Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz addresses the media at the Feb. 6 signing day. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Longtime Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz took on his sport’s transfer rules with his strongest language yet Wednesday, questioning the “ambiguity” involved when determining which players are eligible to compete for their new schools without sitting out a year.
“If you get the right lawyer, you might have a pretty good chance of becoming immediately eligible. And I think we're just kind of, we're getting into some real gray area in terms of what would cause a guy to have to sit or a guy to be eligible,” Ferentz said at a news conference intended to introduce the Hawkeyes’ three newest recruits.
“I think we're opening up a door to maybe some scary territory. It's concerning.”
Ferentz, entering his 21st season as Iowa’s head coach, again criticized a decision three years ago to allow Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee to play right away after transferring from Tulane.
At the time, the rationale given was that a coaching change at his old school had produced a different offensive style. Meanwhile, Iowa defensive end Drew Ott was denied an extra year of eligibility after his senior season was derailed by injury midway through.
Ferentz’s pointed remarks came as his team could lose defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon. The sophomore entered his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal three weeks ago but has not made a final decision about whether to remain with the Hawkeyes, who graduated starting defensive tackles Sam Brincks and Matt Nelson after last season.
“We're still hoping he'll be on our football team. That's our goal and our hope,” Ferentz said of Nixon, who sat out in 2018 after transferring from Iowa Western Community College. “Let time dictate.”
Nixon’s father, Rodney, told the Register this week that his son has drawn interest from teams in the SEC, ACC and Big Ten, of which Iowa is a member.
A decision is not imminent, but Iowa will begin its spring practices in the last week of March, so clearly Ferentz would prefer some clarity.
“We've got to get this figured out because, in essence, we could end up with free agency real quickly,” Ferentz said of policies regarding transfers. “And I'm not sure that's a world we all want to live in.”
Ferentz also expressed support with a summertime signing date for recruits, moving that up from December, while also maintaining the second signing day in February.
And he spoke of the 135 underclassmen who declared their intent to enter the NFL Draft in April.
Iowa is losing four of its best players — tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, safety Amani Hooker and defensive end Anthony Nelson. All four were invited to participate in this month’s NFL Scouting Combine, a good sign that they’ll be drafted.
Ferentz said he was happy for his former players. But he said: “It creates a bigger challenge for us as coaches and as a football team to put a good team out there."
"I think those three things alone (early NFL entries, the transfer system and a second national signing day) just give you an illustration why it's so interesting to be a college coach and kind of keeps you on the edge of your seat," he said. "Keeps everybody thinking about how it's going to affect the future.”
Putting some pressure on Stanley's shoulders
Ferentz also spoke of his optimism regarding returning Hawkeyes, particularly on offense and especially at quarterback. Nate Stanley is poised to become the first three-year starter at that position for Iowa since Ricky Stanzi nine years ago.
He’ll have two potential NFL players anchoring his offensive line in tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs. Plus, some experience at wide receiver and running back.
“Certainly he's built a good base. And the fact that he's back with a group of offensive coaches now that are in their third year together in a system that's three years into it, that's a nice place to start,” Ferentz said of Stanley and his son, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.
Kirk Ferentz spoke of his senior quarterback again when asked about a spring depth chart. That’s a work in progress, the coach said, and no one’s job is guaranteed.
“If somebody can beat Stanley out, welcome to it. Shame on Nate if it happens,” Ferentz said. “A point we make to everybody is if Nate Stanley is not a better player next year than he was htis year, it's probably not going to be good for our football team.
“Guys need to be moving up the ladder, not just moving forward.”
A super weekend for father and son
Ferentz spent last weekend in Atlanta, where his son, James, won a Super Bowl ring as a member of the New England Patriots practice squad. James Ferentz previously got one as an offensive lineman for the Denver Broncos.
“If I was a GM, I'd get him on my team. That's three out of five he's been in. He's got like a rabbit's foot,” Kirk Ferentz joked about his son.
“(I) heard a lot of nice compliments from people in the organization about what he does every day. And that's his job, to help the other guys get ready. And if he's called upon, then he's got to be ready.
"But we talk to our players all the time about having a role on the football team and he's embraced that. He's worked extremely hard. The most important thing is to get respect from your peers in anything you do.”
Ferentz also reconnected with his former boss, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and onetime Hawkeye star defensive end Adrian Clayborn, a current Patriot.
“It's a great reminder of the value of building a culture,” Ferentz said of being around a New England team that won its sixth championship. “Whether it's in high school, college or pros, having a culture that really allows you to put a winning team, a team that has an opportunity to win out on the field, getting the right guys out there, getting them to all focus on a singular goal.
"And then most importantly, put them on the field in a position where they have a chance to have success.”