IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Joe Moore Award is the heaviest trophy in college sports, and there was no doubt Thursday that its significance was weighing heavily on Iowa’s football coaches.
The Hawkeye offensive line earned the award last week, beating out Alabama and Ohio State for the 350-pound-plus prize.
But the fact that the award, given to nation's most outstanding offensive line, is named after a man whose fingerprints are all over Iowa’s success under coach Kirk Ferentz carried extra meaning. Moore, who coached Ferentz as a high school player in Pennsylvania and later helped him get a job on Hayden Fry’s staff at Iowa, was a guiding force for Ferentz after he became head coach in 1999.
Chris Doyle, Iowa’s longtime strength and conditioning coach, was the first to bring it up during a gathering with reporters in the Iowa football complex.
Moore is also the reason Doyle has had his job for the past 17 years. Doyle was a graduate assistant for Moore when he was offensive line coach at Notre Dame in 1991. He later encouraged Doyle to head north to Maine to chat with another Moore protégé, Ferentz. Those two found a common bond and remained friends.
When Ferentz took over the Hawkeye program, his mentor advocated that he hire Doyle as his inaugural strength coach.
Doyle still has Ferentz’s scribbled notes from that meeting with Moore. The paper has been hanging in his office for 17 years.
“I feel obligated to make sure I’m that guy that Joe said that I would be,” Doyle said. “It’s a reminder of your background and where you come from and who you’re obligated to. I feel obligated to Joe.”
Brian Ferentz spoke a little later Thursday, recalling his childhood encounters with his father’s friend and the man considered the best offensive line coach in college football history. Brian Ferentz is now serving that function for the Hawkeyes.
“The way we play, the way we block, we very much try to emulate what he did for a long time,” Brian Ferentz said of Moore’s influence.
Kirk Ferentz was the last coach to address the media, and was quickly asked about his mentor, who died in 2003, and the fact that his son was coaching the offensive line that earned the trophy named for him. Ferentz recalled the time when he was on the staff of the Baltimore Ravens and Moore, then retired, was doing some coaching in Erie, Pa. Moore was a role model for Brian Ferentz, whom he always called him by his middle name, Joseph.
“He came down to camp and he would take Brian back to Erie and drive him around and show him the neighborhoods and all that and show them this is real America,” Kirk Ferentz said. “He gave Brian a lot of lectures and life lessons. So I think he'd be really proud of a good moment for him.”
The fact that Iowa won the Joe Moore Award, in just its second year of existence, seems unfathomable on the surface. The No. 25 Hawkeyes (8-4) rank 114th in the nation in passing offense and a middling 71st in rushing offense. Iowa used eight different starters on its line, and looked overmatched in losses to North Dakota State and Penn State in particular.
But the Hawkeyes finished the season with three consecutive victories, and the offensive line’s improvement despite adverse conditions actually worked in its favor with the selection committee, which consists of every Division I offensive line coach, among others.
“Many of the voters felt that Iowa personified the fundamental principle that drives this award: teamwork,” the news release announcing the award said.
Doyle echoed that, noting that the award takes into account tight ends and fullbacks as well.
“We’re not Alabama and we’re not Ohio State. Typically, they can recruit kids that maybe are a little bit further along in their development than we do,” Doyle said.
“I think that everybody has talent. I think talent is overrated. I think that when you bring kids in, there are certain kids that are four-star or that are five-star. They come from a certain school and they have a certain pedigree or their resume looks better. But then the intangibles, the stuff that’s hard to measure when you’re assigning stars to an athlete, is their grit, is the determination, is the family makeup. What’s going to happen when this kid faces some adversity?”
Brian Ferentz spoke of the moments during Iowa’s three-game home losing streak this fall when his unit was the subject of scrutiny.
“There was a lot of dirt being shoveled on them. But they came to work every day and they began to improve,” said Ferentz, who played center at Iowa for his father.
“We feel like we have good players here. One of the primary requirements to come play here is, ‘Do you have an unselfish attitude? Are you more interested in your own personal success or are you willing to sacrifice that for what’s best for the collective?’ Especially on the offensive line, that’s a big requirement. So to have guys come in that buy into that and then they’re able to be recognized for that, I think that’s pretty special.”