By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - There was a time not so long ago when Tuesday’s press conference at the Iowa Football Complex wouldn’t have happened.
The press conference that was held the week before on Tuesday wouldn’t have happened, either, nor would have the next three press conferences that are scheduled for the remainder of Iowa’s spring practice.
The circumstances have changed considerably when it comes to the Iowa football team’s accessibility.
Tuesday’s press conference, which featured several offensive players, along with running backs coach Derrick Foster and offensive line coach Tim Polasek, was the third of seven press conferences that Iowa has scheduled for spring practice.
The media blitz started with head coach Kirk Ferentz addressing reporters on March 26th to mark the start of spring practice, and will conclude with Ferentz addressing the media on the final day of practice on April 26th.
By the time spring practice ends, every assistant coach and coordinator on the Iowa staff, along with about 25 to 30 players, will have been made available to the media.
Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle will also meet with the media on Friday, along with special teams coach LeVar Woods.
The current access is easy to take for granted because we’re so used to it by now. But this push for more access started less than a decade ago and is an example of Ferentz's willingness to change.
Iowa Sports Information Director Steve Roe said Tuesday that the current level of media access has been present for about the last five or six years.
Before that, the media would get Ferentz at the beginning and end of spring practice, while a select few players would be made available at the end of spring practice, and maybe once during practice.
That closed-door philosophy dates back to when Hayden Fry coached the Hawkeyes from 1979-98. Ferentz coached the Iowa offensive line under Fry from 1981-89, so it made sense that Ferentz would follow Fry’s example with regard to media accessibility.
But times change, and Ferentz ultimately had to change with the times.
The rise of the Internet and social media has put more emphasis on building your brand, and the best way to build your brand is to promote it, and to have more transparency.
Iowa’s practices still are closed under Ferentz, just like they were under Fry, and don’t expect that to change as long as Ferentz is the head coach.
The Iowa players are also prohibited from being on Twitter under Ferentz, but that has more to do with avoiding distractions than limiting access.
There is so much more about Iowa football that is open for public consumption compared to just a decade ago.
It used to be that you maybe would hear about a player doing something spectacular in the weight room, but now the Iowa football program makes sure that you see it over and over.
The video that shows offensive lineman Tristin Wirfs recently breaking a weight-lifting record and then celebrating with his teammates was posted on Twitter by the Iowa football account and had received over 1.3 million views as of a week ago.
“That was a lot of fun, just the atmosphere in there,” Wirfs said Tuesday while surrounded by reporters. “I couldn’t have done it if I had just walked in there any other day without my teammates in there hyping me up. So that played a big role.
“But whenever there is a camera in there, you’ve got a little bit more in the tank, I think. There is just something about it.”
There seems to be a camera almost everywhere these days.
If a team isn’t self-promoting and pushing its brand, then it’s losing in the never-ending battle to stay relevant.
It was easy for Fry to limit access because that was common back then.
Ferentz saw the landscape change and then changed with it.
The media benefits from having more access because there is more to write about, and fans benefit from having more to read about.
It was difficult to produce timely and accurate copy during spring practice under the previous setup because so much of what you had to rely on was speculation and rumor.
We now get enough copy to easily last through spring practice.
Iowa also plans to have another youth football camp in May at Johnston Middle School. That is another way for Iowa to promote its brand in Central Iowa and to a younger audience.
And there are usually at least two press conferences during the summer in which Iowa players are made available to the media.
It used to be that you would say goodbye to the players after the annual spring game in April and then not interview them again until preseason practice in August at the earliest.
The culture within the Iowa football program hasn’t changed much over the last 40 years, and that is largely because Fry and Ferentz are the only head coaches to lead a Division I football program for 20 years, consecutively.
But the landscape has changed where teams like Iowa now embrace giving access rather than avoid it.