Monday, April 13, 2009

Dodging a bullet

My sabbatical is over. My second child -- a little girl -- was born last Tuesday night, so my life has been a little hectic. But now that things are settling down, it's time to catch up with the world. I haven't missed much (that's the one positive of an eight-month offseason), but one particular event jumped out at me.

Three more Iowa players were arrested last week and charged with public intoxication, including backup center James Ferentz. As you've probably surmised by his last name, his dad is coach Kirk Ferentz. The arrest itself isn't much of a surprise given the state of the Iowa program -- I've lost track of the number of disciplinary issues the last few years -- but the name itself should tell you something (and the blood alcohol levels were phenomenal in their own right).

I tend to believe that coaches get too much of the credit and too much of the blame when it comes to off-the-field trouble -- players will do what they want, and unless you avoid anyone with even the slightest character concerns (which is pretty much impossible), you're going to run into the occasional problem. That said, the Iowa situation has gotten somewhat out of control, and Ferentz has to shoulder at least some of the blame (especially considering the cover-up accusations that came out after the sexual assault allegations against two Iowa players in 2007).

A little background: About 16 months ago, it became known that Michigan was searching for a head coach after the retirement of Lloyd Carr. While this detail never really became public (at least not that I'm aware of), several insiders with knowledge of the coaching search reported that the first person contacted about the job was Kirk Ferentz. Ferentz has never been exciting, but he's always done a little more than he rightfully should at a place with minimal recruiting draw, and he's been compensated heavily for that.

But fans who got wind of the school's run at Ferentz were irate, mostly for two reasons:

1) Ferentz's offense made Lloyd Carr look like Mike Leach.
2) Iowa's off-the-field issues have become a running joke around the country.

It should be noted that this was the second alcohol-related arrest for James Ferentz, who is ... um, 19 years old. Everyone thinks Kirk Ferentz is a good coach (or the BEST COACH EVER!!! if you're Tom Deinhart of The Sporting News), but his stock has plummeted because his team has turned into this decade's version of the Criminoles while failing to even approach the three straight 10-win seasons it put together from 2002-04.

When I first heard that he was being targeted as Carr's successor at UM, it seemed to make sense, even if it wasn't a sexy pick; Ferentz exudes authority and has been targeted by other programs (and NFL teams) for years -- there's a reason he's one of the highest-paid coaches in the country. But as Iowa's program becomes more and more of an embarrassment off the field, I can't help but breathe a sigh of relief that Michigan went a different direction -- and I say that following the completion of the worst season in school history.

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