Photo by Jeffrey Neil Fox

COACH SPEAK : OUTBACK BOWL
By Leo Haggerty

The match-up for the 2019 Outback Bowl is set.  The Iowa Hawkeyes will take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs on New Years Day at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.  Kickoff is schedule for noon on New Years Day.

I had a chance to catch with both head coaches.  Below are my questions to Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead and their very astute, and sometimes humorous answers.  Enjoy.

LH : If I’m an NFL scout, I go to Clemson if I’m looking for a wide receiver.  I go to Wisconsin if I’m looking for an offensive lineman.  If I’m looking for a tight end I go to Iowa City.  Why have NFL-caliber tight ends gravitated to the University of Iowa?

KF : You know, we may ask you to help us with our recruiting pitch in the next two months.  I appreciate what you said.  It’s really simple.  I think the origin of that goes back to when I was an assistant in the 1980’s.  We would lose a game and I would go home and my wife would always say, “You didn’t get the ball to the tight end” and anyone who is married understands that.  What’s really bad is when your wife is right and she usually was.  It origin goes back to the 80’s.  It just seemed like we had tight ends play a prominent role in what we do offensively.  We’ve continued to do that the last 20 years.  We’ve also had some really good stories.  Dallas Clark was a walk-on but we had some guys that were highly-recruited as well.  I think the common denominator is the guys fit what we do.  You have to block and have receiving skills and we’ve been lucky to have at least one or two of them every year.

LH : If you can’t be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff, is there a better place to play o New Years Day than Tampa?

KF : I remember our first trip to Tampa in the 2003 season.  Late in November we got beat at Purdue and we were no longer in the title hunt.  The consolation prize that year was a trip to Tampa. That’s the first time I got to experience the Outback Bowl and it was first-class all the way.  Obviously, Tampa is a really good geographic location and a great city to be in.  It’s a fun time.  Jim McVay and all the people involved do such a great job in recognizing what players appreciate and what they like.  It’s a great combination so, as we go into this game, I know two things from first-hand experience.  I know our players are going to be treated really well and have a great experience.  I also know we’re going to play a great opponent and those are two really good things in any bowl game.

LH : As often as you have come to the Outback Bowl, I’m wondering if you have a Florida Drivers License by now? 

KF : To that point, if something happens to our bus driver, I know I can get the team to practice and back.  I also can get to the airport and back.  I don’t have a Florida Drivers License and I’m still paying Iowa taxes but I might consider switching.  It’s a pretty nice place to be.

LH : In the last few years, you’ve been coaching at universities in New York City and Happy Valley and now Starkville.  Is that culture shock?   

JM : It’s been three different but very exciting places to live.  All three places care about football and are passionate about their teams.  The opportunity to be in Starkville is great.  Southern hospitality is the real thing.  The people have treated my family and I wonderfully since I’ve been here.  It’s been phenomenal.

LH : When’s the last time Mississippi State played in a New Years Day bowl game?

JM : Let me check.  The last time was in the Orange Bowl but that was New Years Eve.  We’re not sure before that.

LH : If you can’t be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff, is there a better place to play o New Years Day than Tampa?

JM : It’s an unbelievable venue and we’re excited about having this awesome opportunity to compete against Iowa in the Outback Bowl on New Years Day in Tampa.  We have an unbelievably passionate fan base that will fill the stadium and have the cowbells ringing.  I have the upmost respect for Coach Ferentz’s and his staff.  I’ve gone against them a few times.  He’s a fellow western Pennsylvania guy and, I believe, this is just an unbelievably good match up. Football in Paradise.  This is what college football is all about.

LH : Normally, when a new coach comes to a program, it takes some time to get the players to buy in.  It seems like your players bought in almost immediately.  How did that work out?

JM : I think when you take a job over, it occurs for one of two reasons.  The guy that you’re seceding has performed well or hasn’t performed well.  Obviously, Coach Mullen and his staff did a very good job of establishing a solid foundation and we were looking to build off of that.  Initially, when we got to meet the team as well as individual meetings, they felt comfortable and confident that we cared about them as people and as students before we even talk about football for a second.  That allowed us to lay the foundation as to what we wanted to be as a program.  I think is was a seamless transaction.