IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz admitted mistakes Wednesday in his handling of the hospitalization of 13 players with a rare muscle disorder, but he said their workouts were safe and he remains puzzled about the cause.
Ferentz said he could have delayed an out-of-state recruiting trip and visited the players in the hospital a day earlier last week. He said he also erred in thinking his presence at the hospital after he returned would be calming to parents, some of whom were upset.
Ferentz addressed the news media for the first time one week after the university announced 13 players were affected by rhabdomyolysis, which causes muscle fibers to be released into the bloodstream and can cause kidney damage. The players spent several days getting treatment and were released between Friday and Sunday.
Physical exertion is one of several causes of the ailment, and the players were among about 80 who had participated in intense workouts that started Jan. 20 after they returned from winter break. One of the workouts involved performing 100 squats in a certain amount of time.
Ferentz said his teams had gone through similar or even more challenging workouts in 2000, 2004 and 2007 and were not affected. He said the workouts were designed to be rigorous and safe, not punitive. His son, the team's starting center James Ferentz, went through the program and was "stiff and sore" but recovered.
"I can't pinpoint a cause for this. To me, it's very random. We went three times without incident, and now this," he said.
A university investigation into what caused the ailment is under way, and Ferentz said he looked forward to the findings. That investigation is expected to be wrapped up in 90 days and meant to ensure a similar episode doesn't happen again.
Ferentz said the workouts in question would not be repeated. But he said he had confidence in Chris Doyle, the strength and conditioning coach who designed them. He said Doyle should be judged by "his body of work," which includes helping train dozens of college athletes who went on to play professional football.
Strength and conditioning has always been "the backbone" of the Iowa program, and "you couldn't ask for a better person to head that up," he said.
Ferentz confirmed that Doyle told players during one recent team meeting that "we'll find out who wants to be here." He said he'd used those words in the past and would in the future but did not see them as an indication or a "punitive or barbaric" workout program.
Ferentz said players were complaining of soreness and discolored urine Jan. 24, and he initially thought it was just a matter of dehydration. He said he learned the next day their problems were more serious and he contacted all their parents, but he did not immediately visit them in the hospital.
Ferentz said he decided to go on a scheduled out-of-state recruiting trip the next morning, which he said he probably should have delayed in hindsight. When he returned, he acknowledged that some parents were upset with the entire ordeal when he went to see them at the hospital but said he sympathized.
"I know what it's like to have a kid sick in the hospital," he said. "You run a gamut of emotions."
The university has not released a list of the affected players because of medical privacy laws. Ferentz said they have not returned to workouts and it was not clear when they would do so.