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December 5, 2021

Kirk Ferentz

Orlando, Florida, USA

Camping World Stadium

Iowa Hawkeyes

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: We have Kirk Ferentz, head coach of Iowa. They'll be playing Kentucky in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day, 1:00 p.m. We've been playing this game here in Orlando at Camping World Stadium and its different iterations since 1947, and we look forward to a celebration with a lot of familiar faces when the teams get down to Orlando.

Looks like Coach Ferentz is with us. Coach, if we could ask you to open up with an opening statement, looking forward to having you down here. Certainly a memorable ending last time you were in Orlando. Congratulations on a successful season. How are you and your team feeling about the game?

KIRK FERENTZ: First of all, we're just really excited to have this opportunity. I'm one of the few people around here, I guess, that remembers the trip. It was such a great experience for everybody involved with most of our team, obviously. Everybody there had a great time in Orlando. You guys did a great job hosting an event. We're thrilled to be back there. It's been quite a while.

Also on that opportunity to play against a team like Kentucky, an outstanding SEC program. Mark Stoops has just been done unbelievable job with that program for quite some time now. We do have some connectivity between the Stoops family.

Bob Stoops, who played here, was a senior in '82, is going in the College Football Hall of Fame this next week actually. Was with us last night. He was doing the game. Mike had a tremendous career here as well. Then Mark was the last one to play here, and he and I were, as I was leaving here in '89, it was the end of Mark's career.

All three Stoops are just tremendous players, all three of them outstanding coaches, and Mark's done just a phenomenal job with the program there. So a little personal aspect to it.

But it's going to be a great thrill for us to have a chance to compete against their football team. We'll have our hands full, I'm sure of that.

We, as a team, are certainly anxious to get back on the field. We had a tough game last night and played an outstanding opponent. Just didn't play well enough in really any of the three areas to expect to win that football game. I know our team is excited about getting back to it and having an opportunity to play in a great bowl game. It was just a great thrill.

We talk to our guys all the time about handling adversity, and that will be the task this coming month for us. First and foremost, I think our players right now just need some rest, not only physically, but also emotionally. Just mentally get away from things a little bit. So we'll try to be very mindful about that. They're going to finish up their schoolwork. This is our last week of class. They'll be in finals next week, and then we'll transition into our game prep.

Just tell you we're really excited about this opportunity, thrilled to be coming to Orlando. And we're looking forward to the challenges at hand. I'll throw it out for questions.

Q. You mentioned the Stoops family obviously had a connection with Iowa, and you mentioned Mark's time there. What do you recall of his time as a player? What did you think at the time -- I know you weren't his position coach. What did you think of him as a player? Did you ever think he'd wind up being a head coach someday?

KIRK FERENTZ: I don't know about head coach, but coaching, he had no choice. It seems to be in the Stoops blood. All of the boys are coaches. The oldest one Ron was a high school coach in Ohio. Then Bob came and Mike and certainly Mark. It's just a great family. Their dad, Ron Sr., was a tremendous high school football coach also.

I remember distinctly when I got here watching Bob Stoops play, there was no question in my mind that he was going to be one of those guys that would go into coaching. That's just how he played. He played smart. He was really tough-minded but also played really smart and was very much into the mental aspect of the game.

It's funny with Mark, one of my first memories, our coordinator during the '80s was a guy named Bill Brashier. Bill is one of the best people and best coaches I've ever worked with. I think, if you asked any of the Stoops, they'd tell you the same. I'll never forget, when Mark was in on his visit, and I walked by Bill's office and he was talking to Mark. Later on we had a staff meeting after the recruiting weekend, and Bill made the comment, he goes, 'You know, if this wasn't a Stoops, I would have sworn there's no way this guy is going to be a college football player.'

His point was that Mark at that time probably looked like he was 15, just a really young-looking high school senior. Coach had his mind made up on that one already. Certainly it panned out. All three of the boys had tremendous careers here, not just good careers, but tremendous careers. So not surprised at all. Mark's done a wonderful job there with Kentucky's program.

Q. Speaking of that, Coach, what do you remember about Mark as a player? I know you were on the offensive side of the ball. I know he was a defensive player at the time. What do you think stood out? Some memories about his playing style.

KIRK FERENTZ: The guy that I know the best and who had the deepest relationship with would be Bob. Bob played here in '82 and stayed on as a grad assistant. That's what they call volunteer assistants. Bob was here for several years after his playing career. So I got to know him as a player and also on a professional level. We had a lot of fun together.

The thing I would say, all three of them were all cut from the same cloth. They wore the same number, 41. Cut from the same cloth. They just looked at football a little differently, and most college football players do. Again, it was in the blood. I think that's something they grew up with. They were also very good house painters on the side. They did that in the summertime with their dad.

They're a football family. Mark gets along with people. He's a great teammate, great leader on our football team. Again, just his approach to football is probably a little different than the average guys.

Q. Kirk, talking about Stoops' approach, a lot of people kind of for a while, at least, described his team at Kentucky, the way he's built the program, sort of compare them a lot to a Big Ten team. Do you see that in this? I know you're playing a lot on Saturdays, but from what you've seen of Kentucky just over the years, how would you evaluate what they've done?

KIRK FERENTZ: I've got to be brutally honest. Outside of Big Ten football, I don't know how much I've seen of a lot of other teams to comment in that regard. I'll know a lot more here in about three weeks.

Just knowing the way Mark approaches things, and looking from afar, my sense is he started out by building a great foundation and wasn't trying to do a quick fix. I personally think that's the way to go about it. You're trying to build something that's going to last. It seems like and appears from a distance he's had great support from the administration.

I've had friends, actually a friend that worked at Kentucky probably 18 years ago, somewhere in that ballpark. It sounds like the administration was really committed to getting a really solid football program built. They certainly selected the right person with Mark. You think about experience with his two brothers, great, great people to pick their brains and get advice from. Just have tremendous respect and admiration for all three of the guys who are just outstanding people and outstanding coaches.

Mark's done just a wonderful job building that thing, like I said, brick by brick.

Q. Two quick ones. Do you know any more about the severity of Spencer's injury and how it might impact his status for the game?

KIRK FERENTZ: He had a tough night last night, discomfort. As far as I understand right now, there's really -- nothing's in danger, no organs, anything like that. He took a pretty good shot. It wasn't to the head. He took a shot. At least he strained some stuff in his abdominal area.

So he's going to be fine, but he's in discomfort here and probably will be for a while.

Q. And then the Holiday Bowl was such a short prep two years ago. Then you lost your prep last year for bowls. Do you envision trying to emphasize, I don't know, like development in this period at all? Now you've also got a little bit of a shorter window with the championship. I guess how do you view that?

KIRK FERENTZ: It's kind of interesting, Chad. I can't tell you why. A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about 2015. I was thinking about our bowl prep that year. I can't document this or prove it, but I really think both teams that played in that game in '15 probably went into their next games a little tired, and neither of us had good results.

I can't tell you why I was thinking about that a couple weeks ago because I don't think anybody would predict we'd be in Indy. I made a mental note of that, just really being careful where our boys were at, probably emotionally as well as physically. With that in mind, as you know, I'd love to do a lot of developmental work, but I don't know if it's in our best interests.

We'll look at it. I've kind of been giving it some general thoughts, but we'll start fine detailing it this week. We'll work our younger guys. I just want to really be mindful of our guys that have been playing. They've really spent everything they've got, I think. For us to get 10 wins, it took everything. I can't say how appreciative I am of all of our players' commitment, their dedication, the efforts they've put out.

I think it's only fitting for this team to have another performance where they go out and play their best. That will be the goal. We'll try to be mindful, and maybe here in a week or two, I have a little better idea of what we're going to do.

Q. Do you expect any players to opt-out in terms of going to the NFL, or is that something that isn't quite a conversation yet?

KIRK FERENTZ: We'll start having those conversations this week. We just touched base with some guys back during our bye week. Really there's really no sense of urgency for anybody right now. It doesn't mean they won't do it. Really the players don't have to make any formal decisions till mid-January. They've got plenty of time to think about things.

Ultimately, you just want players to do what's in their best interests. One thing I'd love to have all of our guys back, quite frankly, but I also know too you don't want somebody to stay if their heart's not in it. It's not good for either party.

So, yeah, we'll start having those conversations. I'm hopeful that we won't have that kind of transition. In the world we live in today, that seems to be a trend. We'll see how it all plays out.

Q. I want to ask about kind of the next 10-day block. It's probably -- recruiting, I'm sure, is probably the top of the list by far and away for you and your staff. Your time and your players, how much time do they get off? Are they going to go and basically stretch and run around for a few days and that's it? What's kind of the schedule for the next week to 10 days?

KIRK FERENTZ: They're off until Tuesday morning. We'll bring them in and have a brief meeting and a light workout just to stretch and move around a little bit like they would on a Sunday. They'll get two lifts in this week and do light work over the weekend.

Next week we're in finals. So really these next two weeks, this week by design and next week by necessity, we'll really try to rest the guys as much as we can physically, and we'll turn in earnest to the game planning. For our staff, we're a week behind in terms of travel, and believe me, we'd rather have been a week behind. We'd never make that trade.

So we'll be moving around today or tomorrow and getting where we got to get and doing what we have to do. Then we host a handful of recruits this coming weekend. We'll start digging deep into game preparation next Sunday or Monday.

Q. You mentioned earlier you hadn't looked much at Kentucky yet, but the quarterback, Will Levis, is a guy that played in the Big Ten. I was wondering had you had a matchup with him or seen anything of him on tape from his time at Penn State?

KIRK FERENTZ: I can tell you what we think of Will. I think this is correct. We were the first Power 5 school to offer him. We offered him a couple Junes ago. He came to camp. He was a guy our quarterback coach, Ken O'Keefe really liked. He came out, came to camp. There was no question in our mind he was going to be a good college football player.

Unfortunately, another school came in that was a little more prestigious than us a couple weeks later. That was the end of that relationship. We did get to see him a little bit. Will is a tremendous football player. He's done a great job. I hadn't seen film but just followed and reading articles and that type of thing. I know he's done a great job for Kentucky. I'm not surprised. He's a first-class young man.

Q. Does this add a kind of excitement when you didn't have a bowl game to play in in 2020 when the Music City Bowl got cancelled?

KIRK FERENTZ: As we all know, last year was such a -- just an unusual year, a lot of weird things. To get the bowl game cancelled -- I think that was on a Sunday. Does that sound right? I don't know. It doesn't really matter. We were a couple days into preparation, and then the plug got pulled on it.

Last year is just a season of strangeness in a lot of regards. Every step of the way this year to operate in semi-normalcy, starting with even our training, weight training with just having a normal routine that way and having a normal spring practice, pretty normal summer. So it's all been good.

Now to have a bowl opportunity, it's really exciting. I'm just so proud of our team, the way they played this year, what they've been able to do, and how they've maximized their ability. To play in this bowl like the Citrus Bowl, it's such a great reward for our players. Really happy.

Again, it's been almost 20 years since I've been there, but I can tell you from that experience, it was first class. I'm just so pleased for our players and really happy for this opportunity.

Q. I wanted to ask kind of about their mental outlook. I remember in 2015 after the tough loss and then got to go to the Rose Bowl. The players themselves still seemed really down because of the result, and understandably so. What are you trying to do to get them not to worry about Kentucky and the Citrus Bowl and just worry about going and being a human being for a couple of days.

How do you kind of manage that, massage that, so they can get back in the frame of mind to play football in a couple weeks?

KIRK FERENTZ: That's kind of what I was alluding to. I can't tell you why I was thinking about that three weeks ago or whatever it was. I guess I was starting to pull some stuff together in general prep, thoughts. That was one clear take-away from '15. We weren't where we needed to be mentally or emotionally in that ball game. I'm not so sure as much physically, but I think mentally and emotionally.

We've got to do a better job as coaches. That being said, at that point we didn't know how last night was going to go. Obviously, it was a disappointing night for us. But the good news is right now we'll put a good plan together, and more importantly, we've got a group that's already proved this year how resilient they are. They've gotten back up off the turf a couple times already this year. I have full confidence we'll do it again. We've got great leadership on this football team. They're exceptional young guys.

Hopefully we'll do our part. I know they'll do their part. It's a good team effort for sure.

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