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The Iowa coach disputes the former ESPN announcer's disgust with C.J. Beathard being left in the Outback Bowl despite a hamstring injury. Chad Leistikow/The Register

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Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz responded Tuesday to retired ESPN college football analyst Ed Cunningham's blistering critiques of the Hawkeyes' coaching staff for continuing to play former quarterback C.J. Beathard in the Outback Bowl last season.

"C,J. Beathard’s career I think at Iowa was just defined by toughness, mental toughness," Ferentz said when asked about Cunningham's statements near the end of his weekly news conference.

"Couple that with an outstanding medical staff that we have here. Our medical people aren’t going to let a player be out there at risk where he could really do harm. That’s just how it goes. They’ve got final say. They always have, always will."

Cunningham said in a New York Times article and again on ESPN radio last week that Ferentz's handling of Beathard late in the Outback Bowl loss was "the final straw" in his decision to walk away from his TV job. Beathard was hobbled by a hamstring injury but played until late in the fourth quarter of a 30-3 loss to Florida.

"C.J. was clearly not at full strength, but he wasn’t in '15 either and played pretty well," Ferentz said Tuesday. "And I listen to players, too. C.J. wanted to be out there. So that was my decision. You can second-guess it. Ed chose to. That’s his prerogative, certainly. But I found it a little bit offensive, quite frankly, because he was not at risk medically.

"That’s his opinion. That’s mine. I just stated mine.”

Moments after Ferentz spoke, the university issued a news release with his official response to Cunningham's accusations. It read:

“As a seasoned head football coach and the father of three sons who have played collegiate football, the health and safety of our student-athletes is a top priority of the Hawkeye Football program. We have a strong relationship with the medical staff and medical experts at the University of Iowa. Each player is fully evaluated, and all established protocols are followed prior to the decision to play and during the game.

"Comments made by a retiring sports broadcaster about the coaching staff subjecting a player to possible long-term health related issues because we allowed him to play in the Outback Bowl were surprising and offensive to our coaching staff, the player and his parents. We do not allow a student-athlete to play unless he is medically cleared — that is my commitment to our players and their parents.”

The school also provided a comment from Beathard's father, Casey, who also talked with the Register last Friday

“The coaching and medical staff at Iowa were always very thorough and diligent in addressing any injury situations, and shared all medical information with C.J. and us, as parents. We had absolute confidence in Coach Ferentz, his coaching staff and the medical team to make player safety an uncompromising priority on game day, on the practice field and in the weight room.”

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The Iowa quarterback pulled his hamstring in the second quarter and played almost until the end of a 30-3 Outback Bowl loss to Florida.

Here's our Friday story following Cunningham's statements on ESPN radio that Iowa coaches "abused" Beathard, who now plays with the San Francisco 49ers:

Former ESPN broadcaster Ed Cunningham brought heat to the Hawkeye coaching staff once more Friday morning.

Cunningham, who revealed to The New York Times in a story Wednesday that Iowa football's handling of ex-quarterback C.J. Beathard during the Outback Bowl drove him to quit —  joined Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic early Friday on ESPN's "Mike and Mike" radio show (heard on KRNT-AM in Des Moines). He said Beathard "took a pounding" against a "superior opponent" in the Gators during the Outback Bowl in January.

He called the whole situation "sickening." 

Beathard — now with the San Francisco 49ers — was hobbled after taking a series of hard tackles. He suffered a pulled hamstring but remained on the field until the final three minutes of the Hawkeyes' 30-3 loss.

Cunningham said he almost went on a mini-rant during the broadcast.

"It's not that I kind of felt bad for C.J. Beathard," Cunningham said on the show, "I wanted to go get in a fist fight with the coaches over it because they abused that kid, flat-out."

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He added that seeing it all happen right in front of him was hard.

"That bowl game with C.J Beathard ... if I was his dad, I probably would have gone down at halftime and pulled the head coach out and said, 'Dude, you've got to not play my son. You can't do this to him. He's hurt.'

"And you can't do that as a color analyst."

Beathard's father, Casey Beathard, responded to Hawkeye columnist Chad Leistikow about Cunningham's comments:

"That's tough," Casey Beathard wrote. "CJ is great (at) convincing coaches he can go. I don't (and) he will never fault those coaches or any other coach for possible dangerous situations. I bet it has never crossed his mind.

"He's THAT kind of competitor. I guess the coaches trusted him too much. It's all good."

 “The coaching and medical staff at Iowa were always very thorough and diligent in addressing any injury situations, and shared all medical information with C.J. and us, as parents. We had absolute confidence in Coach Ferentz, his coaching staff and the medical team to make player safety an uncompromising priority on game day, on the practice field and in the weight room.”



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