by Josh Weinfuss
IU Super Bowl Student News Bureau
Kirk Ferentz had a break before a Baltimore Ravens preseason game in the summer of 1998 and squeezed in a trip to watch his son, Brian, play in a baseball scrimmage.
Until then, Brian, like many eighth-graders, didn’t get enthused about much — even about sports.
But that day on the diamond at Delaney High School in Maryland, Kirk remembers something turned on in Brian. It has stayed with the New England Patriots’ tight ends coach ever since, and led him to Super Bowl XLVI today against the New York Giants.
“He really looked like, ‘Boy, he enjoyed that,’ ” said Kirk Ferentz, who was an assistant with Baltimore before he became Iowa’s football coach.
Kirk joked that most people don’t know what it takes to be a football coach. They think coaches show up, put on the shirt and walk on the field, he said. But Brian, who grew up moving around the country as Kirk took different coaching jobs, understood the work and the grind of being a coach.
“That’s kind of what the casual observers see,” Kirk said. “I think Brian grew up acutely aware of it.
“When he played here, I think his interest was extended a little bit beyond playing. I got that sense that he kind of wanted to take this thing a little further than just playing.”
After a brief playing career that sent him to Atlanta for a season on the Falcons’ practice squad in 2006 and a few weeks with the Saints in 2007, Brian followed in his father’s footsteps.
But instead of taking baby steps through the coaching profession, he made leaps and bounds. And as so many coaches have before him, Brian benefited from the Bill Belichick coaching tree.
Kirk coached under Belichick, the Patriots’ coach, in Cleveland from 1993-95, and then was Ted Marchibroda’s offensive line coach from 1996-98.
When Marchibroda was the Baltimore Colts head coach, he hired Belichick as a special assistant in 1975.
When Brian moved to Foxborough, another branch of Belichick’s coaching tree sprouted. But just because he was Kirk Ferentz’s son didn’t mean Brian was getting preferential treatment.
The first few times Kirk went to visit his son, Brian’s desk was in the hallway. Brian has worked his way from scouting assistant to coaching the best tight end combination in the league, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, having never played a skill position. Brian spends most of his time teaching Hernandez how to block, he quipped.
Kirk said he doesn’t have time during the season to watch a lot of Patriots games but enjoys talking to Brian about football.
“I think that the whole life experience of growing up in a coaching family, growing up with a coach and having football in your blood almost from the day you were born, you pick up some things by osmosis and being around it,” Belichick said. “I know that is the case with him.”
Kirk plans to be in the stands today to watch Brian try to win his first Super Bowl. But he’ll be there as a father, not as a coach.
“Of course it’s difficult when you get into the same profession and you go into the same line of work and you want to have an identity of your own,” Brian said. “You don’t just want to be Kirk Ferentz’s son.
But at the end of the day one thing I would remind myself of every night is, if that’s all I’m ever known of that’s not such a bad thing.”