IOWA CITY - Kirk Ferentz's football program is currently walking the dangerous tightrope in sports that narrowly divides perception from reality.
Are the Hawkeyes really this mediocre on the field? And are they really that mischievous off it?
Sweeping generalizations and blanket exaggerations are the flavors being served by fans and critics alike across the country right now. Iowa has gone from a Top-10 staple and a perennial Big Ten championship contender to a common punchline in jokes of underachievement and extra-curricular activity.
So how is Ferentz handling the responsibility of being the man in charge of righting its ship and helping the team find a second wind?
Like a cagey veteran.
''The only time I've really felt pressure (on the job) was when I interviewed in Cleveland (for a Browns' assistant position) as (the Maine head coach),'' Ferentz wryly smiled during Iowa's annual media day Monday inside the Kinnick Stadium press box. ''My wife said that if I didn't get (the position), she was going with the guy that did.''
In his 10th season at the helm, the man still knows how to work a room - even though the humorous moments were a bit more hit-and-miss than his typical preseason state-of-the-Hawks address.
Whether the ''pressure'' is actually getting to him or not is the $64,000 question. The equally-relevant query: how will the players respond after the program was forced to stay home for the holidays for the first time since 2000?
Hopefully by wiping the slate clean, Ferentz said.
''This is the official start of the new season, but actually it began for us back in the winter, as you may imagine,'' Ferentz said. ''That was one of my messages to our team. The past is the past, whether we did something good or did something bad.
''You move on. That's what you do in life, and that's what you do in sports. You don't ignore what's happened before, but with every new year, you start over. Certainly we're proud of the good things we've done, and we're hoping to learn and correct the things that haven't led to our better moments.''
FRESH FACE, NEW IDEAS: Many considered it a coup when Iowa hired wide receivers and tight ends coach Erik Campbell away from the University of Michigan.
Campbell was with the Wolverines for 13 seasons, but found himself in limbo following the retirement announcement of U-M head coach Lloyd Carr last November.
Ferentz snatched Campbell up, giving the Hawks' passing game an immediate boost. Combined with the return of injured standouts Andy Brodell (wide receiver) and Tony Moeaki (tight end), and junior quarterback Jake Christensen suddenly has the necessary weapons to get back on track this fall.
''I'm a Hawkeye and I'm ready to go,'' said Campbell, who coached a 1,000-yard receiver in an NCAA-record eight straight seasons from 1998-2005. ''I'm excited to be a part of the Iowa football program.
''The bar is high; I expect great things from our players. My goal is to make sure they reach their potential and find out what makes each one of them tick.''
NUMBERS GAME: Reese Morgan knows it well.
So do the players.
''Forty-six,'' Iowa's offensive line coach quickly responded, when asked if he was aware of how many sacks the Hawks surrendered in 2007. ''You (the media) help us remember it, but trust me, we know.''
Morgan is pleased with the numbers in the trenches, which Ferentz said ''could go eight or nine deep'' along the offensive line.
''We're comfortable with the players we have and what they can collectively accomplish,'' Morgan said. ''That's certainly an objective - to be able to (rotate in and out) without losing productivity.
''It's premature (to make any bold statements about the unit), but these young men have the natural ability and the work ethic to match it. They have a bright future ahead.''
BTN VS. MEDIACOM UPDATE: Athletic director Gary Barta is optimistic - yet realistic - about the on-going negotiations between the Big Ten Network and Mediacom.
Hawkeye fans have a vested interest in the now year-long tug-of-war, considering Iowa's first three games are being televised by the BTN this year.
''I know there have been regular discussions since the agreement with Comcast was reached (in June),'' said Barta, referring to the other major midwest cable provider's decision to add the Big Ten Network to its channel lineup. ''We're certainly hoping, but not necessarily anticipating (a deal will be reached between Mediacom and the BTN) before (Aug. 30).''
Contact Eric Pratt at (515) 573-2141, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org