Analyzing the state of Iowa football in five quotes
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Saturday's 1 p.m. scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium marks the finish line for Iowa's 15 allowed spring football practices.
By then, the university will have supplied the media a chance to interview nine assistant coaches, more than a dozen Hawkeye players and head coach Kirk Ferentz since spring ball began March 25.
Hours of press conferences and individual interviews have produced telling quotes — those that jump out as more than coach-speak and reflect bigger program talking points for 2015.
Here are five of the most telling comments, in sequential order:
"We've got good people, and we just have to do a better job, and that's going to be our challenge right now. If I didn't have that confidence, we would have made changes." — Kirk Ferentz (March 25)
Context: Ferentz was asked about why he chose to retain all of his full-time assistants entering his 17th spring as Iowa's head coach.
What this tells us: Although there was some minor reshuffling of duties, Ferentz is saying the current coaching staff wasn't the problem in 2014 — and it gives the Hawkeyes their best chance at redemption in 2015.
In January, 12 days after a 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl capped a 7-6 season that fell short of expectations, Ferentz called a press conference and opened it by breaking down his Iowa career into two phases. The first, he said, was 13 years of stability under coordinators Ken O'Keefe and Norm Parker; the second is what's happening now.
So, Phase 2 is in Year 4. And that's one important vote of confidence each for offensive coordinator Greg Davis and defensive coordinator Phil Parker — who on Wednesday will field questions from the Iowa media for the first time since late December.
"In my mind, I felt like I was the better athlete and I could do more things. I think the coaches see that, too. They were just waiting to prepare me and be a little more ready." — C.J. Beathard (April 1)
Context: In the new first-team quarterback's first interview with Iowa media since October, Beathard was asked if he felt he surpassed Jake Rudock during preparation for the TaxSlayer Bowl.
What this tells us: The junior-to-be is extremely confident and ready to lead the Hawkeyes. In the same interview, Beathard said, "This is my team."
Remember, Beathard was one of only two redshirt freshmen in 2013 to be named to the team's Leadership Group of about 12 to 15 players. And with Rudock having transferred to Michigan, this is all the more Beathard's locker room — maybe for the next two seasons, with freshman Tyler Wiegers a distant second on the quarterback depth chart.
"There are no two ways to put it. That's not an acceptable type of performance, and they know that. They did not execute." — Chris White (April 8)
Context: The special teams coach was referring to seniors-to-be Connor Kornbrath and Dillon Kidd combining for 33.4 yards per net punt — 117th in the country. The question was about how walk-ons Marshall Koehn and Miguel Recinos became part of this spring's punter competition.
What this tells us: Coaches recognize that forfeiting five to eight yards of field possession per punt (which can equal several first downs a game) is a major deficiency. In the same quote, White also said punting was clearly "the No. 1 thing that we need to address in this program."
So, every option is on the table — even doubling up an effective placekicker in Koehn, who made 75 percent of his field goals (12-for-16) a year ago and was the Big Ten's best touchback weapon on kickoffs. This statement reinforces, program-wide, that mediocrity will not be accepted.
"We don't have a lot of depth on the 2s. A lot of our 2s right now are 3s, quite frankly, on both sides of the ball." — Kirk Ferentz (April 11)
Context: The head coach spoke after Iowa's ninth of 15 spring practices, this one at Valley Stadium. He responded to a question on his happiness with the offensive line's progress.
What this tells us: For a program with a "next man in" mantra, this raises red flags. Still, Ferentz can be complimented for his honesty — he's not sugar-coating the task at hand.
Let's face it, the offensive line lost three seniors, and Ferentz was speaking nearly five months before the Sept. 5 season opener vs. Illinois State. Another example: Wiegers is a "3" who was bumped to the "2" line when Rudock left.
There's time to improve, and the roster will grow by about 30 this summer with incoming signees and recruited walk-ons. But to say backup depth hasn't been developed in what Ferentz calls a "developmental" program is a concern.
"We lost close ballgames last year. And when we have a good football team, when we have a healthy program, we don't lose close ballgames — we win close ballgames." — Brian Ferentz (April 15)
Context: The fourth-year assistant coach was asked about the coaching staff's main focus in January coming off the 7-6 season.
What this tells us: Iowa's program needs healing. If close games are classified as by a margin of seven points (a touchdown) or less, the Hawkeyes were 2-4 in the health department in 2014. By Brian Ferentz's definition, the program then would be more unhealthy than healthy during his father's 16 years — with a 35-44 record in close games.
History gives credence to the definition of Iowa's offensive line coach and run-game coordinator. Iowa went 10-1 in single-score games from 2002 to 2004, when the Ferentz era was in its heyday of three consecutive top-10 national finishes. Outside of that stretch, the Hawkeys are 25-43 in close games (including 11-20 since starting the 2009 season with a 9-0 record).
If winning close games defines success, the question becomes: Do the Hawkeyes have the right combination of personnel and coaching to win more than they lose in 2015?
Time (and more quotes) will tell.