Kirk Ferentz is the football coach of the University of Iowa. He’s one of the longest-tenured coaches in the game. He’s the face of the program that represents an entire state. In his time there, he has established Iowa as a second-tier Big Ten school. On the field, during his time in Iowa City, they’ve been as better than any program in the conference sans Ohio State and Michigan.
That’s why I was decidedly frustrated watching today’s “drugageddon” press conference. Here he is, the face of the most nationally recognizable program in the state, and he was pointing fingers at everyone but himself for recent events. He refused to take any blame. It was disappointing to say the least.
I don’t believe that Iowa football is in a hell-hole of trouble here. I don’t believe that Adam Robinson is being suspended because he tested positive (Jewel Hampton’s transfer, however, I’ll go down the rabbit-hole with you on). I certainly don’t think that this is a massive cover-up, and I never believed that twelve players were going to be suspended today or that Ferentz was going to give up his job.
I do think, however, that this was a major red flag for the entire program, and that things need to change – quickly.
“Where does it start and where does it end?” Ferentz questioned when asked about how he didn’t know that DJK was living in with a drug dealer. “We don’t do background checks on roommates, girlfriends… that certainly was news to me, what I read in the newspaper.”
Where does it start and end? With Kirk. He is the head coach. He is basically in charge of a multi-million dollar machine that plays at Kinnick Field. He may not have time to chase down 105 different athletes, but certainly he has time to figure out what’s going on with someone as notable as DJK.
Derrell Johnson-Koulianos is not some gunner on the punt team. He’s not a second-string lineman. He is the leading receiver in Iowa history. He’d be treated like a rock star across much of the state. How can Ferentz not know where he’s living and whom he’s living with? How can Ferentz be that disconnected?
This isn’t the NFL. These are 18-to-23 year old men. They want to make mistakes. It’s in their fabric. It’s your job to help guide them through this, or at least to find someone to do it for you. Ferentz admitted such himself, saying “the football aspect is just a small percentage of what we do.”
And when one of the most recognizable faces on your team is living with a cocaine dealer and the head coach doesn’t know about it? That’s irresponsible. That’s a disgrace. And then to say “that was certainly news to me?” Either that’s bullcrap to cover up a story, or Ferenzt is only doing a “small percentage” of his job.
In a year when senior leadership obviously lacked, the coaching staff needed to step up and take more active role. But when asked if drugs caused an issue in the locker room, Ferentz said, “I would have no idea.”
He is the highest-paid state official in the state of Iowa. It’s his job to have an idea! It’s his job to figure out what’s going on! The University is counting on him to make them millions of dollars from merchandising, and is paying him rightly to do so. Yet what if the worst happened, and DJK did associate with a number of members of the team. Imagine if his roommate did sell them pot, cocaine, and prescriptions. It would be a national embarrassment. Iowans would be ashamed to wear black and gold in public.
Yet, it’s not that far off, because Ferentz admitted he “would have no idea” about drugs being an issue. Not that he believes that drugs weren’t an issue – but literally that he would have no clue as to the ramifications of drugs in his locker room. He’s admitting he’s so far removed from the actual players, he really doesn’t know how drugs have impacted how they relate to each other. He sees and talks to these 105 men just about every day, but doesn’t know any of them apparently.
Ferentz is getting a mulligan here. It’s just one player – one mistake. But things need to get fixed. First, figure out where every single one of your players is living. You don’t need to be hard on them – you just need to know these extreme situations. No player should ever be living in a house that deals drugs. That stuff is obvious.
Maybe Ferentz is relying on his position coaches a little too much. Some of them might be more trustworthy than others. No matter what the wide receivers coach says, the final blame lays on Ferentz. If he needs to clean house on some position coaches who aren’t keeping tabs on their players, he needs to do it immediately and make it public. Let everyone know that you’re boss. Let the coaches know that if they want to be in Iowa City, they have to be just as knowledgeable of their players off the field as on the field.
And for heaven’s sake, fix the testing system! Gary Barta mentioned that University of Iowa medical students are the ones who collect the tests, which are then sent to an outside testing agency. That’s ridiculous! Medical students can be fans too. Plenty of undergrads at Iowa end up doing grad school there as well. Some of them love black and gold to a ridiculous degree. If they were to be told by a player that something might be wrong, who’s to say that they don’t let things slide (especially if money is involved).
I think that there’s a great chance that Kirk Ferentz, Gary Barta, and the University of Iowa as a whole bounce back from this with ease. Two years from now, this will just be some strange blimp on a radar. Iowa football may have been headed down a dark road, but for now, DJK has given them a flat tire. Hopefully the program will just turn the car around.