MURPHY’S LAW: Ferentz Knows Better, Iowa Should too

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These are not fun times for Kirk Ferentz. His football team is getting worse, not better. A 4-8 season in a down Big Ten, against the softest Iowa schedule in memory, is a real possibility. And twice in 72 hours Ferentz got testy with reporters asking reasonable questions. Perhaps Ferentz is trying to draw the attention away from his players to him. Or maybe he’s more like Hawkeye fans; frustrated it’s gotten this bad, with no end in sight. I’m sure some fans are glad to see the coach showing strong emotion.

AP reporter Luke Meredith and Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz discuss Meredith’s question.

There is no way Ferentz should walk into a news conference setting without being fully prepared for questions about Peter Gray, the athletics academic adviser who stepped down after sexual harassment allegations, and worse. Gray advised football players under Ferentz at one point, so questions should be expected, and if Ferentz is somehow 24/7 football, someone in a leadership position at the U of I has to make sure the coach knows what’s coming. Maybe someone did, and Ferentz just didn’t like the way the question was asked.

Associated Press reporter Luke Meredith didn’t need to frame the question based on a radio station’s unsourced report. Meredith, or any other reporter, would have been well within journalistic bounds to simply ask Ferentz, “What have you said to your players about Peter Gray?” or “Did you ever ask for Peter Gray to not be assigned to your players?”. There’s been no suggestion Ferentz did anything wrong in regards to Gray.

At the end of the exchange between Ferentz and Meredith (who is a fine reporter), Ferentz says, “Please. If you are going to sit in here every f—ing week? Please.” This implies Ferentz sees attending a media conference as some kind of club privilege. It is not. It’s a state university, and the media provides millions of dollars worth of free publicity for a program that then generates far more money than that. The role of media should be more watchdog than cheerleader. Believe me, we all enjoy our jobs more during good times.

The profanity may surprise some, but not me. Many coaches swear frequently. It’s the condescending manner in which Ferentz talks to Meredith, and Rob Howe before him, that I find mildly offensive. Is it a huge deal? No. Is it interesting? Yes. (And props to Iowa Sports Information Director Steve Roe who reportedly handled himself well Tuesday, even when others around him were not.)

The far bigger, far more important story: How many scandals involving sexual allegations does the University of Iowa have to suffer before university leaders show they understand they should be proactive, transparent, and forthcoming? Don’t hide behind convenient excuses to say and do little. (For more on this, see an excellent new column by the Des Moines Register’s Bryce Miller.)

What a bad week in Iowa City. It’s not over either.