Iowa Football: An Assessment of the Hawkeyes' Revised Recruiting Strategy
Recently, Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz met with the media to discuss the hellos and goodbyes that have taken place in the Iowa football compound over the offseason—hellos and goodbyes that have led directly to a reshuffling of coaching duties, both on the field and in the recruiting wars.
Ferentz detailed, via Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, much of that reorganization and how it will affect his program, a program in need of some reorganization after three disappointing seasons in a row, the last of which was 2012's bowl-less 4-8 squad.
There is a lot to like about the new-look football staff, especially as it concerns recruiting, though there is also a bit that is questionable.
Ferentz specifically went over new recruiting areas and strategies. This is on the heels of an Iowa recruiting class that is largely considered a disappointment—strictly from a recruiting standpoint—and that 247sports.com ranked 10th in the 12-member Big Ten.
It also follows Hawkeyes recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson's announcement (per Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette) that Iowa would no longer actively recruit Florida, the second-most talent-rich state in the country, according to MaxPreps.
Iowa's recruiting strategy heading into the 2011 recruiting season had at least one coach actively recruiting the following states: Iowa, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland/Washington D.C, Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas.
The Hawks had two coaches in Illinois—one in Chicagoland and one in the southern part of the state—and in Missouri—split between the St. Louis metro area and the rest of the state.
It is also worth noting that based on all available information, the Hawks' best and most successful recruiter—former running backs coach Lester Erb—was the Chicagoland recruiter.
The new recruiting strategy has Iowa dropping Florida. According to Ferentz, "We’re not going to shut the door in any area," but the Hawks will no longer send a staff member to actively recruit the Sunshine State.
Meanwhile, Iowa coaches will be assigned the following states: Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Indiana, the overall mid-Atlantic area—Massachusetts-to-Virginia—Ohio, Illinois and Texas.
More notable than the areas themselves is how many coaches will be in each area. The new strategy has two coaches in the mid-Atlantic, two-and-a-half coaches (more on that shortly) in Texas and three each in Ohio and Illinois.
Ferentz didn't specifically mention whether he would keep two coaches in Missouri.
What's to Like About Iowa's New Recruiting Strategy?
The renewed attention to Texas is a decisive and logical move in light of the Hawks' hiring of wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy.
Kennedy spent seven seasons at the University of Texas, and for the past two years, he recruited the state of Texas for the University of Colorado. He has connections in the Lone Star State, and he brought solid recruits into Boulder despite the Buffs' failure to make a bowl for each of the past five seasons.
Linebackers coach LeVar Woods was in Texas last year and will continue his efforts, though he didn't have any notable success in his first season of active recruiting.
Finally, offensive coordinator Greg Davis, a native Texan and the "half" in the above equation, will likely help out.
Iowa had early success in Texas with such Lone-Star Hawks as Drew Tate, Jonathan Babineaux and Scott Chandler. However, the Hawkeyes haven't found consistent recruiting success in Texas since Ron Aiken and Carl Jackson left the staff in 2006 and 2007, respectively.
With Florida no longer in the picture, Texas, the most talent-rich state in the country, has to become a top priority for the Hawkeyes.
Another strong move is placing two recruiters in Chicagoland, with Brian Ferentz the most notable of the two.
According to Rivals, going back to the 2005 recruiting class, Iowa has signed 23 out-of-state, 4-stars-or-better recruits. Thirteen of those players, or just over 56 percent, were recruited by Lester Erb, and most of them were from Chicagoland.
In short, outside of the state of Iowa itself, Chicagoland has to be the Hawks' top recruiting priority.
Brian Ferentz had a strong first recruiting season and within the staff, confidence must be high that he can continue Erb's success.
He will be joined by new co-linebackers coach Jim Reid, who has no previous experience in the area. Nevertheless, look for Ferentz to be the major player in that area of the country.
The addition of Chris White to the staff is a strong commitment to improved special teams, and just as importantly, all indications are he is a top-notch recruiter.
Between 2005 and 2008, he was the Syracuse wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. The Orange went 10-37 during that stretch. Despite its record, Syracuse brought in seven 4-stars-or-better players between 2006 and 2008. Four of them were recruited by White.
White will take over the eastern seaboard, the northern part of which he is obviously familiar with. He will also get help from Reid, who spent a good amount of time in Virginia, both at the University of Virginia and the University of Richmond.
Historically, Iowa has stopped its mid-Atlantic recruiting efforts around the Washington D.C. area, but according to Ferentz, the Hawks will move further south, presumably into Virginia, Reid's backyard.
Given the recent Big Ten expansion, increased attention to the eastern seaboard is a smart move.
Finally, Phil Parker will remain an active recruiter. This was something his predecessor at defensive coordinator, Norm Parker, never really was.
Phil Parker will be in Michigan, and he will be the third man in Ohio, along with Brian Ferentz and Reid. Parker has always been a solid recruiter. Within Michigan, he was more successful than former Hawkeyes wide receiver coach Erik Campbell.
It is good to see Parker out there, as it would have been a waste of man power to keep him from actively recruiting simply because he is the coordinator.
What's Questionable About Iowa's New Recruiting Strategy?
It seems like part of the recruiting plan is to replace Florida largely with Midwest recruits, and specifically Ohio recruits.
The problem is the Hawks have to accept the limitations of the Midwest, and especially Ohio.
Iowa will never go into the Buckeye state and outrecruit Ohio State. For that matter, it's unlikely the Hawks can outrecruit Michigan and Notre Dame within Ohio.
Over the past five years, 87 Ohio recruits have received an offer from OSU. The majority of them have been of the 4- or 5-star variety.
Of those 87, 61, or just over 70 percent, committed to the Bucks. Another eight committed to Michigan, while five committed to Notre Dame.
The majority of the remaining 13 committed to elite out-of-state programs such as Alabama, Texas or Southern Cal.
There were a couple of exceptions such as 2010's Dominique Brown who committed to Louisville over OSU, or 2011's Shane Wynn who shocked the recruiting world by choosing Indiana over a late offer from the Bucks.
None of these 87, many of whom held an Iowa offer, opted to go with the Hawks.
This isn't to say Iowa should ignore the Buckeye State.
A number of great Ferentz-coached Hawkeyes have come from Ohio, including Ricky Stanzi, Micah Hyde and Derrell Johnson Koulianos. Moreover, Iowa has mined Ohio for a few highly recruited prospects, including 4-star offensive lineman Andrew Donnal, who held a Michigan offer but not an OSU offer.
Can the state of Ohio possibly supply Iowa with enough recruits—let alone highly touted recruits—to justify sending three coaches there?
As Ohio had 150 FBS recruits in 2013—compared to 350 from Florida—it is unlikely.
In effect, three Hawkeyes recruiters in the state of Ohio will net the Hawks a few quality 3-star players, maybe one 4-star offensive lineman, but more than anything, it will secure a number of players who otherwise would wind up in the Mid-American Conference (MAC).
And sometimes, that works out splendidly, such as was the case with former Hawkeyes safety Bob Sanders. As detailed by Jockbio.com, he would have been bound for Ohio University, his only other known offer, if not for a late Iowa scholarship.
However, recent Iowa graduate Steve Bigach is more representative of what happens when a team is laden with MAC-level talent. His only offers were from Iowa and Air Force. He played with as much effort as a coach could ask but didn't have the talent to be a difference-maker in the Big Ten. The end result left him a two-year starter on the most talent-poor Hawkeyes defensive line since before Kirk Ferentz took over.
On the other hand, Iowa isn't going to go into Florida and pull out 5-star prospects hand over fist, but unlike with OSU, Florida and Florida State can't grab all of the 52 4-star-recruits-or-better that the Sunshine State produced in 2013.
In effect, there is more leftover talent for Iowa to field, and instead of sending three coaches to Ohio, the Hawks would be better served sending one coach south.
Iowa can afford to leave Florida behind if Texas becomes a priority surpassed only by the state of Iowa and Chicagoland.
It is a problem if Texas is put on the same level as St. Louis or Minnesota.
Furthermore, it seems silly to drop Florida from the map for little reason other than that the last guy who recruited there—former defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski—wasn't an especially good recruiter. As ESPN's Adam Rittenberg detailed, former Hawkeyes coach Bret Bielema proved Iowa could go into the Sunshine State and pull out talented players.
In short, dropping Florida may or may not be a bad move. The question is what Ferentz expects to take its place.
Final Synopsis of Iowa's New Recruiting Strategy
Overall, Kirk Ferentz has made a number of positive moves with his recent staff shakeup, and the end result will be a net gain.
As recruits seem to give verbals sooner and sooner, it is likely Hawkeyes fans will know sooner than later if they've improved on this front.
Yes, Iowa is a developmental team, but the developmental players tend to flourish when they operate side by side with pedigree players.
Iowa needs to upgrade its talent. Hopefully, this is a step toward making that happen.
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