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Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz talks QBs, Friday Football and Lisa Bluder

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With Kirk Ferentz’s library of knowledge from 25 years as Iowa’s head football coach plus another 16 years as an assistant coach (including with the Hawkeyes and in the NFL), he can take virtually any media question and spin it in any direction.

When asked about this year’s team, he will deftly refer to the 1980s. He can easily dive into a good Andre Tippett or Dallas Clark reference at a moment’s notice. None of the twists at this point are surprising.

So when asked Tuesday night about his starting quarterback situation ahead of the 2024 season, Ferentz somehow merged a conversation about Cade McNamara and Northwestern transfer Brendan Sullivan with the stories about a former Division II transfer (defensive end Zach VanValkenburg) and two recent FCS transfers. transfers (tight end Steve Stilianos and wide receiver Seth Anderson).

How on earth did he make that connection?

With Ferentz he always has a point.

What he said Tuesday is that McNamara is Iowa’s presumptive starting quarterback. But you never know how a transfer will come in and play – and when something will break through.

Take Stiliano’s for example. The former Lafayette College tight end was not a factor in his first year as a graduate transfer. He played a lot of meaningful snaps last season and is now an undrafted free agent with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

“There’s no way he would have been in an NFL camp a year ago (in 2022),” Ferentz said before his appearance at the Polk County I-Club event in West Des Moines. “But boy, he improved so much over the last year and got an opportunity. When you think of someone like Seth Anderson, maybe he’s taking that step too. That’s the nice thing about it. It is a dynamic process.”

Sullivan proved himself capable at Northwestern, completing nearly 69% of his passes in two years. With two years left on his contract, how he develops under Iowa offensive coordinator Tim Lester will tell us a lot about the current and future QB health of the Hawkeyes.

Maybe Sullivan goes gangbusters in fall camp and McNamara jumps in for the start on Opening Day on August 31 versus Illinois State. Not necessarily likely, but Ferentz is open to the possibility. Maybe mid-season, Sullivan will step up and jump into the fray and stay on the job for a year and a half. He may not play much at all this season, but he’s rising in practice to become the clear starter of 2025. Maybe it won’t come out at all.

That is the point. Ferentz has been through enough position battles over the years that he’s seen it all. But overall, he is usually more willing to submit to the incumbent. That’s the case with McNamara, who has started and completed just four games at Iowa since transferring from Michigan.

“Every position is actually open. I’ve always said that,” Ferentz said. “Everyone will participate when we start in August. If a guy has played and is a good player and has experience, his job is to keep the job or win the job, if you will.”

Like McNamara, who undergoes knee surgery to repair a torn ACL.

Ferentz has said McNamara should be fully cleared by June.

“When he’s healthy, he’s our starter,” Ferentz said. “There are no delusions or misconceptions about it. There’s no reason to believe he won’t be healthy come August.

“If someone can beat him, great, that means someone is doing well.”

Another Northwestern transfer is coming on board

The news had not broken until Ferentz spoke to eight to 10 media members. But by the time he mingled with fans at the Hilton Garden Inn, word got out that Northwestern wide receiver Jacob Gill had committed to the Hawkeyes in a trade.

“I think we’ve pretty much talked about that now,” Ferentz said. “Yeah, I think we’re in good shape there (at wide receiver) going into August.”

The Hawkeyes essentially replaced one Jacob with another. Jacob Bostick, who had no career success in an injury-riddled two years at Iowa, abruptly left the program in April for Texas A&M. Gill, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound receiver, had 16 catches over three seasons for 195 yards and two touchdowns. He had just one catch for 11 yards last season when he played four games before getting injured. That saved him a year of eligibility.

Gill, originally a three-star recruit from Raleigh, North Carolina, has two years at Iowa.

It’s hard to get too excited about Gill, but he at least gives the Hawkeyes a more experienced presence in the room as a fourth-year player. Redshirt sophomores Kaleb Brown (23 catches at the FBS level) and Anderson (11 catches) are the Hawkeyes’ most productive returning wide receivers. Walk-on Kaden Wetjen, a transfer from Iowa Western Community College, was one of the best breakout players on offense in the spring but has zero career catches. Completely unproven redshirt freshmen Jarriett Buie and Dayton Howard are two of Iowa’s other potential receivers, as is walk-on Alec Wick.

Even with the addition of Gill, space is at a premium and will be an area of ​​immediate concern, with new position coach Jon Budmayr taking charge of the wide receiver operation.

Iowa has a conference game on Friday night

“I think there’s going to be an announcement here, so apparently that’s something else I heard you guys haven’t done,” Ferentz said with a wry smile. “At least it won’t be in Kinnick, so that’s good news.”

Ferentz has long championed the idea that Friday nights should be reserved for high school football. But now that TV dollars rule the calendar, nothing is sacred anymore.

The Hawkeyes played a 2021 road game at Maryland on Friday night and went 51-14. There is zero chance that Friday night’s road game will take place at Ohio State, so that leaves four other options: Minnesota (currently scheduled for September 21), Michigan State (October 19), UCLA (November 9) or Maryland (currently scheduled for November 21st). 23). Logistically, the Maryland game would make the most sense for Iowa — after an inactive week in late November and the week before a Black Friday finale against Nebraska. A trip to East Lansing on Oct. 18 wouldn’t be a heavy burden, as Iowa has home games (Oct. 12 vs. Washington, Oct. 26 vs. Washington) sandwiched around it.

The television shows are slowly rolling out this week, so the final answer could be known soon.

“If we have to play Friday night, I just hope it’s not in Iowa City,” Ferentz said. “Because it makes me feel like a traitor to high school football. Not that I had anything to do with it.”

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Lisa Bluder’s first interview since announcing her retirement

Bluder, 63, cited time with family as part of the reason for ending a 40-year coaching run.

A fondness for Lisa Bluder

Ferentz and Bluder were united Tuesday in West Des Moines, as they have been at I-Club functions for more than two decades. Bluder was hired at Iowa in the spring of 2000, shortly after Ferentz’s first season as the Hawkeyes’ head football coach (1-10 in 1999).

“The coaches on our campus take care of each other. We pull together,” Ferentz said. “In Lisa’s case, we’ve become pretty good friends over the years. No. 1, just huge respect for her professionally. She is an excellent coach, with a great staff. She did very well. She is a great person, pleasant to be around.”

Ferentz, who turns 69 on August 1, will also make his own retirement announcement one day. There is almost annual speculation about his future, but he continues to look and feel good physically and has given no indication that he may be slowing down.

But he still noticed the way Bluder went out – after back-to-back national championship appearances on the back of a stable program built over a long period of time. Sounds familiar? Ferentz would undoubtedly like to have a 2024 to remember, with a salty defense returning and his quarterback position seemingly stabilized. (There’s that word again.)

“It’s always fun when you get to pick your spots and your time,” Ferentz said. “She and (husband) Dave just decided this was a good time for her. What a career. One of the nice things about it is the stability of that program. … I firmly believe that consistency is a real competitive advantage.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow served 29 years at The Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Sports Network. Chad is the 2023 INA Iowa Sports Columnist of the Year and NSMA Co-Sportswriter of the Year in Iowa. Join Chad’s text group (free for subscribers) at HawkCentral.com/HawkeyesTexts. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.