In gathering as much information as possible throughout this ordeal, one thing has become clear: Kirk Ferentz failed many former players in his construction of the Iowa football program. An accounting of those ills has been taking place as Ferentz is discussing one-on-one with many of the Hawks who tweeted last Friday night and into last weekend. He’s doing exactly what he said he would do: listen.
Chris Doyle could not do the same after being placed on leave, and by outlets such as the On Iowa and Washed Up Walkons podcasts, sealed his fate. As Kirk Ferentz mentioned in Friday’s presser, he feels good about the coach/student-athlete relationships which remain in the building after Doyle’s
Of course, this is just one man’s — the head coach’s — perspective. It’s been the point of view shared for 21 years which has had a blind eye to issues of race within his locker room, so there’s certainly reason to be skeptical. But his sentiment was shared by Keith Duncan, Ivory Kelly-Martin,& Kaevon Merriweather during the press conference as well as many Hawkeyes on Twitter.
It is very likely the team meetings Iowa had on Monday and Tuesday would have turned up any issues from guys who aren’t suspended. Kirk admitted “blind spots” which was darkly humorous through one way he framed it: wins.
He spoke at relative length about how this wasn’t a 1-10 or 3-9 or a 4-8 team where they needed to change what was happening behind closed doors to improve what fans see every Saturday. After going 10-3 last year and preaching the success of the five-year time horizon, it certainly seemed like the culture was good.
Obviously it wasn’t.
We’ll never know what specific changes Iowa is making in terms of tactics. Ferentz made clear his style of coaching is going to be as it was and put that on player consensus for “hard coaching” but with a focus on being simply demanding and not demeaning.
It’s unlikely we hear about how unwritten rules - something WUW talked at length about - are enforced within the Hansen Football Performance Center. There was one particular exchange on that podcast where one of the hosts discussed coaching that could occur at any minute of any day. The consensus they arrived to was that extreme accountability - i.e: a coach calling out a player for poor body language - is a net positive for the program.
It certainly seemed like that was precisely why many Black former Hawks felt like they had to “put on a mask” or “walk on eggshells.”
Things we do know Iowa football is changing comes down to three big points, at the moment.
- Third-party accountability
- Representative leadership
We don’t know much about the Hawkeye alumni group because Ferentz didn’t get into specifics other than: it exists, Mike Daniels is in charge, there will be 11 ex-players on it, and it is not constrained to Ferentz-era.
If done properly, this group will be able to provide anonymous feedback for the Hawkeye program so a Twitter reckoning is not required every 21 years. One concern raised throughout the Walkon podcast was the players did not do it in house and became a national story. It allowed pile-on with embellishments and lies, some of which were retracted.
Yet the flooding of the Twitter zone allowed for a public accountability of the program. It gave everyone an equal voice to be heard. The irony was that many were not calling for any heads, simply a change in minute details which discriminate against Black players.
We do not know what role it actually has within a program. Does it have teeth? Could it have enabled the change we’ve seen so far if it had been in place ahead of last week?
The only way this group has success is if it continues to provide continuous improvement for Iowa’s Black student-athletes.
Iowa’s last five Leadership Groups, in two charts.
The Leadership Groups within Iowa football is, essentially, a tenured position as 77% of those on the council over these 5 years were seniors. Attrition occurred among Black athletes at a higher rate which meant they were much less likely to be there when the time came for selection onto the leadership committee.
Put another way, there were more Washed Up Walkons cohosts on the 2017 leadership council (3) than Black student-athletes (2).
What this is developing is NOT a ground-up group of leaders. It is instilling sergeants of “The Iowa Way” as team leaders when they may not be the most representative of the team. I mean, did Iowa really need two long snappers on last year’s group?
So Iowa course corrected. There are more Black athletes (12 of 21) on the council than ever before and the spread of college eligibility ranges much wider.
- 3 redshirt freshmen
- 6 sophomores
- 3 juniors
- 9 seniors
None are walk-ons. This isn’t to say that walk-ons do not provide valuable insight into a group like this. However, if this group is what the staff uses to develop the season’s rules, many who hit “tenure” status are not going to push back on status quo-type items which they’ve lived for 3-4 years and may actually enable The Iowa Way’s worst biases.
This is true grassroot leadership as those identified earlier can earn that status when it is deserved. They can both provide input towards a coaching staff and serve as a better conduit for the coaching staff to dictate items worth dissemination.
Kirk Ferentz called it dumb for it not to have been allowed earlier, citing concern kids might say something stupid on the social media platform. The jury is still out on that and Keith Duncan is at the forefront of it.
We do not know what other changes Iowa will make in the coming days and weeks in the lead-up to the 2020 season. The fact that everyone seems confident about it being a stronger team as a result of the Twitter Reckoning is a testament to both the staff Ferentz has assembled as well as the players they have recruited.
Whether it continues on the trajectory of the first week of summer camp is to be determined.