July 28, 2014
CHICAGO -- Phil Savage knows football. He also knows University of Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz.
If Hawkeye fans think Back in Black and Enter Sandman are sweet music to the ears, wait until they hear what Savage revealed Monday at the 2014 Big Ten Football Media Day at Hilton Chicago.
"I like Iowa as a favorite in the Big Ten West Division," Savage said during a break from his radio gig with SiriusXM. "Iowa could be a bit of a dark horse on the national scene because of the way the schedule sets up and the fact they have an experienced quarterback returning in Jake Rudock. They have (senior running back) Mark Weisman and players on the defensive front that should help. They have a chance to win nine, 10, 11 games this year."
Rudock started all 13 games last season as a sophomore, completing 59 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns. Weisman rushed for 975 yards and eight touchdowns, and the defensive line returns seniors Carl Davis, Louis Trinca-Pasat, and Mike Hardy, and junior Drew Ott -- all who started between six and 13 games a year ago.
The bond between Ferentz and Savage dates to 1993 when the two were co-workers with the Cleveland Browns of the NFL.
"You were immediately attracted to his personality and the idea that he was a sound coach on the offensive line," Savage said of Ferentz. "He was able to take that head coaching experience that he got at Maine, then come to the NFL, go through several years in that league, and modify his philosophy to the kind of program he wanted."
"Iowa football is a program that does not have a hotbed of recruiting to go to, so they have to take one, two, and three-star players and turn them into three, four, and five-star players. They have been able to do that over the years; they have always been very consistent as far as what their philosophy is and their approach to the game; it has served them well. The fact the players know what they are going to get from their head coach is important."
Reese's Senior Bowl
Sending players to the NFL is a statistic of particular interest to Savage. While he is an analyst for three shows on SiriusXM -- College Sports Today, Coast to Coast, and The Playbook -- and does color commentary for Alabama football, his anchor job is executive director of Reese's Senior Bowl. Last season two Hawkeyes -- tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and linebacker Christian Kirksey -- participated in the game, and both were chosen in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
"If they go through the rigors of the (Iowa) program and the discipline of it, and the fact they are going to be doing NFL-like things in terms of their techniques, that definitely gives them a head start for the pro league," Savage said.
The professional success of Hawkeyes is another story that has been told before. It bears repeating because of how much so many student-athletes improve in Iowa City to make it in the NFL.
"Iowa football is a program that does not have a hotbed of recruiting to go to, so they have to take one, two, and three-star players and turn them into three, four, and five-star players," Savage said. "They have been able to do that over the years; they have always been very consistent as far as what their philosophy is and their approach to the game; it has served them well. The fact the players know what they are going to get from their head coach is important."
Ferentz and Savage aren't the only two from their Cleveland Browns days to go on to big things. That group of coaches and staff -- that included Ferentz and Savage -- produced eight head coaches and seven general managers.
"Everyone took something from that experience, took it with them and was able to apply it to their own circumstance," Savage said. "Most have had success in college or pro ball."
Savage referenced the run by Michigan State in 2013 and sees potential for a similar streak by Iowa in 2014. The Spartans were not in the top 25 until the 10th week of the season and eventually vaulted to No. 5.
"We could see a similar thing happen this year as teams get on a roll and begin to come into the focus of people around the country," Savage said.
Savage has known Ferentz for more than 20 years. He has to know that lofty preseason expectations will make his friend a bit uneasy. But Savage is sticking to his initial claim of a big year for the Hawkeyes.
"By the end of the year Iowa will embrace that pressure because I do think they will have a very good season."