednesday's news conference took place. But instead of chasing dollars and speaking engagements, Ferentz vowed to spend more time in the office.

More time watching film and establishing relationships with his players. More analysis of things that work for other teams, and keeping open the flow of new ideas. Don't look for Iowa football to become a run-and-shoot offensive attack, or a team that is obsessed with offense and doesn't consider defense as important. That is not Iowa football, nor will it ever be under Ferentz.

Execution-driven football earned Iowa four trips into season-ending top-10 spots in the polls under Ferentz. The same poll that hasn't had four letters — I-O-W-A — in it since late in the 2010 season.

One thing was abundantly clear Wednesday. Ferentz is still invested in the program. He's not treading water, collecting his much-discussed paycheck. But can he fix this? Can Iowa football, a program he rebuilt into a national player, dig its way out of mediocrity one more time? His boss, athletic director, Gary Barta, believes.

Back in December, before that disaster of a bowl game, Barta said 7-5 was not acceptable. He said Wednesday that his words were not a line in the sand, a way of setting the table for a win-or-else 2015. There's no magic number of wins in 2015, Barta said.

Barta has talked to Ferentz and heard his plans for bringing Iowa football back to where it once was.

"I like his plans and I'm behind it 100 percent," Barta said.

The win-loss record will be the ultimate judge of that. The judge and jury.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.