Pat Harty: Ferentz doesn't play favorites

Pat Harty
Iowa City Press-Citizen

When you've had the same job for as long as Kirk Ferentz has coached the Iowa football team, your approach to doing things is bound to rub some people the wrong way.

Ferentz is too classy and respectful to rub fans the wrong way with his behavior, so they focus on other things like his conservative influence, his hiring of much-maligned offensive coordinator Greg Davis and this ridiculous notion that Ferentz favors certain players over others when deciding playing time.

I hear that criticism perhaps more than anything else these days, especially now with the competition being waged at quarterback between junior Jake Rudock and sophomore C.J. Beathard.

Some fans are convinced that Ferentz's stubbornness or loyalty to Rudock, depending on how you see it, is all that is keeping Beathard from being Iowa's next great quarterback. Beathard certainly didn't hurt his cause with his performance against Purdue this past Saturday, leading Iowa to a 24-10 victory in his first career start for an injured Rudock, who had started the previous 17 games in a row.

But the purpose of this column isn't to debate over who deserves to start between Beathard and Rudock, but rather to dispel an unfair criticism about Ferentz, who is in his 16th season as the Iowa coach.

I'm just like so many other fans who sometimes wonder why Iowa doesn't shed its conservative approach on offense and why some seldom-used players aren't redshirted.

But to think that Ferentz plays favorites or that he values experience over talent is just silly. He values experience because there is no replacing it. But experience only goes so far without a mix of talent.

One of the examples I hear the most about Ferentz favoring seniority was his handling of former Iowa quarterbacks Kyle McCann and Brad Banks in 2001.

McCann started every game that season as a fifth-year senior and led Iowa to its first winning record under Ferentz at 7-5. McCann was by no means a star that season, but he wasn't a liability, either.

Banks saw action in 10 games that season as McCann's backup and was electrifying at times, completing 41-of-68 passes for 582 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed 41 times for 151 yards and two scores, and led Iowa scoring drives on 17-of-37 possessions that he began.

But Banks also showed a vulnerability in 2001, which was his first at Iowa after playing the previous two seasons at a junior college. He pulled up out of bounds short of the first-down marker in the second half of a 32-26 loss to Michigan. He also completed less than 50 percent of his passes (11-of-23) and threw a costly interception in a 34-28 loss at Wisconsin.

Hindsight is definitely on Banks' side since he went on to have one the greatest seasons ever for an Iowa quarterback in 2002, finishing runner-up for the Heisman Trophy as a senior that season. Many just assume that Banks, if given more playing time, would have been better than McCann in 2001 simply because Banks was so impressive in 2002.

That's a big assumption, though.

Banks had a year of experience under his belt in 2002, and he had a star-studded supporting cast that had improved considerably from the previous season.

I've spoken with Banks about this topic on several occasions and never has he complained or criticized or even suggested that he was treated unfairly in 2001, not even off the record. Banks still was a work in progress in 2001, but Ferentz appreciated his talent enough to create a special role for Banks as the backup.

"I trusted coach Ferentz with that," Banks said in a recent interview. "There were things a lot of people don't know. They didn't know what my comfort level was about it. For me, it was all about being a team guy and being ready to play when I was called upon. That was the biggest thing for me.

"I knew my time would come and I just wanted to seize the moment."

What's so absurd about this belief that Ferentz doesn't use his best players is that he and his assistants see them perform in practice and interact with them on a daily basis, while the rest of us see them play 12 or 13 times in the fall and in a few open practices.

Ferentz has the whole body of work to judge his players, whereas we only have flashes. Ferentz also has more than three decades of coaching experience to help him make personnel decisions.

It's been suggested to me more than once that since Ferentz has so much job security with his contract lasting through Jan. 2020 he isn't worried about the results of playing favorites. That might be the stupidest thing I've ever heard in over two decades of covering the Iowa program.

Ferentz has shown before that he will switch quarterbacks if he feels it give Iowa its best chance of winning.

I might not agree with all his coaching decisions and his teams are boring to watch at times, especially on offense. But I believe that Ferentz is fair and has too much integrity to use players who don't deserve to be on the field.

My guess is that Rudock, if healthy, will get the start over Beathard in Iowa's next game against Indiana on Oct. 11 at Kinnick Stadium. Ferentz will base his decision not on who he likes the most, but who he feels is most deserving to start and gives Iowa its best chance of winning.

Why is that so hard for some fans to believe?

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or