Thursday, September 09, 2004

Sitting In On the Kirk Ferentz Show

Iowa City, Ia.—It’s 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Time for the Kirk Ferentz Show.

About 40 reporters and hangers-on—all of them men—are in an auditorium at the Hayden Fry Football Complex.

Most are sitting. A few guys who are preparing to zero in on Ferentz at his weekly press conference with large TV cameras, are standing.

This is the only shot reporters will get to question Ferentz until about 2:30 p.m. Saturday—after his Iowa football team plays Iowa State at nearby Kinnick Stadium.

Ferentz walks into the room at 12:35. [Hey, when your team is ranked No. 12 in the coaches’ poll and No. 16 in the AP poll, it’s cool to be late].

Reporters hurry to the front of the room to place their tape recorders on the table in front of the man who is in his sixth season as Iowa’s head coach.

This is the third organized session Ferentz has had with reporters since Aug. 10, when practice began.

Ferentz is totally unlike Hayden Fry, his predecessor. Fry, who coached at Iowa for 20 years, sometimes came into these sessions with reporters with a motive.

He liked to say he didn’t read newspapers, but he always knew what was in them.

Fry occasionally would start out by saying something like, “Somebody put an article on my desk……” or, “My wife told me about an article that was in the paper……”

Fry might pick someone out of the crowd of reporters and talk about him—especially if the guy had written a story that didn’t please him.

A favorite target was Jim Ecker of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, an outstanding reporter who didn’t hesitate to ask Fry tough questions [in other words, questions the coach didn’t like] and didn’t mind writing stories that most coaches would classify as controversial.

Ecker often took a police-beat approach to sportswriting. Because he did, he was generally well-respected by other reporters, but maybe not by Fry or those he worked with in the Iowa athletic offices.

On this sunny, pleasant September day in 2004, it’s not so much who’s present for the Kirk Ferentz Show, but who isn’t.

Missing is Al Grady, a longtime sportswriter and columnist from Iowa City. For a long, long time, it wasn’t an official football conference unless Grady was part of it.

But he died at 76 last December. With him went some one-of-a-kind behavior.

Grady was a Hawkeye fan, and didn’t mind telling you so. He saw Nile Kinnick and the 1939 Ironmen play. That made him special.

A typical Al Grady-type question to Ferentz—or to Fry, Leonard Raffensperger, Forest Evashevski, Jerry Burns, Ray Nagel, Frank Lauterbur or Bob Commings, who preceded him--might be, “Coach, our second-team offensive line is hurting right now, so what can we do to have it hold up Saturday against Purdue?”

The words “we” and “us” were as much a part of Grady’s vocabulary at a press conference as “offense” and “defense.”

Grady didn’t hesitate to wear black-and-gold shirts and jackets that said “Iowa” and “Hawkeyes” on them at a time when other sportswriters – who didn’t want to give any hint that they cared about which team won the game – were careful about such things.

Some thought Grady got to be a bit of a pest in his later years. He seemed to ask some questions just to let everyone know he could still ask questions. But he was harmless, he never caused problems for the coaches and nobody seemed to truly mind him.

But now he’s covering games at the big stadium in the sky, and no one has replaced him.

Ferentz’s press conferences would be classified as bland when compared to Fry’s.

They last for anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, then he meets in a second, more informal session with eager reporters who think they’re going to get some sort of scoop by rushing up to the front of the room to visit with him.

There are five TV cameras in the back of the room, so you can assume there are five TV reporters at the press conference.

Andy Fales of WHO in Des Moines and John Campbell of KCRG in Cedar Rapids are clearly the most aggressive questioners among the TV gang.

Ferentz, wearing a blue shirt, a red patterned tie and with his hair combed as though he was prepared for the press conference by a TV producer, doesn’t get upset with anyone’s question as he prepares for what clearly is one of the most important games on his schedule.

He’s obviously Mr. Smooth.

We keep hearing rumors that Ferentz, who has a 22-5 record in the last three seasons at Iowa, is headed for an NFL coaching job soon. Ferentz, who has been an assistant in the pro league, has the demeanor of someone who would fit in well in the NFL
It turns out there are no Jim Ecker-type questions tossed at Ferentz at this session. Ecker isn’t attending the press conference. He still works for the Gazette, but he must have other duties these days.

Ferentz can’t figure out how Iowa can be favored by 25 points, but neither can some of the reporters.

We’ll all see you next week, Kirk.


It’s not an official TV football game unless there’s a sideline reporter on the scene.

The latest trend, it seems, has been for the network TV people to pick out an attractive young woman [whose hair is either naturally blonde or colored to look blonde] to be the sideline reporter.

She will be prepared to make a dozen or so comments during the game, but time restraints won’t permit that many.

She also will rush up to one of the coaches at halftime and after the game to get a 10-second answer.

Too often the question is, “Coach, what does your team have to do to keep this 20-point lead in the second half?” and too often the answer is, “Just keep plugging away.”

Then there was the famous Lloyd Carr comment at halftime of a Michigan game last season.

The male sideline announcer asked Carr something about strategy, and the Wolverines’ coach called it a stupid question.

End of interview.

Saturday’s Iowa-Iowa State game will be carried by ESPN-Plus to what is called a “regional” audience. That means it’s basically a statewide network, with spillovers into places like Omaha and Rochester, Minn.

Jeannine Edwards will be the Designated Blonde, aka sideline reporter. She’ll be the lady tabbed to rush up—microphone in hand--to either Iowa State coach Dan McCarney or Ferentz at halftime and after the game.

If Iowa is ahead as expected at halftime, she’ll likely ask a question or two to Ferentz. The Hawkeye coach is usually Mr. Smooth on the sideline, too. He may even end the short interview by saying, “I like how we’re playing, Jeannine.”

At the start of the second half, Edwards might say in a message meant to be put on the air, “Larry [as in play-by-play announcer Larry Morgan], I talked with Dan McCarney just as his team came back onto the field and he said his players do not feel they’re out of this game and they don’t have their daubers down. He has every reason to believe the Cyclones will play a strong last half.”

Morgan, the veteran and highly-regarded play-by-play announcer, did the Iowa-Kent State game last week and has broadcast Iowa basketball games for a number of years. Marv Cook, the commentator, is a former Hawkeye football player.

Cook bothers me at times because he occasionally uses poor grammar, but he knows his football. I guess that’s what the viewers care about most.

Jeannine Edwards? Only the Internet research button knows who Jeannine Edwards is.

Not even Morgan, who knows everybody in the TV and radio business, is familiar with Edwards.

I e-mail Morgan to see if he can tell me about her.

“I didn’t know either, so I checked the Internet today,” he wrote back. “I learned she has done a lot of work for ESPN……much of it horse racing, but also some sideline reporting. She has also competed in equestrian events.”

Well, then, let’s all give a rousing Kinnick Stadium welcome to Jeannine Edwards.


This e-mail is from my friend Chuck Offenburger:

“Hi, Ron…..

“You write: ‘All I can figure out is that maybe someone will have to be assigned to rate the baton twirlers in the marching band from each school to come up with that half-point [when Iowa was favored by 26 ½ points over Iowa State early in the week].’

“Nobody has to be assigned to do that—it’s my job. I always determined the winner of the battle of the bands at the Iowa vs. Iowa State games when I was doing my columns for the Register. After I left the paper in ’98, I’ve only done it when the game is played in Iowa City. That’s because Frosty Mitchell said he misses knowing which band is better, so for the Cyclone-Hawkeye games at Kinnick, Frosty and Joan invite Carla and me to come watch from their skybox.

“He requires two things: 1) that Carla wear her Iowa State red and gold so he can make fun of her when the Hawkeyes win, and 2) that I tell him right at the end of halftime which band wins.

“Since I appointed myself to judge the bands, back in ’78, I think it was, I would say that more years than not, the bands are better than the football teams in this rivalry. They’re both terrific, and I wish both would get more showtime on the field.
“See you at Kinnick Saturday.

Chuck O.”

[COMMENT: Great hearing from you, Chuck. I’ll be waiting for to see your vote].


This e-mail is from an Iowa woman:

“With the big game fast approaching, I think we will see the true teams. That game seems to bring out the best in them. It is truly a fans’ game and both teams are aware of that. I was at the big game a few years ago when Iowa was beating them at Ames. The game was almost over and Hawkeye fans were rejoicing, and all of a sudden ‘bam!’ they were overconfident and the Cyclones beat them.

“Where we were sitting, there was an outburst of Cyclone fans that was so obnoxious that we were glad to get out of there. But I have heard it said at the other field also. It goes along with that caliber of a game. We will see who the best is Saturday. Go, Hawks!”

[COMMENT: Like I’ve always said, sometimes strange things happen in the Iowa-Iowa State game. And like the lady says, we’ll find out who's best].


A guy from Coralville writes:

“Ron—Do you think the Hawkeyes can win by 25 or 26 points Saturday? I’d take Iowa State and the line because I don’t think the Iowa offense can generate that many points.”

[COMMENT: This guy knows his football, so maybe I should make a bet].

Vol. 4, No. 254
Sept. 9, 2004