IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz could spend his time figuring out ways his team could compensate for missing spring practice. Instead, the Iowa football coach is focusing on staff and player safety and wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re not meeting with our guys (about football),” Ferentz said during a Wednesday teleconference. “I think the rule now says we can have two hours a week with them, but I think we can spend those two hours better served other ways.
“I’d rather have guys just staying in touch with each other and working through their academic stuff. Hopefully we’ll have time to get to the football whenever it’s time, but what we would do now wouldn’t substitute for what we’re missing. We’ll worry about that later. That’s my attitude with all this.”
In other words, the life-changing time everyone is experiencing is bigger than sport for Ferentz. Players received training and nutritional guidance from the program’s strength and conditioning staff. They can work individually on improvement during this period of social distancing.
“The guys can just stay in good shape. If they want to work on their individual skills, great. But to think we’re going to move forward as a team, I’m not that worried about it,” Ferentz said.
The Hawkeyes locked down their facility on March 13. All but about 16-18 players went home, most of the guys staying back being from the area. Projected starting quarterback Spencer Petras, a Northern California native, and New Jersey receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette stayed in Iowa City, feeling more comfortable here than back home where the pandemic is hitting harder.
Petras and many of the inexperienced players suffer the most from a football standpoint with spring ball being canceled. Again, while he believes the sophomore is working on his craft, Ferentz isn’t looking for alternative ways to make up for lost on-field time.
“He and (quarterback coach) Ken (O’Keefe) may be conversing but I think Ken and I are in the same boat right now being the older guys. Worrying about football too much here though this six-week block (from mid-March through April)…and I know people think differently, but I don’t think there’s going to be much gained by that,” Ferentz said.
“I’m sure Spencer is working on his own, and he and Ken might be having some conversations but I don’t think it’s very extensive.”
The Iowa coaches meet virtually as a staff and with players at least three times a week. Athletes still in the area can schedule appointments to visit the football facility for nutritional needs. They cannot train there.
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Ferentz estimated that when his team reassembles it will take at least four weeks of strength and conditioning before returning to a full-scale, on-field practicing.
“To me that would be bare bones after talking to (strength coach) Chris (Doyle) about that topic. That’s about as close as you can cut it, quite frankly,” he said.
That means players must start training at the beginning of July. That would proceed when teams normally convene for camp in early August for about a month before the season.
After already scrapping potential plans for when his team gets back together during this ever-changing time, Ferentz decided trying to predict the future was fruitless. He’s certainly entertained the idea of the season being canceled by the pandemic.
“Anything is possible right now. All of us need to realize that. Selfishly, we all want to get back to work tomorrow. We miss this. It’s what we do. But the bigger picture is what does it mean if we’re not back? If that’s the case, we’ve got bigger problems than missing football,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz encourages citizens to practice social distancing, wash their hands and following other guidelines recommended to “flatten the curve.”
“You watch people like Dr. (Anthony) Fauci and Dr. (Deborah) Birks, that is their lives. They are experts and boy, when they talk, to me, I think we all need to listen,” Ferentz said.
The coach lightened the mood several times during Wednesday’s teleconference. He joked about players stating they miss vegetables served at the facility, and that he’s watched more TV in the last two and a half weeks than he had in the last 15 years combined.
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“I’m probably like the players. I’m trying to make sure I follow a routine. That’s probably been one of the hardest things, and trying to be productive. I’m guessing as a nation we might have set a record for cleaning out closets and things we all put off,” he said.
On the recruiting front, Iowa has settled into a routine of hosting prospects during spring ball so they could get a feel for practice and team activities. Ferentz believed that June prospect camps and official visits also could be in jeopardy.
“Maybe it will turn out to be more like years ago when prospects actually got evaluated during the fall and did their visits in the winter time. We might end up in a mode similar to that,” he said.
Not being a blue blood and having a small population, strong scouting of high school players is paramount at Iowa. Then once they get prospects to campus, development is key. So no spring ball and an unexpected recruiting dead period hits the Hawkeyes harder than some others.
“Installation meetings are great. Film study meetings are great. But there really is no better teaching platform than presenting material, practicing it and then reviewing it, and then doing it over again,” Ferentz said.
“Common sense would tell you if the season started in four weeks, the teams that would have the biggest advantages are the teams that are more experienced and probably the teams that have better genetics. We are a developmental outfit. I’ve said that forever. Most teams are.”