NCF Nation: Eric Johnson
But there has been debate whether Iowa aims high enough and far enough on the recruiting trail. Iowa caused a stir last winter when head coach Kirk Ferentz said he no longer assigned an assistant to Florida and Eric Johnson, then the team's recruiting coordinator, said Florida, annually one of the top states in producing FBS players, wasn't a huge priority for the program.
Despite several recent misses in the Sunshine State, the Hawkeyes' approach seemed provincial at best and irresponsible at worst. But perhaps it's just different.
Colleague Jeremy Crabtree explores Iowa's recruiting strategy, which focuses almost entirely on the Midwest and on bringing in under-the-radar prospects.
From the story:
Most coaches believe that if you want to win big, you have to own the South. Not Iowa.
"Iowa just does things differently than anybody else in our league, and virtually everybody else in the country," one Big Ten recruiting coordinator said. "I don't think you'll ever see us focus only on the Midwest like [Iowa has] done, because it won't work for us. But for them it does. It's kind of like what you see in baseball with Billy Beane. The way Iowa recruits is kind of like 'Moneyball' on the recruiting trail. They have their formula, and a lot of people think they're crazy for doing it that way. It's produced a lot of good results, though."
Iowa has been a consistent bowl team during Ferentz's tenure with success spikes from 2002-04 and again in 2009. Given the small local recruiting base, it has been an impressive stretch.
While every Big Ten coaching staff talks about first securing its local territory in recruiting, Iowa seems to take it one step further. The Hawkeyes' coaches are always seeking the underrated Midwest prospect, who fit better with their culture.
Check out this quote from Johnson in Crabtree's piece:
"You have the guys from places like Illinois, and now especially Ohio and Indiana, that were overlooked because Ohio State and Notre Dame are recruiting on such a national level. Those kids play so much harder because they have a chip on their shoulder. Ohio State and Notre Dame told them they weren't good enough to play there, and recruits like to prove they were wrong."
That's certainly true in many cases, and Iowa has benefited from bringing in chip-on-their-shoulder recruits from the heartland. But it leaves me with two questions:
1. Will the "Moneyball" approach help Iowa reach its ultimate peak as a program?
2. Is Iowa too accepting of its place in college football's hierarchy?
I'm big on understanding who you really are as a program -- not enough fans do this -- but I've sat in Ferentz's office and heard him say, "We're not USC." While it's true, it also sounds a bit defeatist -- and tough to reconcile given that he's making a top-10 salary.
The population trends don't lie, and while recruiting rankings can be subjective, it can't be disputed that more elite players live outside the Big Ten footprint. Iowa has shown it can reach a certain level with try-hard, local and regional types, but can it reach the next level -- competing for a college football playoff spot -- without branching out and pursuing more nationally elite prospects? Because any program that pays its coach what Iowa pays Ferentz should be aiming for the playoff, period.
It's great to see Iowa making overdue facilities upgrades. There are other things the program can do to promote itself and become more appealing to top recruits, like Michigan State has done.
But I don't see a path to the playoff without making national recruiting, and particularly the Southeast, a major priority. I'm encouraged that Iowa's most recent 2015 recruits come from Texas (LB Justin Jinning) and Florida (WR Adrian Falconer). We'll see if more prospects follow from those fertile states.
How do you feel about Iowa's approach? Let me know.
This is no accident.
I must have missed it from last winter, but Ferentz said he's no longer assigning an assistant coach to recruit Florida. Then Tuesday night, Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson told an I-Club gathering in Des Moines that Florida is no longer a priority area for the program's recruitment.
I think I just choked on some orange juice and spilled some sun screen.
We're talking about Florida, right? The state that produced four of the top six players and 22 of the top 100 players in the 2013 class, according to ESPN Recruiting? The state often grouped with Texas and California as the nation's top recruiting hotbeds?
Yes, that Florida.
All but two Big Ten teams (Iowa and Michigan) signed at least one Floridian earlier this month. Indiana and Purdue both signed five.
The Iowa coaches think the program needs to concentrate recruiting closer to campus. The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette's Marc Morehouse notes that Iowa went to St. Louis, a city that has produced recent stars like Adrian Clayborn and Marvin McNutt, for three recruits in the 2013 class. Iowa also has had recruiting success in other Midwestern cities like Chicago and Indianapolis, and signed a Detroit prospect (safety Desmond King) on Feb. 6.
There's nothing wrong with prioritizing your backyard and places where you've had success. But ignoring Florida just doesn't make a lot of sense.
Iowa did well in the Sunshine State early in Ferentz's tenure, luring players like defensive tackle Colin Cole, linebacker Abdul Hodge and wide receiver Mo Brown. Former assistant Bret Bielema was Iowa's primary recruiter in Florida and left the Hawkeyes following the 2001 season, but other Iowa assistants continued to recruit the state.
As pointed out here and here, Iowa has had many more misses than hits with Florida prospects since 2002. Several players transferred, including running backs Jeff Brinson and De'Andre Johnson. The jury is out on other Florida recruits, including quarterback Jake Rudock, who could start this coming season.
I'm still waiting for a good reason for Iowa to back away from Florida. Sure, Iowa has had a run of bad luck with Florida recruits. But should it stop trying? I can think of 22 reasons -- and many more from the 2013 class -- to keep investing time and money there.
Big Ten teams can't expect to compete at a national elite level by recruiting solely in the Midwest. Prioritizing states like Florida -- along with Georgia, Texas and California -- is a must for Big Ten programs.
It's great to see coaches develop talent and several Big Ten programs, including Iowa, have done that well over the years. But there's a ceiling for teams trying to win with overlooked recruits from the heartland. Too many Big Ten teams -- not just Iowa -- seem to fall into this trap. Penn State just signed its first Florida recruit (safety Neiko Robinson) in more than a decade. That's insane.
It still comes down to talent, and there's just more of it in the South. Big Ten teams need to compete in states like Florida. Will they get all the top players? Of course not. But with the right coaches and strategy, they can help their teams get better.
Sure, Iowa lost Bielema, who continued his Florida recruiting push as Wisconsin's head coach and will carry it on at Arkansas. Iowa lost another Florida recruiter when Rick Kaczenski left for Nebraska in 2011.
But Ferentz has had plenty of chances to hire assistants with Florida roots the past two seasons. Iowa's staff is in an unprecedented period of flux, and Ferentz has brought in six new assistants since the end of the 2011 season. None of them could help Iowa made inroads in Florida?
Look how Nebraska secondary coach Terry Joseph, hired last March, has helped the Huskers' recruiting efforts in the South. The same goes for new Big Ten assistants like Everett Withers at Ohio State. Wisconsin would have loved to retain assistant Charlie Partridge because of his recruiting clout in Florida.
Perhaps Iowa can build itself back into a Big Ten title contender without investing in Florida. Re-establishing itself in cities like St. Louis certainly is a good sign.
But Ohio State's coaches continue to mine the South, and Michigan is ramping up its Southern recruiting efforts as well.
In recruiting, you follow the talent. You flock to it. You compete for it.
You don't turn your back on it.
Barring any late coaching changes, here's a look at who's gone, who's back and who's in new roles.
- Who's out: Mike Schultz (fired)
- Who's in: Paul Petrino (previously offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach at Arkansas)
- Who's out: Dan Disch and Curt Mallory both were demoted to position coaches. Disch is staying on staff as linebackers coach.
- Who's in: Vic Koenning (previously co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State)
- Who's out: Kurt Beathard (fired)
- Who's in: Jeff Brohm (previously quarterbacks coach at Florida Atlantic)
- Who's out: Jim Pry (fired)
- Who's in: Greg Nord (previously running backs coach/recruiting coordinator at Louisville)
- Who's out: Reggie Mitchell (left to become running backs coach/recruiting coordinator at Kansas)
- Who's in: DeAndre Smith (previously running backs coach at UNLV)
- Mallory left his position as secondary coach to become defensive coordinator at Akron.
- Special-teams coordinator Mike Woodford was fired along with Schultz, Beathard and Pry.
- Ron West was hired as a defensive assistant. His official responsibilities have not been announced.
Offensive line coach
- Who's out: Bobby Johnson (left to become assistant offensive line coach with the Buffalo Bills)
- Who's in: Myron "Mo" Moriarity (previously served as head coach at Carmel (Ind.) High School
No staff changes, but recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson was named tight ends coach. Wide receivers coach Erik Campbell previously had worked with the tight ends, while Johnson had helped Darrell Wilson with the linebackers.
- Who's out: Jay Hopson (left to become defensive coordinator at Memphis)
- Who's in: Quality control assistant Adam Braithwaite was promoted to outside linebackers/strong safeties coach. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson will take a more active role with the linebackers in 2010.
- Secondary coach Tony Gibson will continue to work with cornerbacks and free safeties, and also serve as special-teams coordinator.
Running backs coach
- Who's out: Dan Enos (left to become head coach at Central Michigan)
- Who's in: Brad Salem (previously served as head coach at Augustana College)
Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
- Who's out: Jedd Fisch (left to become quarterbacks coach with the Seattle Seahawks)
- Who's in: Jeff Horton (previously served as quarterbacks coach with the Detroit Lions)
- Who's out: Richard Hightower (left to become assistant special-teams coach for the Washington Redskins)
- Who's in: Steve Watson (previously served as associate head coach with the Denver Broncos in 2008)
- Running backs coach Thomas Hammock was named co-offensive coordinator
No coaching changes
No coaching changes
No coaching changes
Defensive line coach
- Who's out: Terrell Williams (left to become defensive line coach at Texas A&M)
- Who's in: Gary Emanuel (previously served as defensive line coach at Rutgers). Emanuel also was named co-defensive coordinator with a focus on run defense.
Defensive backs coach
- Who's out: Kerry Cooks (left to become outside linebackers coach at Notre Dame)
- Who's in: Chris Ash (previously served as defensive backs coach/recruiting coordinator at Iowa State)
- Randall McCray, who served as Wisconsin's recruiting coordinator and assistant secondary coach, left to become defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee. Wisconsin has yet to fill the vacancy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I'm back in Chicago, so these links are served cold.
- As he prepares to fully take ownership of the offense, Ohio State freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor wasn't hearing the "moral victory" talk Monday night, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
"'It's not good enough,' he said. 'We needed to win that game. We did hang with them, and we should have had them.'
In no uncertain terms, Pryor is setting the tone for next season, which will be his first full year as the starter."
- The members of Illinois' 2007 Rose Bowl team are rallying around former defensive tackle Chris Norwell, who was diagnosed with cancer in October, Terry Bannon writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi wasn't shocked to see two coordinators resign, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune. Major Applewhite and Chuck Long are among the possible replacements for the Gophers.
- The Big Ten has been in denial about its bowl failures for most of this decade, Tom Oates writes in the Wisconsin State Journal.
"It has been slow to accept the fact it is down, down, down. That's fitting because Big Ten teams have been slow to react to the changes in college football, especially the trend toward fast-paced, speed-based offenses."
- Iowa recruiting coordinator/linebackers coach Eric Johnson could be headed to Alabama, The Gazette's Marc Morehouse writes in his blog.
- Quarterback Tate Forcier and five other early enrollees at Michigan begin classes today, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press.