Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, May 4, 2015

Kirk Ferentz is the dean of Big Ten coaches as he enters his 17th season at the helm at Iowa. But the program finds itself at a bit of crossroads.

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Ferentz is looking to pull Iowa out a funk that has seen it lose at least five games each of the last five seasons after a glorious 11-2 mark in 2009 that ended with an Orange Bowl win. The Hawkeyes went 7-6 overall last year (4-4 Big Ten) and lost their last three games and four of the five to end 2014.

I caught up with Ferentz to get his views on spring ball and other topics as he builds toward a rebound in 2015.

Q: What were you pleased about coming out of spring ball?
A: We are better in some spots. There are ebbs and flows when you are putting a team together. Our linebacking position has improved from a year ago when we lost three NFL guys ? we had five players perform well at that position this spring. We are vastly improved there.

They were a pleasant surprise but we aren?t out of the woods yet, but our running back spot with Jordan Canzeri healthy is improving. He looked good. LeShun Daniels came off surgery and has lost weight. I thought he looked really good. The surprise was we moved Derrick Mitchell from receiver. I am not ready to anoint him yet, but I think we have him in the best position. He looks more natural at that position. He has pretty good ball skills and he blocked and ran better than I would have anticipated. And we have Akrum Wadley who continues to grow. We have a chance to have a good group of backs.

Q: How does receiver look?
A: Our three older guys are going to have to help us out. Tevaun (Smith) is in his fourth year and this could be his best year of football. We need that. Jake Hillyer is a guy I always have had a lot of respect for. He is in his senior year, also, so we need him to step up big. And I think he will. And Matt VandeBerg is the other guy. We felt pretty confident in all three of those guys. After that, we are a young group that will have to continue to work hard to develop.

Q: Are you happy with C.J. Beathard?
A: We made the decision we made in January. Our intent was not to have Jake (Rudock) leave. That is a choice he made and we supported him. If there is upside in that, it has allowed C.J. to take more ownership and that has all worked out. He continues to progress and can do a lot of good things. I thought he made good progress this spring.

Q: Were you surprised Rudock left for Michigan?
A: Not really. We went through something similar last year with Cody Sokol when he decided to leave. (Leaving) is standard operating procedure in basketball. (Transferring) isn?t as common in football. With quarterbacks, it isn?t highly unusual. I get that. I have no problem with that. That was part of rationale for making that announcement when we did. If Jake was thinking about that, I wanted to give him that opportunity.

Q: How does the offensive line look?
A: A year ago, we were a little greener inside and veteran outside, now it?s just the flip. It?s the same with our defensive line, where our tackles are new and we are veteran on the outside. Our ends are pretty solid. We have three guys competing for the offensive tackle spots, Boone Myers and Ike Boettger are the starters and Cole Croston is the third guy. We have been watching that close since last August. I think each has improved and got better in the fall. I thought both (projected starters) took a step forward during bowl preparations. And they have continued. The tackles are working vs. good competition in (Drew) Ott and (Nate) Meier. They get pressed every day. It has been painful at times, but I think it will serve them well. All you can do is compare guys to guys you have had. And every good player we have had has gone through that developmental area. They get educated as they go. The ideal is to win more than you lose. And they have hit that. Now, it?s a matter of keeping your foot on the gas.

Q: There seems to be some growing angst among the fan base. How are you dealing with that?
A: We aren?t happy either. I don?t know that things have changed a lot other than there are more avenues to make noise than there used to be. To me, it?s not as much about the numbers, seven wins or eight wins. It?s more about how the games go. The illustration I can give you is our last two home games. We lost to Wisconsin (26-24), not our desired outcome by any stretch. It was a great environment in Kinnick. It was two good teams really competing. A really good college football game. I don?t want to lose. But at least you can go home at night and sleep.

A week later with two pretty good teams playing, we turn the ball over three times and gave up more big plays than you can afford to (a 37-34 overtime loss vs. Nebraska). We broke down twice on special teams with two punt returns for touchdowns. The amazing thing is if we had only given up one, we would have won the game-which is hard to believe because normally when you give one up, you?re doomed. It was hard to walk out of the stadium that day feeling good about that game. You couldn?t. Too many missed opportunities on our part. We don?t feel good about it. We are mostly focused on what we can do to correct it.

Q: Talk about your coaching staff tweak.
A: It wasn?t anything monumental. It was getting more balance. We had gotten a little top heavy on defense when Norm (Parker) went through some illness. We made the assessment that tight ends are important and we needed to get a full-time coach with them. LeVar (Woods) is a tremendous young coach. I thought he did a wonderful job with those guys this spring. That extra attention was good for the group and will continue to help us.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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