Iowa's new football facility is all about development

Chad Leistikow
Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle gives a tour of the weight room inside Iowa's Football Performance Center on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – For all the modern touches throughout the University of Iowa's new $55 million Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center – the fingerprint scanners at the locker room entrance and state-of-the-art film rooms – it's still all about sweat and development. (Well, that and the food.)

It's calculated that the centerpiece of the sprawling, innovative facility is Chris Doyle's 23,000-square-foot playground – the weight room, replete with digital technology to measure bar speed for rate of force and enough storage to fit a John Deere six-wheeler.

The other coaches affectionately joke that Doyle, Iowa's strength and conditioning coach for 17 years, was nice enough to let the rest of them share a hallway and a few offices.

The entire facility, including the indoor practice field that replicates the field turf at Kinnick Stadium down to the painted lines, measures 178,000 square feet. Every detail was carefully planned, following staff visits to 12 other facilities nationwide. And while vast, it's not overdone – as a small group of media members discovered during a private tour led by head coach Kirk Ferentz and some of his assistants Tuesday afternoon.

At its core, the center has slashed inefficiencies while emphasizing the identity of the program: development.

"There's schools out there that collect talent out there through recruiting, and there's schools out there that build it," Doyle said. "We don't make any bones about it, we're a school that builds it."

Immediately before, during and after a workout with Doyle, a player might consume 2,000 calories. It's easy for Doyle to manage each calorie with a refueling station that has access to granola and other healthy snacks and beverages within a few strides of the free weights.

The food thing is a big deal beyond players just getting a protein bar between reps. Construction of the facility dovetailed with the NCAA's 2014 deregulation of food service for athletes. Now anyone participating in Division I athletics, walk-ons included, have unlimited access to meals – a seven-figure bill for athletic departments, but a huge boost for a program like Iowa where player development is at the center.

In his opening remarks of Tuesday's tour, Ferentz mentioned how the farthest he might walk in a work day is 250-300 yards to the outdoor practice field. That's true for athletes now, too, aside from classes. They eat breakfast and dinner together daily in the facility's All-American Room. When offensive line coach Brian Ferentz was at Iowa and until recently, the football training table was all the way down by the Iowa River in the Hillcrest dormitory.

"It's changed things so much," Brian Ferentz said while showing a handful of journalists high-tech classrooms and explaining how game film is uploaded to each player's iPad by the time they leave the locker room after games. "We feed them everything here."

Ferentz used offensive tackle Ike Boettger as a poster child for body growth. He's the 300-pound redshirt sophomore starting right tackle that was a 215-pound quarterback at Cedar Falls when Iowa began recruiting him.

"We're a program that really lives and dies on player development," the head coach's son said. "Anytime we can feed the guys and control what goes in their bodies, it's going to be a lot easier to put weight on a player."

Players shuttle around the performance center like at a junior high school, from class to class – in this case, class might mean meals or team meetings or weight training or practice. Every minute is orchestrated, and the goal is that nothing is wasted.

High-definition TVs are all over the building with daily schedules to keep players focused. Others show classic Iowa football victories. As reporters entered the building Tuesday, Iowa's Big Ten Conference-clinching win over Wisconsin in 2004 was being shown.

Assistant coach LeVar Woods said reliving the positive history is a helpful reminder that "this building didn't happen by accident."

The facility that Kirk Ferentz called "one of the best in college football" fueled a record recruiting surge in June, with its Class of 2016 already at 22 commitments. Every month in the first year of occupancy here has even impressed the coaching staff.

"The benefits of the building," Kirk Ferentz said, "just get accentuated at every turn."