More Thoughts on Iowa and the Rhabdo Problem

I've written about Rhabdopalooza plenty over at the All-Seeing Eye, so here are some more thoughts on top of what's already been said.

It's pretty obvious by now that Kirk Ferentz doesn't care about PR. I don't say that in a derogatory way at all, because we can all think of people in all walks of life and at all levels of achievement who care so much about perception that they turn into slick-when-it's-good, excuse-filled-when-it's-bad, intolerable blowhards. Kirk Ferentz is most certainly not that. He is the type, on the other hand, to find out that his staff can handle a situation where 13 players need hospitalization since none are in real trouble and then take his time getting back to Iowa City. Ferentz takes care of the most pragmatically pressing need in front of him, and right now, that's recruiting. It is! If he cancels recruiting appointments this close to Signing Day, the recruits will certainly understand. They'll "understand" that the program turns to crap every time Ferentz turns his back to it, and they'll "understand" that the S&C program is clearly doing things wrong. Why, they'll "understand" all the way to a different program on February 3. All over conditions that won't materially change if Ferentz is back in Iowa or not.

At least so it is in the world of Kirk Ferentz and his cartoonishly optimistic sports information department, where the hospitalization of a dozen (and then 13) Hawkeyes can be explained away with a vague press release that ends with "The UI expects no further comment at this time." The university expected nobody to reveal that the hospitalization was the proximate result of severe training right off a break that was allegedly intensified by peer pressure without S&C coach intervention. That secret, obviously, didn't stay secret.

And then the press conference. Jesus hell, the press conference. Paul Federici was absolutely hung out to dry by Barta and the rest of the athletic department, as all he would talk about is timing and other procedural matters. Anything else--including any question of a follow-up nature--Federici couldn't answer. Which, y'know, you expect from the director of football operations, right? Right? Anybody?

I worry about how bad that press conference would have been without Biff Poggi. I really do. He may be an old Ferentz friend, but he was the only one saying anything of merit at that press conference, and there was more information about specifics that came out from Poggi than would have if Ferentz and Barta were there. In fact, you think the backlash is bad now? Imagine if Barta and Ferentz were there and they stonewalled on the "I wasn't there" front as badly as Federici and Holmes did. The fallout would be worse than if they never showed up to the presser at all. 

Kirk Ferentz needs to be careful. I don't think this incident will necessitate his firing, nor do I think it should. As Biff Poggi said, this type of workout happens everywhere. Further, Ferentz clearly has Barta's support, and there's nothing to suggest that sports information director Phil Haddy is anything less than Ferentz's ideal SID: a terse propagandist until someone on the team wins an award. In that sense, Ferentz is much different than Mike Leach.

Where Ferentz isn't different from Leach, however, is in his approach to non-football issues. To both these men, PR and all that is basically theater. They're not wrong; people want to see public demonstrations of positive values at every opportunity, and Kirk Ferentz has generally succeeded there. But he doesn't go out of his way to do so, which again speaks to his mostly Iowan/Midwestern value set, but which also opens him up for serious criticism when things start going bad. And when the UI can't even communicate the fact that Ferentz has contacted the parents of the afflicted players or that they want to get out of the hospital and back to workouts until a parent says so at a press conference, the athletic department only magnifies the perception problems facing Ferentz.

Anyway, the more information that comes out, the more I'll think about this and have to say about it. Frankly, I'd love to hear more from some players themselves, but that's probably not about to happen. In that sense, the UI is winning the message battle. At the same time, they are most certainly losing the war of perception, and that is a war that usually costs many their jobs.

Thoughts on this? Again, Ferentz's job isn't in trouble over this, but the more he distances himself from the problem--like, he hasn't said anything--the more I wonder what the hell purpose Iowa's sports information department exists to serve. DO SOMETHING GOOD ALREADY.

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