Hawkeye Football: Kirk Ferentz's Disdain for Iowa Media Pushes Fans Further Away
According to Jon Miller of Hawkeyenation.com, during the Michigan game—a contest Iowa lost 42-17—all members of the press box were greeted with the news that Kirk Ferentz "would no longer be holding ‘On the Side’ interview sessions after his primary Q&A session."
The "On the Side" portion has been a regular feature of his press conferences since he started at Iowa in 1999.
It is in question-and-answer format, much as the primary session is, but it is more informal.
Perhaps that informality led, in part, to Kirk Ferentz's breakdown last week. Via Hawkeye blog Blackheartgoldpants, Ferentz inadvertently let an F-bomb fly following a particularly upsetting question.
The question, delivered by AP writer Luke Meredith, concerned the recent allegations against and the firing of Iowa athletic adviser Peter Gray (via Josh O'Leary of the Iowa City Press-Citizen).
In fairness to Ferentz, the question was asinine, primarily because Gray and the allegations against him have nothing to do with Ferentz or the football team.
Nevertheless, Ferentz's language and hotheadedness were surprising, particularly from somebody that is known for his stoicism.
In all probability, the cancelling of the "On the Side" had everything to do with Ferentz's outburst and what he and presumably the athletic department felt was an inappropriate question and an overall lack of respect from the media.
However, the outburst and the reaction serve as further evidence of the frustration the head coach and the fans feel over this mess of a season. It is also evidence of how Ferentz keeps digging himself in deeper, further separating himself from the fans.
This is not the first time Iowa, under Ferentz, has faced adversity.
2006 and 2007 saw Iowa go a combined 12-13.
2006 was the season of the "fat cats," (per Andy Hamilton of the Iowa City Press-Citizen), a nickname Ferentz gave to his team due to its seeming feeling of entitlement. 2007 saw the Hawkeyes miss a bowl game—though they qualified with six regular-season wins—due to an end-of-the-season home loss to 4-7 Western Michigan.
Complicating the problems in those years were multiple arrests (via Blackheartgoldpants), which led to questions as to whether Ferentz had lost control of his program.
Ferentz and the Iowa program rode out that storm, in large part due to the capital he had built up with the fanbase in previous years. This capital not only came via the unprecedented 2002-04 run in which Iowa finished ranked No. 8 in the country three times in a row.
It was also due to his demeanor and the way he carried himself. His blue-collar, stoic, candid personality appealed to the people that make up the majority of the Iowa Hawkeye fanbase—i.e. Iowans
As the Iowa program faces a new spat of adversity, Ferentz has worn out his capital. Since the 2008 resurgence of the program, the head coach has guided his team to an Orange Bowl win. On the other hand, put in the broader scope, since 2005, Iowa has played one game above .500 in conference play. Moreover, it is likely that "one game" will be wiped out following the final game of 2012, which will be against Nebraska.
The bigger issue than the record is how Ferentz has consistently buried himself further into a foxhole with his notorious conservatism and stubbornness, both on the playing field and with the media.
In the run-up to the meeting with Michigan, Wolverine blog Mgoblog analyzed Iowa film from the Indiana game, and the writer's synopsis can best be summed up, "just got done charting every snap of an offense coached by Greg Davis. I'm pretty sure this is grounds for a hostile working environment lawsuit."
Somehow, it seems that Ferentz has taken his conservative approach and turned it into a bizarre mentality in which Iowa can't run a complex, college-level, pro-style offense. To do so would somehow violate an ethical ideal that Ferentz doesn't share with the likes of Stanford, Michigan or Penn State—programs that do run successful complex, college-level, pro-style offenses.
As for Ferentz's recent issues with the media, he has always been tight-lipped, but the aforementioned capital he had with the fanbase bought him some level of media cooperation.
Now that Ferentz is more famous for his $3.875 million contract than he is for his win-loss record, the media is disinclined to throw softballs at him during press conferences.
Much like the fans—or rather, as the mouthpiece for the fans—they want answers as to why the team has had three disappointing seasons in a row, why the Iowa offense is so bad it's laughable, and most notably, why the team hasn't looked prepared for the last five weeks.
But Ferentz, in his usual way, thanks the fans in words, but sneers at them, via the media, in action. It is as though he is above answering questions as to what is going wrong with a football program that so many Iowans care deeply for.
Therein lies the problem and why, unlike 2007, a vocal section of the fanbase—it's not fair to call them a "majority" just yet—has had it with the current dean of Big Ten coaches.
With the cancelling of the "On the Side" section of his press conferences, Ferentz has once again, in his way, said that he has no interest in answering to the fans.
He has, in effect, delivered one more blow to solidify himself as somebody the same fans have no interest in supporting.
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