Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz discusses change in advisory group, national anthem, Jack Koerner
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said Thursday he’s been meeting regularly with former players about how to change the culture of his program to make it more inclusive for Black athletes and that he recently sat down for an interview with two lawyers who are investigating the inner workings of the team he has led since 1999.
In his first public comments in five weeks, Ferentz told a gathering of media at Kinnick Stadium that he’s already had a change of leadership in the advisory group of ex-Hawkeyes that he formed last month in the wake of widespread allegations that his program wasn’t always welcoming to Black players. Originally, former star defensive lineman Mike Daniels was to be the chairman of a group of 11 players. But Ferentz said Daniels found he was too busy preparing for the birth of a child and trying to land a new NFL job.
Instead, Dave Porter has agreed to lead the advisory group, Ferentz said. Porter is an Illinois native who played on the offensive line at Iowa through 2002. He and Daniels both are Black.
Ferentz said he’s had four or five meetings with the 10 former players, ranging in eras from the 1970s to recent graduates. He is hoping to add another member or two and will eventually release all of the names to the public, he said.
The overarching goal: “How do we better prepare our players for life after football?” Ferentz said.
Ferentz said the most affecting moment for him came in the first meeting, when the former Hawkeyes shared why they wanted to be involved in the discussions about how to potentially make things better for current and future Black players at Iowa.
“It was just good to hear some guys who have been through our facility, been through our program, talk about their experiences and what their vision is for our program,” Ferentz said.
That program was roiled in early June by revelations on social media, primarily from Black former players, that they were treated unfairly during their years in Iowa City. As a result, longtime strength coach Chris Doyle was removed from his job at a cost of $1.1 million with no admission of wrongdoing. And three lawyers from Husch Blackwell have spent the past four weeks investigating the treatment of Hawkeye football players past and present.
Ferentz estimated the lawyers have conducted more than 100 interviews, including one with him this week. He believes the process is nearing its completion, although there is no date set yet for when findings will be made public.
Ferentz said that conversation was not uncomfortable for him.
“I thought they had really good questions, and quite frankly I welcomed that opportunity to elaborate and give them more details about things,” he said.
Ferentz also revealed that his team has “experienced some COVID” since players arrived on campus June 8. He did not specify how many cases, although the athletic department announced this week that there have been 25 total, involving a combination of athletes and staff members.
“If there are any positives at this point, the symptoms have been relatively minor,” Ferentz said of his players who tested positive for COVID-19.
No one has needed hospitalization, Ferentz said — just isolation while recovering.
Hawkeye players still not unified on potential silent protest during national anthem
Ferentz also has been meeting regularly with the 23 current players on the Hawkeyes’ Leadership Group. He said they spent an hour last week sharing their thoughts on what, if anything, the team should do during the national anthem before games this fall. Some players want to stage a silent protest of the way Black Americans are treated by law enforcement officers, a feeling that is growing among athletes across the country in light of the May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was suffocated while in police custody in Minneapolis in a video that shocked the world.
Ferentz said the players did not come to a consensus during last week’s meeting. He wants to broach the subject with the entire team as well. Ferentz has said he would support a demonstration during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but that he wants his players to be unanimous about how to go about that.
“There was discussion on both sides of the topic, and the thing I took away from the meeting is I don’t think there is a right answer,” Ferentz said. “I can tell you from the amount of emails that I get and letters that I get, it is a very hot-button topic, no question about it.
“The conversations that took place during the meeting were done with great respect for each other. There was a lot of listening going on.”
Ferentz said he was impressed with the tenor of the conversation, and he knows that some Iowa fans are watching the situation closely.
Iowa linebacker Djimon Colbert echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“Just to be able to come out and talk about that as young men and be respectful and be able to hear each other. I think that was the most important thing,” said Colbert, who is a member of the leadership group.
Hawkeye safety Jack Koerner back with team 'cautiously' after scary accident
Ferentz said starting safety Jack Koerner is back with the team after a “heart-stopping” accident June 12 that left him seriously injured. Koerner and his friend from West Des Moines, Cole Coffin, were on a personal watercraft that crashed into the side of a boat on the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.
Ferentz said he found out about the accident the morning of June 13 and immediately called Koerner’s family for an update.
“The good news is that Jack is back with us and we’re moving forward. We’re doing it very cautiously, because it was a very traumatic experience for everyone involved,” Ferentz said. “He was just generally sore, so we’re just taking our time with him.”
Koerner, a walk-on, won the starting free safety job in Week 2 last fall and finished the season with 81 tackles, earning a scholarship in the process.
Move football season to spring? 'I'm sure it's a last resort,' Ferentz says
Ferentz was supportive of the decision announced by the Big Ten Conference a week ago that nonconference games will be scrapped this fall while the nation tries to get a better handle on the COVID-19 pandemic. He regretted that it meant the Hawkeyes would not host Northern Iowa and Iowa State in September, however.
“Both of those games were important to our program,” he said. “I think they’re important to our state.”
But the plus side was “the Big Ten being able to control wholly what the habitat is in terms of testing,” Ferentz added.
Now, discussion has resurfaced about possibly pushing the college football season into the spring of 2021, something conferences such as the Ivy League have already announced they are intending to do.
“I’m sure it’s a last resort. The best scenario right now is for us to play this fall,” said Ferentz, who said he didn’t see a way for there to be a full 12-game schedule in the spring and then another full slate of games in the fall of 2021.
“There’s no question in my mind you would have to look at how many games you’re playing. What’s realistic? What’s fair? If we have to play in the fall and spring, that would certainly alter what you do in between," he said. "Hopefully, we don’t get there.”
Already, this spring and summer have been more complicated than any football season Ferentz has experienced. He acknowledged that he’s just waiting to see what new information the next day brings as he tries to prepare a football team for a season that may not happen.
“What can we do on a daily basis just to get to the next day, the next week, the next step? I’m acknowledging there are a million variables,” Ferentz said. “There’s just no way to describe this right now.
“I don’t know what could have been done to avoid this.”
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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