‘It’s an old-school approach’: Ferentz praises Michigan for sticking with Harbaugh

Michigan went 2-4 under Harbaugh last season, but the Wolverines extended his contract anyway and are now in the Big Ten Championship Game.

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Jerod Ringwald

Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh speaks during Day 1 of the 2021 Big Ten Media Days at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on July 22.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor


Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was celebrating a belated Thanksgiving at his Iowa City home on Saturday, a day after Iowa’s comeback win over Nebraska, with the Minnesota-Wisconsin game playing on the T.V. in the background.

Even if the 23rd-year Hawkeye head coach was only occasionally glancing at the game while eating his holiday turkey (Ferentz joked that he certainly didn’t have a hand in making any of the Thanksgiving feast because he is practically useless in the kitchen), he couldn’t help but notice that he was going to need to start putting together a game plan for next weekend.

Minnesota upset Wisconsin, making Iowa the outright winner of the Big Ten West division and sending the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten Championship Game.

“I was trying not to get too sucked in emotionally about it,” Ferentz said. “As the game went on, it became apparent that maybe this would be a reality. When the final whistle went off, it was a really good feeling for us. Just really happy for our players, everybody involved, the staff … To have an opportunity to play in the championship game is always special. And we certainly took the hard road to get there.”

Iowa (10-2 overall, 7-2 Big Ten) will play Michigan (11-1, 8-1) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis next Saturday. Iowa’s first Big Ten title of any kind since 2004 and first outright conference championship since 1985 is at stake.

The game is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. next Saturday and will air on FOX.

Hawkeye players returned to the football facility on Sunday coming off of four consecutive wins that catapulted Iowa into the Big Ten Championship. Ferentz said Iowa will treat this week like a normal game week, meaning team meetings and film study on Sunday, followed by practices on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, an off day on Thursday, all leading up to a walk-through and trip to Indianapolis on Friday.

Ferentz and Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, fresh off upsetting rival Ohio State over the weekend, both spoke on Sunday during a webinar featuring the two head coaches representing the teams in the Big Ten title game.

Below are some of the highlights from the call.

A mutual respect between head coaches

Ferentz and Harbaugh have crossed paths in a variety of scenarios over their careers in football.

In the famous Iowa-Michigan, No. 1 vs. No. 2 game in 1985 at Kinnick Stadium, Harbaugh was the quarterback for the Wolverines, while Ferentz was Iowa’s offensive line coach under Hayden Fry. Harbaugh played for the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL in 1998, Ferentz’s last year on Baltimore’s coaching staff before taking the Iowa head coaching job.

Harbaugh was hired as Stanford’s head coach by former Iowa athletics director Bob Bowlsby, and said on Sunday that he would ask about Ferentz and how he ran his Hawkeye program.

Since Harbaugh took over as Michigan’s head coach in 2015, he is 1-1 against Ferentz, the longest-tenured head coach in college football. Iowa upset then-No. 2 Michigan at Kinnick Stadium in 2016, while the Wolverines defeated the Hawkeyes, 10-3, in Ann Arbor in 2019.

From their run-ins to following each other’s careers, there is a mutual respect between the two coaches who will lead their teams in Lucas Oil Stadium next weekend.

RELATED: Where to watch the Iowa-Michigan Big Ten Championship football game

“Nothing but respect at the highest level,” Harbaugh said of Ferentz. “There are few coaches, pretty much nobody, I respect more.”

Harbaugh signed a five-year contract extension and took a pay cut in January coming off a 2-4 2020 season. Despite rumblings that he could be fired, Michigan stuck with Harbaugh, and now are a win away from reaching the College Football Playoff. Michigan is 60-23 under Harbaugh.

Ferentz commended Michigan for sticking with Harbaugh after a down year.

“You want to talk about old school, it’s an old-school approach to actually stick with coaches,” Ferentz said of Harbaugh. “Credit to them, to their administration, their leadership … From my vantage point, an outstanding coach, and, again, a lot of credit to the administration at Michigan for sticking with the path and the course and letting things play out and those guys really played outstanding football season long this year.”

Harbaugh speaks on Hawkeye standouts

Michigan’s seventh-year head coach admitted he hasn’t had the opportunity to watch much Hawkeye game film yet, but was quick to point out what he’s found to be impressive about Iowa so far.

“Just how conscientious they are in all three phases … It’s a finely tuned organization that knows what they’re doing,” Harbaugh said. “I’m a big fan of the back [Tyler Goodson]. Really like the quarterback [Spencer Petras]. The linebacker [Jack Campbell). They’ve got really good players.”

When asked to follow-up on what is impressive about Campbell, Harbaugh said he has a “nose for the football.” 

“That’s probably about the best thing you can say about the linebacker,” Harbaugh said of Campbell, who leads Iowa with 124 tackles this season and has scored two defensive touchdowns. “Somebody that shows up where the ball is, repeatedly.”

Harbaugh went on to say that he can tell Iowa devotes a lot of time to practicing special teams.

Ferentz provides updates ahead of Saturday’s game

The Hawkeyes have still not named their starting quarterback for the Big Ten Championship Game. Ferentz said on Sunday that he will likely announce the starter, Petras or Alex Padilla, on Tuesday. Iowa’s two-deep depth chart will be released on Monday, however.

“Overall, been pleased with both guys,” Ferentz said. “I think both of them have really performed well during the course of the year … We’ll probably say something on Tuesday. It’s not like we’re trying to be coy. I just want to have an opportunity to visit with the team, visit with the staff and we’ll push forward.”

Petras started Iowa’s first nine games of this season and all eight of them last year. The redshirt junior injured his shoulder against Wisconsin on Oct. 30 and Padilla has started Iowa’s last three games, including against Nebraska, even though Petras was said to have been healthy enough to play in recent weeks. Padilla went 6-of-14 passing, with a couple of passes going through the hands of defenders, for 76 yards in the first half before being taken out on Friday. Petras completed 7-of-13 passes for 102 yards.

RELATED: Quarterback Spencer Petras returns to field, leads Iowa in second half of Nebraska win

In other Hawkeye updates, Ferentz said fifth-year senior cornerback Matt Hankins will not play against Michigan because of an injury. Hankins has missed Iowa’s last two games. Jermari Harris, who caught the game-sealing interception against Nebraska, has started in Hankins’ absence.

Ferentz said after Iowa’s win over Nebraska that the Hawkeyes dealt with a flu outbreak last week, and the illness caused right guard Connor Colby and Mason Richman to be removed in the second half of the Husker game.

“It was a matter of how long guys could hang in there,” Ferentz said. “Hopefully [the flu bug in the program] has run its course, or at least we’re on the tail end of it. Made for an interesting week, to say the least.”

Aside from Hankins, Ferentz did not report any new injuries from the Nebraska game. Assuming the flu is behind them, Colby and Richman should be good to play. And the Hawkeyes will need them against Michigan’s pass rush, led by defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who holds the Michigan single-season record for sacks with 13 this season. Iowa has allowed 31 sacks this season. Ferentz compared Hutchinson, the 6-foot-6, 265-pounder, to John Randle and Howie Long, two Hall of Famers he faced when he was an offensive line coach in the NFL.

“Mainly because they didn’t take plays off,” Ferentz said. “All the time, every play. They kept you up at night, just wondering how they were going to disrupt things. And that’s what you’re looking at with No. 97.”

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