The Iowa football coach was making his first stop on the summer I-Club circuit in West Des Moines.
When Kirk Ferentz got to the meat of his first stump speech of the spring I-Club circuit, he opened by reflecting on the 2014 football season.
"I'll start with the positives — there were some, believe me," the 17th-year Iowa coach told the crowd of about 600 that assembled Tuesday night at the Sheraton Hotel in West Des Moines.
That was Ferentz's closest attempt at humor in what amounted to a state-of-the-program address in front of the Polk County I-Club. The football climate probably isn't ripe for a few riffs — like the jokes associate head wrestling coach Terry Brands told prior to Ferentz taking the dais that had the crowd roaring.
Ferentz's businesslike remarks to those that support him — these were $35-a-plate guests, mostly wearing formal attire laced with black and gold — affirmed what athletic director Gary Barta has said since December: That seven wins did not meet expectations.
Ferentz's speech was short on the good parts of going 7-6 — briefly touting an eighth January bowl (and 12th overall) in the last 14 seasons. He mostly focused on what his program needs to do better to, as he said after Saturday's spring game, "put a team out there (fans) can be proud of."
His messaging was consistent with what he's been telling the news media this spring: That this program needs to win close games (something his son, Brian, reinforced a few weeks ago) and get back to sound fundamentals and special teams.
"As we move forward, that really is our charge as a football team and as a football program," he told the guests.
Another thing Ferentz has emphasized since a 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl was his need to be more present in day-to-day football operations; saying no to appearances, for example.
However, he understands that the I-Club tour is part of the $4 million-a-year job.
"I left (Iowa City) today, like 4, 4:15. I'll be there in the morning," Ferentz said. "But it's important. It's an important part of the job.
"Bump Elliott explained that to me back in the '80s, why it is important, especially for our state. I get that."
So here was Ferentz, on the first of 10 scheduled stops this spring — next up, Clear Lake on Monday — to speak to Hawkeye fans, face-to-face, and bottom-line the state of Hawkeye football.
Speaking of … here was one of Ferentz's most telling remarks: "I've been doing this for 16 years, and as I can tell you, I'm hardly immune to the fact that it is a bottom-line business."
In other words, he hears you, disgruntled fans. He knows attendance and season football ticket sales are expected to take a hit. He knows he needs to win to earn another vote of confidence from top administrators.
If Tuesday's stop in Polk County reflects what's ahead in the next six weeks (ending in Davenport on June 8), Ferentz isn't trying to sugar-coat things — even to those who support him most.
JAKE DUZEY HAS SUCCESSFUL SURGERY
Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday the news was as good as could be hoped for starting tight end Jake Duzey, who had surgery Monday to repair what the Iowa head coach called a "significant" injury. HawkeyeReport.com has reported it's a torn patellar tendon.
"So we're optimistic that 3-4 months, somewhere in that ballpark, he'll be able to play and compete," Ferentz said. "We'll just keep our fingers crossed and hope everything goes smoothly."
The senior tight end reportedly has a torn patellar tendon.
Ferentz said after Saturday's spring game that he expected Duzey, a senior, would be able to play again for the Hawkeyes, possibly by September. Meantime, Henry Krieger-Coble becomes the starter, with George Kittle and Jon Wisnieski in reserve.
TOMMY GAUL WINS 'FLOOD' AWARD
Dowling graduate Tommy Gaul was presented the "Bud Flood Fighting Hawk Award" by Ferentz on Tuesday night. It's an annual award given to an Iowa player who "faced adversity and challenges throughout his life."
Gaul was a fifth-year walk-on last season who was suddenly thrust into the starting lineup after right guard Jordan Walsh was injured early against Indiana on Oct. 11. Gaul played so well that he became Iowa's starting center the rest of the season and now, a 6-foot-3, 288 pounds, is working toward a pro career.