IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz knows the Hawkeyes need to make major step forward next season to appease an increasingly frustrated and apathetic fan base.
Ferentz will try to do so with the same staff that led the program to one of the most disappointing seasons of his 16-year tenure.
Ferentz met with reporters Wednesday for the first time since Iowa's humiliating loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The Hawkeyes closed a year that began with Big Ten title aspirations with three straight losses and a 7-6 record. They were 4-4 in the Big Ten.
But Ferentz said he intends to retain his entire coaching staff — including offensive coordinator Greg Davis and defensive coordinator Phil Parker — despite inconsistencies on both sides of the ball.
"I think we've got great people in this program. I feel really good about that," Ferentz said. "Our job moving forward is to utilize those people the best possible way we can, and beyond that we've got to look at everything we're doing systematically. A through Z, we've got to look at everything we're doing with a fresh eye."
Ferentz typically doesn't meet with the media much in the offseason.
But even though he has five years and over $20 million left on his contract — with a prohibitive buyout just north of $13 million — he said he isn't "tone deaf" to the fact that the number of exasperated Hawkeyes fans appears to be growing.
Wednesday's press conference, a rarity for Ferentz ahead of signing day in early February, was the second in a pair of attempts to appease those frustrated supporters.
Last week, Ferentz released a new depth chart more than two months ahead of spring ball.
"My sense is we needed to talk," Ferentz said. "It's as simple as that."
But Iowa's program is trending downward at a time when the rest of the Big Ten appears to be on an upswing. The phrase "that's football" — which Ferentz uttered multiple time while trying to explain how his team blew a 24-7 lead in a home loss to Nebraska in late November — has become something of a rallying cry for those who'd like to see the program move on from Ferentz.
Athletic director Gary Barta defended Ferentz on Wednesday, saying that he believes the program's foundation is strong and that he's "100 percent" behind Ferentz's plans for the future.
But the big question is whether he can quickly get the Hawkeyes back in contention in a league that performed arguably better than any other in the recent bowl season.
"I'm coaching the way I did in 1999," Ferentz said when asked about being on the hot seat. "I've never worried about that. Pro football cured me of that. I'm just worried about what's in front of me."
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