It’s Signing Day! And we’re 10 days away from the Music City Bowl! So of course, our beloved friend Kirk Ferentz and Director of Recruiting Tyler Barnes took to the mic Wednesday afternoon in between basketball games (let’s not talk about the men) to discuss it all.
Let’s get right into it, shall we? Check out both transcripts here and my highlights and snark from both below.
Let’s start with these two snippets from the opening statement:
KIRK FERENTZ: Just in general, really pleased with the ‘23 class. Each and every player involved in this class I think has a good appreciation or understanding of our program, our history, the traditions here, and really happy about that. I think two things that probably are attractive to them are the stability of the program over time and that’s certainly unique, and then obviously the opportunity, mostly the opportunity to develop, grow and develop in the program. That’s what we ask our players on our team to do and focus on ...
College football is changing. I alluded to that. The portal is out there; it’s growing and will continue to grow I think as long as the rules stay as they are, and we’re not blind to that or against that, but I do want to just say our goal is to grow our own team, to have the core of our team be guys that we recruited to the program and have them in the program so they can develop to the maximum.
A little bit of shade at a certain recruit, perhaps, in that first paragraph? I digress.
Kirk saying ‘our goal is to grow our own team.’ Is not an earth-shattering revelation from him. But do I think it’s a silly thing to solely emphasize on, when you just signed a quarterback from the portal that will immediately elevate your program? Yes. The program has done a good job this year with the portal, but I think they will really need to hit it hard after the bowl game. There are so many holes that need filled on this team. Saying that your primary goal is to ‘have the core of our team be guys we recruited to the program and have them in the program’ just isn’t going to work in today’s landscape. You can still do it, yes, but this shows me, at least, Kirk’s continued reluctance to fully embrace this new landscape is silly. You can do both and they will need to do both. ‘But Matt, Iowa is a developmental program,’ you say.
You’re right. But then why are you bringing in Cade McNamara if you’re just hoping to solely develop players? This is where I’m confused and frustrated with the state of the program. A lot can go right in the next couple years, or it could continue to get worse and I honestly have no clue which direction things will go.
Q. On that topic of the transfer portal, you bring in Cade McNamara. What attracted you about bringing him in? What is his timetable for recovery? What can you tell us about plans for Cade McNamara?
KIRK FERENTZ: Sure, obviously had a medical situation. That’s something we wanted to check thoroughly. But it was really kind of an easy decision just because of — we got firsthand exposure to him, saw him prior to that just going through the season’s film, but we got firsthand exposure to him a year ago December and had great respect for him and the entire team coming into that game for obvious reasons, and left the field feeling even — it more verified, if you will, those thoughts and suspicions.
I’m not a quarterback expert, but just watching what he did a year ago, just struck me as a winner, and that’s what you’re looking for at that position, a leader and a winner, someone that’s going to move the football team. He did a great job of that at his previous school, and yeah, whatever the details would have been this year and how things fell, to me it doesn’t matter, but it was a real opportunity for us, I think, to maybe attract a guy who saw an opportunity and is excited about it.
“I’m not a quarterback expert” Yeah we know. A whole lot of nothing here about Kirk’s shiny new toy.
Q. Health, will he be back this spring as far as you know?
KIRK FERENTZ: We’ll see how that goes once he gets here, but we’re very confident he’ll be fine. I don’t think it’s uncommon, and it’s just something you factor in. But you talk about a guy who’s been on a Big Ten field and had very — a high level of success, it’s not quite as big a factor as how much repetition he’s had. He’s obviously going to transition, but confident that it’s going to be okay.
BUT KIRK I THOUGHT IT TOOK QUARTERBACKS SO MUCH TIME TO LEARN THE PLAYBOOK!? HOW COULD HE POSSIBLY BE READY SO FAST!?
Q. What about Erick All and the combination there? How will he fit with a two-tight-end set? You had pretty good success with that four or five years ago. Does he kind of add to that?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, it’s not the same discussion but similar in that we got to see him firsthand, too. Several games prior to our game really caught my attention there, so it’s just sometimes you just notice players. He was one of them.
So it just turned out that he became interested and available, and he and Cade have a good relationship, I believe, so I don’t think it hurt us at least in our attempt to try to recruit him.
We’re losing a top-notch tight end in Sam LaPorta, outstanding, and then you think about the way Luke Lachey is ascending, has ascended, so we go from I think having two really good tight ends to hopefully the same situation, and that’s certainly a good thing for us.
I’m very excited to see the two-tight end sets with Lachey and All. If I had to guess right now, I’d predict All will be tight end 1 just with his experience with McNamara, but Lachey is poised to be great. This will be fun. Now go and get some more receivers.
Q. Sam LaPorta is back on the two-deep. Is he playing in the bowl game then?
KIRK FERENTZ: I think so. He’s back on the field and seems to be doing great, so happy about that certainly.
Please don’t get injured. But this will certainly help Labas to have an extremely reliable target. Speaking of...
Q. Joe Labas is listed No. 1; is that any indication that he has a big lead, a slight lead?
KIRK FERENTZ: It means he’s No. 1, Carson is No. 2, and your guess is as good as mine on No. 3.
Q. How is it going out there at quarterback?
KIRK FERENTZ: Good, good. We’ve talked about it before, it’s hard to work more than two quarterbacks during the course of a season. That’s where this is a really unusual situation, and yeah, the person who suffered the most here is Spencer just because it ended up being an injury that needed surgery. So that part is really hard. It’s hard for him to be out there watching with a sling on and all that.
But he’s done a great job helping and really coaching Joe up, and those guys all get along great. So that’s where each and every snap is really important for both those quarterbacks.
This somehow became an answer about Spencer Petras? ‘Good, good,’ as an evaluation of your quarterback progress (albeit a starter for one game) is...not inspiring. If Petras stays, I will do a tracker of how many times he gets mentioned in these press conferences.
Q. I’m assuming Kaevon is going to be the only one opting out?
KIRK FERENTZ: Well, we’ve still got seven days, six, seven days until game time, but I’ve seen that movie across other places before. You just never know. But I assume everybody that’s here right now is ready to roll.
He “assumes” huh? Hmm...
Q. How do you evaluate offensive line right now, and do you see the portal as a solution for that or more so sticking towards traditional high schoolers?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I think they’re growing, and I think they’re improving. I referenced that a year ago, as the season went on. So this has been a good month for those guys. I think they’re practicing well and focused and showing growth and improvement. We’re going to need that to have a chance next week.
Really pleased with it, and they’re on the field every day, and that helps, too, when guys are healthy and they develop.
As far as the portal guys, if we can find something that we think would be a benefit, we’ll keep an open mind for sure, but really nothing to report right now.
Please tell me that this answer is a joke and that they’re searching for someone to replace Proctor in the portal. My god. This is a huge area of need for this program. Supposedly this line improved in practice all season, too, and yet we never saw that come to fruition. Offensive line needs to be priority 1A with wideout being 1B, but what do I know?
Speaking of Proctor...
Q. I know this is a perfect opportunity to talk about the guys who aren’t signing with your program, but there is one prominent player who chose not to be here. What are your thoughts now a couple of days removed from when he decommitted and now signed with Alabama?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, it’s recruiting. I really haven’t read anything or heard much, but one thing I think I’ve said before, you can’t lose what you never had, and recruiting is not over until someone signs, actually signs, and not only commits but actually signs.
The other part about that, the prospects, people have the right to make up their mind right until that time. So I respect that, and I’m sure that prospect had his reasons for doing what he’s done. We’d have loved to — if we’ve offered somebody, we’ve done our research and homework. It was nothing on our end, like we didn’t want him here. But yeah, it’s up to a prospect to decide what’s best for them, and that’s really how the process should work. When it comes to our recruits, we’re going to hopefully never be presumptuous and act like we know what’s better for them than what they know.
This is Politician Kirk at his finest right here, and he’s also right, but there’s no way he’s not absolutely livid about this, right? But also, why are we shying around his name? Seems weird to me.
Onto Tyler Barnes!
TYLER BARNES: One thing I will say, we’re not done yet. This is really signing day part one, if you will. We have some spots left. We have a couple spots we’ll look high school-wise and then three, four, maybe five, we’ll see, spots that we’ll look in the portal. One thing that’s — you guys cover recruiting, year-round football, obviously the landscape is changing tremendously.
THE PORTAL, TYLER? BUT I THOUGHT THIS WAS A HOMEGROWN PROGRAM ONLY!
This is from Barnes’ opening statement. It’s crazy how different this press conference is than the last.
TYLER BARNES: But really, just as coach said, our goal is still going to remain the same. We’re not going to live in the portal. We’re going to build our team through the high school ranks. I was watching the 247 signing day show all day today in my office, and they kept calling it the draft. This still is our draft, and for us to be sustainable, at least we believe to be sustainable, you still have got to be able to recruit high school kids and develop those guys, and whether they turn out to be first-round draft picks or just pure depth guys, at the end of the day, that’s going to be important to sustain where you’re at.
Certainly if we have holes, we’ll address that in the portal, and I think you’ve kind of seen that this year, and we’re actively going to keep going that route.
I think this is a solid approach and a better soundbite than what Kirk said above. Obviously the portal is not everything, but again, if you’re actually trying to win championships, you bring in guys like McNamara from the portal. The program is almost at a crossroad with itself.
Q. How difficult has it been for you guys as a recruiting staff to vet out all the players in the transfer portal that you’re potentially looking at? It’s so accelerated right now with everything going on.
TYLER BARNES: It is, it certainly is. Football, college football, NFL, it’s a very small world. Most of the time, whether it’s myself, somebody on our coaching staff, we’re going to have a connection to that staff, and we’re typically going to start there. We’re going to call them right away and just say, what do you really think of the kid, why is he leaving, is there any baggage, would you recommend him. Then some of them, too, are guys that we recruited out of high school. That provides an extra level of comfort because we can go right back to the high school coach who typically they end up having a pretty good relationship with the kid even when he goes to college.
... in this day and age, the transfer portal and the window being open, there’s so much coverage, so when names pop up, I’ve got a board of just guys on my desk and I’m constantly texting coaches: This guy hit the portal, see if you know anybody we can reach out, I’ll try and hit up the kid, I’ll try and hit up the high school coach. It’s just constantly going.
I don’t know how I feel about the window per se. I actually think the window has made this worse, honestly. I kind of liked the rules last year just because it wasn’t so chaotic and crazy those first few days out, but that’s where we’re at, and we’ll adapt and adjust to it, but it is tough. It’s a challenge.
I don’t know if there’s a perfect answer to how you’re supposed to attack it this way, other than we just know we have to dig as much as possible to understand if we’re getting engaged or getting married with this guy, we’ve got to know what we’re inheriting, and is he going to be good in our locker room, is he going to be good with our players, because that’s still a big part of it, too. When these guys come on campus, we still take a lot of input from our current team on, hey, what do you think; is he going to fit with us or is he not, and if they tell us he doesn’t, then we’ll move on.
Interesting insight into the entire portal process here. I think this is a smart approach to it. I guess it depends on if you’re looking at these guys as rentals vs. long term people you’re going to develop.
Q. Does it pose a challenge when in June you think you’re getting a five-star offensive lineman, and then right before signing day you find out that you don’t have that?
TYLER BARNES: You know, we have the 24-hour rule after losses and losing recruits, and yeah, it stinks. It stinks. But at the end of the day, just like coach said, it’s got to be his choice and what’s best for him and his family, and we wish him well. I shot Kadyn and his parents the same text, just hey, best of luck down there, we got you; ignore all the noise on social media. Just look at my mentions if you want to laugh at some stuff, too, because I get the same thing, but just don’t worry about that. You guys have to do what’s best for you, and honestly, in this day and age in the transfer portal, who knows what’s future holds.
We wish him well, but again, it’s not about the one guy we didn’t get; it’s about the 23 guys we signed today.
Again, a good political answer here, but tell me how you really feel, Tyler. Let’s get drinks.
This is going long, so if you want some better breakdowns of the recruiting class, check out the transcript. Let’s end with these two questions:
Q. Who are your early enrollees?
TYLER BARNES: So obviously Cade McNamara, Erick All, Anterio Thompson and Terrell Washington will be the four for sure, and then TBD on — we’ll see how the next three weeks goes here on some others.
Q. As you finalize this class, what do you consider the positional needs?
TYLER BARNES: As we finalize this class, we’re still looking for a corner, whether it’s high school or transfer portal. We’re still — we think we need some help out there. We’re going to look hard at a tackle and see if we can find some help outside there.
Then from there, obviously receiver still, and those are probably the three main spots, and then in true classic Coach Ferentz fashion, we’re always going to keep the best available and see. There’s going to be guys that pop up.
Earlier in the press conference, Barnes mentioned that he thinks there will be a flurry of portal activity post-bowl games. I think so, too, so hopefully we get some answers at these spots. Good to know they’re actually being emphasized. Let’s see where we land.