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KIRK SPEAKS: Music City Bowl

The Hawks are heading to Nashville for a rematch against Kentucky

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s bowl season y’all! And what a weird time it is in the era of the Transfer Portal. The 7-5 Iowa Hawkeyes are headed to Nashville for a rematch against the Kentucky Wildcats, in a game that is certainly set up to be weird as hell.

Why? We’ll get into that, but you know why anyways. So let’s hear what Kirk Ferentz had to say about it all in his bowl announcement press conference, shall we? Check out my highlights below, and the full transcript here.

With all of the transfer portal stuff going on this week, this was a very interesting and newsy press conference, so let’s start with an interesting quote from the opening statement:

KIRK FERENTZ: Our roster is in a process of shifting, probably like every college football program in America right now. These are unchartered times, certainly, with some of the new things that are going on in college football, and we’re really no different. So we got a few things that are going on there, and then on a notable front, unfortunately, Spencer Petras will not be able to play in the game. The injury he had in the Nebraska ball game was significant enough to require surgery. So he’s not going to be able to compete. Nobody’s more disappointed than him, obviously. Like any player that has an injury that requires surgery, it just takes ‘em out of competition. It’s good that he’ll be with us, but all of us wish he wasn’t on sideline supporting the team. But that is the one thing I have to report right now.

IT’S LABAS TIME Y’ALL. Not that that really matters due to Cade McNamara’s imminent donning of the black and gold, but this is about to get really interesting. Also because the “roster is in a process of shifting,” I expect a lot of targets for Sam LaPorta (if he plays) and...Diante Vines I guess? This is going to be interesting to watch for sure, but when the offense has been one of the worst in the country and all of its experience goes away? Woof. This could be an absolutely brutal game to watch.

KIRK FERENTZ: A couple guys have made up their minds. A couple guys are trying to figure out what they want to do. I just encourage our players to give a good thought. And the biggest thing is once we start our preparation in earnest, I want to make sure everybody’s ready to roll and they’re totally on board.

A nod here to Keagan Johnson’s indecision here, perhaps? Maybe some others that haven’t officially announced, but are out there in the wind? This is going to be an extremely interesting month-plus for this program, in so many ways, and it’s going to be extremely fun to watch.

Q. I want to know, will Joe Labas be your starter in the bowl game, then?

KIRK FERENTZ: Well, it will be him or Carson May, one of the two. We’ll let those guys work the next four weeks and see how they do. We were on the field yesterday and both, I thought, did some good things but obviously we got some work to do with both guys. The good news is we have four weeks to get that done.

A battle for the eventual number two spot! This will certainly be a storyline to follow, but neither of these guys are going to take the starting job away from McNamara next year, barring injury. But hey, backup experience is important! I’m almost positive we see Labas take the vast majority of the snaps in this game.

More injury updates:

Q. Wanted to get an update on Cooper DeJean and Sam LaPorta.

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, they would not have played if we played yesterday or this weekend. But I would expect Cooper for sure to return here at the end of the week. I think Sam’s very close. He’s out on the field, moving around pretty good, but he would not have been game-ready this week, nor would have Cooper.

But expect them both to be fully ready to go in the bowl game. I know they’re excited. I don’t want to speak for our guys on our team, but I can tell just by the way they’re acting they’re excited to play another game.

“If we played yesterday or this weekend” lol was there another game opportunity we missed out on? The question now, particularly for LaPorta, is if he actually suits up. I’m betting he will, but I would not be surprised (or angry) in the least if he decided not to. Why not give Luke Lachey more reps?

Q. I wanted to ask you a little bit about the transfer portal. You’ve had some significant departures, I guess, or at least they have announced it. Even though tomorrow is the first day that nine graduate transfers can officially enter it, do you expect everybody who announced to actually go to the portal or is there some, maybe some swaying back the other way towards staying for one or two of ‘em?

KIRK FERENTZ: That’s a great question on a couple levels. We’re all learning. One thing I learned this — I’m trying to sort all this stuff out — who can we talk to, who can’t we talk to. One thing I also learned is players that played on staffs where the coaching staff was fired they’re treated like graduate transfers. So you can have, you know, a conversation with those folks.

But to answer your question, and I didn’t cover this in my comments, glad you asked, not everybody’s a hundred percent. That’s kind of my encouragement when I talked to the team yesterday, was just take some time here, deliberately take some time over the next few days and make sure if you want to be here, you’re here and your feet are here and full-fledged and part of the team ... It’s just a different time in sports right now. So my encouragement to our guys is if you’re serious about playing in this game, then let’s go, and if you’re not, then wait back, and then we’ll handle each situation individually in terms of the players.

But I would say the majority of the guys that, you know, have announced that they have thoughts probably won’t be back with us...

This is where things get really interesting. My guess would be he’s mostly talking, again, about Keagan Johnson here, but with all the chatter out there, who knows? And would the coaching staff just punish him if he does decide he wants to come back? So much uncertainty right now.

Q. Piggybacking off a question earlier, I wanted to clarify in the portal. If a player enters their name tomorrow or whenever does that, does that sell them on leaving or are you open to accepting a player back? I mean, I think back to Daviyon Nixon and his situation. Has your stance on that changed? And then a second part to that, is there ever a scenario in which you could see a player who is in the portal being a part of bowl prep and actually potentially play on December 31st?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, it’s possible. I don’t think there will be a high number of those, at least in our program. But that’s what I was referencing a little bit earlier, trying to articulate.

I think, I think our approach will be we’ll look at each and every individual case. I can share this with you that a couple of the players that, you know, they’re very firm in their thinking. And, you know, amazingly a couple of them already had I think a destination in mind and probably worked out. And that’s good. It’s good they have a home.

I can’t imagine that Kirk will be very compelled by Keagan’s case knowing his history, but who knows?

Q. Historically, you’ve been one of the more conservative programs in the transfer portal. How does the slew of transfer portal entries that you’ve already seen change that? What specifically is going to be your approach at wide receiver in the portal?

KIRK FERENTZ: I think it’s way too early to say because you don’t know how our numbers compare to other numbers. Quite frankly, I don’t think our numbers are a lot different right now than they were for the entire year last year, not dramatically different.

But the difference is that they all kind of are centralized on a time period, whereas you might have a guy here or a guy four weeks later, five weeks later in years past. But the portal’s opened this up. It’s just a whole new time in college football, factor in NIL, couple that with the portal. Just sort of like guys, I remember when it was really unusual for a guy not to play in a bowl game. I’ll date myself, and I can’t remember the player, it was a pretty prominent player who didn’t play in the Orange Bowl, and I was naive enough to think, you know, coaching in the Orange Bowl is pretty big deal for me, and I would think playing in the Orange Bowl would be a big deal for a player.

But, again, it’s kind of a sign that we’re moving into different times. So you just have to accept it, I think, and you deal with it. You always hate to lose any player from the program. I said that earlier, and I do mean that sincerely. But Mike Tomlin, I think, was quoted saying, You don’t want a hostage in the building either.

So if a guy’s not really interested — and those are his words, not mine, but if a guy’s not a hundred percent on board, it’s probably best for everybody just to go separate ways, and then our task is to look at the portal and look at the transfer market and try to learn more about them, just like we would any recruit that we’re looking at coming out of high school, and try to bolster the roster.

Now all that being said, it’s going to affect the month of December for, I think, probably most programs. I’ll just go out on a limb and say that. You guys know the numbers better than I do.

But to try to quantify it right now and compare it to other years, I don’t think that’s reasonable just because this year’s so different than any year we’ve been in.

A whole lot of words here for Kirk to say the obvious that it’s their job to look into the portal to bolster the roster. I’d argue they did a terrible job of it last season for no reason, but I digress. Again, with all the rumblings out there, it’s clear someone on the staff had a come to Jesus moment with Kirk regarding the portal and NIL, and it’s working. The first domino has fallen, but how many fall in succession before it halts to a stop still remains in the air right now.

Speaking of bolstering the roster...

Q. Forgive me for not knowing this, but are you allowed to talk about Cade McNamara?

KIRK FERENTZ: Can’t talk about any prospects. I can talk about the guys on our team right now. I checked on, not that specific name, but I checked on that detail today, just to make sure I didn’t step in one.

Q. Well that said, what did you think about Cade McNamara and the way that he played against you and in general last year?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, he impressed the hell out of me. Their whole team did. He was a leader of that team, a captain on that team. Very, very impressive. The guy that played last night was very impressive too.

So, big surprise, Michigan’s got some good players and you know, it’s probably a long tradition there.

Hah. Well, our new quarterback “impressed the hell out of Kirk” so that’s good! Don’t recall him...ever saying that about one of his quarterbacks? The future is bright...if Kirk and Brian allow it to be.

Q. I know you’ve only had nine days or thereabouts to kind of assess the season, but do you anticipate your staff being intact say in February? Or do you think that there might be some departures? Do you have any kind of an update to share in that area?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I mean departures on our staff are sort of like the portal and your team. Anything could happen there. Couple thoughts on that. Just, again, simplification. But I look at our season and I’m an optimist as you guys probably know. We lost two games by three points. We lost to two teams that are in the college football playoffs, which I think is historic from our conference. Both in the same season we played those two teams. And as I said back when we played ‘em I thought they were pretty strong. I think it’s been verified on the field and by the Selection Committee today.

And we lost a game last week where we had two key players injured. We turned it over and gave up a big play. The things that had really helped us win the four previous games. So every season’s a new season. Every season is a different season. Every season has its own story. But, yeah, it is what it is. I told the team yesterday, I’m really proud of ‘em, and it’s been enjoyable to work with ‘em and I’m looking forward to working with ‘em, I think our whole staff is, this coming month.

And then, like every year, we’ll do a comprehensive study on everything we’re doing. I really kind of foresee this year being similar to what we did — and I had this thought weeks ago — what we did in 2014. 2014, that’s when we went to the morning schedule, etc.

But we do a study each and every year, but I think this one will be a little bit more thorough and a little bit more detailed.

Again, a lot of chatter out there about possible coaching changes in the offseason. Either this is Kirk just giving his political answer or he truly doesn’t anticipate making any major changes which is...something. It doesn’t matter if Cade McNamara or Bryce Young walks through the door for winter semester if nothing is going to change at the top. Let’s hope it’s not a wasted opportunity.

And what will this “study” entail, exactly? Obviously 2015 was a very successful year, but this is a completely different situation for sooooo many reasons. Coaching changes or not, with everything changing on the roster, moving practice times isn’t going to be a magical solution that all of the sudden boosts Iowa into the playoff.

I can picture a future press conference now: “Kirk: I have an announcement that a lot of people have been probably waiting to hear, we did a study and we’re changing our meal times for the next season and I think it’s going to really help us prepare mentally. Oh and I gave Brian another raise.”

Q. A couple quarterback questions. Shocker. Do you expect — I guess I feel for Spencer, obviously. Do you expect him — how long will he be out and do you expect to have a conversation about him returning? And then secondly, can you think of a situation like this in your coaching career where you’ve had, you go into game with two guys that have never played a game?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, if you hang around long enough you never know what’s going to happen. This is an instance or, you know, or an example of that.

So, yeah, I mean, it’s not ideal. But I think about 2010 when a guy name Coker jumped in there and ran for 225, I think it was, down against Missouri ... So it is a really high, highly interesting situation. But we got a lot of strengths on our team too. So we’ll try to play to those. I’m sure Kentucky’s going to do the same thing with their team. And it will be, hopefully, a great game for both teams.

Going back to Spencer, unfortunately, it required surgery. We were hoping that wasn’t the case. Of course it couldn’t have just been a bruise or a sprain. So it required surgery. I think it’s probably unrealistic to think that he’ll be able to throw a ball for several months now, including spring.

So I think first things first. Let’s get him healthy. And then I think he would have had a chance to be a maybe a pro guy, a pro free agent. I don’t know how this is going to affect it. We’ll know a lot more in the new calendar year on that one.

Two things here:

  1. The chances of this being a “great game for both teams” are extremely low
  2. Spencer Petras and I have very similar chances at “maybe being pro guys”

Q. You were mentioning the nothing really being broken. A lot the offensive stats have you in the last 10. What are the metrics that you’re going to be using to evaluate the offense and the offensive coordinator in particular?

KIRK FERENTZ: It will be a lot more extensive once we get to the out of season. But as I’ve kind of been relaying to you all along, you go back and one of the guys that played last night played very well in the game. That was a big loss to us in the out of season, talking about the portal.

They gave the story about why he left. It wasn’t discontent here, I don’t think. But, you know, he played with a high school quarterback or at least a childhood friend, you know. So it is what it is. But that was a loss.

Injuries keeping players off the field, good players off the field. If you go back and look at who was on the field for a couple of the games early in the season I think that was reasonable that affected us. Things I know about some of the development of our younger guys and things like that. Where there was some things that impeded their development. We thought they would be further along.

Thinking about the guys up front. And from my advantage point, and that’s what I said about both quarterbacks, Spencer and Alex, tough to get a fair assessment, just because of the way we were operating.

The challenge is, can we fix that. Are we doing things well enough. Is the system geared towards having success offensively. We’ve had success too with the system and the coaches here.

So we’ll take all that into measurement and that will go in earnest in January, start in earnest in January. Right now our focus will be on getting ready for this game and trying to put a good football team out there on the field.

Good lord this is such a frustrating answer. Did injuries hurt what this team was capable of? Yes, absolutely. Every team in the country would struggle with that many wide receiver injuries that early in the season. But to take Kirk’s word here, injuries were the only reason that this offense floundered this season, and that’s simply not the case by any stretch of the imagination. There needs to be an immediate change at offensive line coach, and if Brian isn’t going to be fired, something needs to be done there. The head coach of this program asking the media if he can fix his own offense would make me extremely nervous if I’m McNamara.

But again, there’s a lot of chatter, a lot of possibility, and we know this team will look completely different by the end of January. But again, and I cannot stress this enough, it will not mean shit if there are no changes to the offense from the coaching level in some fashion.

You don’t bring in a quarterback who has played for a playoff team to have the worst offense in the country. That’s an extremely easy way to lose the fanbase faster than he seemed to this year.