I'm going to take Hawkeye fans back a few years to a dark place.
It is 2007 and a number of Hawkeyes found themselves in trouble with the law.
Those Hawkeyes were receivers Dominique Douglas, James Cleveland, Arvell Nelson and Anthony Bowman, and they affectionately referred to themselves as City Boyz Inc.
I'm not going rehash the gory details of the merry band of would-be pass catchers. If the esteemed reader has forgotten, he/she can click on the link.
More to my point, I will reiterate that they were all wide receivers.
Going back one more year to 2006, Iowa's receivers were so bad that they arguably drove senior quarterback Drew Tate to an aneurism. Starters Andy "Hands of Stone" Brodell and Herb Grigsby would have been hard-pressed to catch a cold.
Grigsby was eventually benched in favor of the aforementioned Dominique Douglas.
Going back one more year, the Hawks came into the season with two seasoned veterans at receiver—Ed Hinkel and Clinton Solomon—both returning starters.
Hinkel broke his wrist in the sixth game of the season, thereby missing the next three games. During that time, Iowa needed Solomon to step up, but he came down with an ill-timed case of the dropsies. The Hawks went 1-2 in the three games Hinkel missed.
Overall, from 1999-2007, wide receiver play under Kirk Ferentz was lacking.
Kevin Kasper was terrific, but he was a holdover from the previous staff. C.J. Jones and Mo Brown—the starters in 2002—were solid, but Jones was a Juco transfer.
In effect, in nine years of wide receiver play, Ferentz's Hawkeyes could lay claim to developing Brown and the aforementioned Hinkel and Solomon.
I will also note that Solomon missed 2003 due to academics.
Through eight of those years—2000-2007—the wide receiver coach was Lester Erb.
In 2008, running back coach Carl Jackson retired, and Erb moved into Jackson's spot. Meanwhile, Iowa hired former Michigan coach Erik Campbell to supervise the receivers.
Since then, the Hawks have not only produced DJK and Marvin McNutt—statistically, the two greatest Iowa receivers of all time, and in McNutt's case, literally, the greatest Iowa receiver of all time—but they have recruited much better at the position.
Which moves us to running back.
Iowa fans are well aware of the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God (or AIRBHG for short), but if you break it down—as the link does—, AIRBHG first struck in 2004, at which time he went nuts with torn ACLs. After that, he was relatively dormant until 2008.
At that point, Shonn Greene had the best single-season an Iowa running back has ever had.
Outside of Greene's success, the play of the Hawkeye running backs has generally been solid if unspectacular. The more painful factoid is that the Hawkeyes have failed to graduate any tailbacks since Albert Young and Damian Simms left in 2007. They haven't even had a junior scholarship running back tote the ball since Greene.
Six running backs have either transferred or gotten kicked off the team. That is six in four years.
And now the Hawkeyes are heading into the Insight Bowl with their top two running backs MIA, because because both have been suspended.
I will once again remind the reader that since 2008—since AIRBHG declared all-out war on Iowa running backs—Lester Erb has been the running backs coach.
That is the same Lester Erb that presided over City Boyz Inc., and Herb Grigsby and eight seasons of inconsistent-at-best and lousy-at-worst wide receiver play.
Ultimately, one has to give Erb some credit for Shonn Greene, but let's face it, Greene spent the majority of his career under Carl Jackson. Also, Erb deserves further credit as one of Iowa's best recruiters.
That aside, am I fishing here?
Maybe. I am the first to admit that I don't have a clue what goes on behind closed doors at Fort Kinnick.
On the other hand, I do know which position groups have gotten hit the hardest by suspensions, transfers and academic casualties over the years. I do know that wide receiver play improved dramatically after 2007.
I do know that Iowa has seemingly been without a backup running back every single season since 2008. It goes without saying that injuries—of which there have been many—can't be pegged on Erb, but poor development and player retention can.
I also know that between 2009-2011, Iowa's rushing offense ranked Nos. 10, 8 and 12 in the Big Ten.
I fully acknowledge that this sounds like I'm trying to make trouble where there is none. After all, picking on Iowa position coaches and coordinators is popular these days.
Nonetheless, I suspect in 2007, the Iowa position coach that Hawkeye fans were most frustrated with was Lester Erb. Furthermore, I suspect they were relieved when he was switched to running backs coach, because running back is a more talent-intensive position than any other position on the field.
In other words, to some degree, the running back either has it or he doesn't, and no amount of coaching in the world can give the back that "it" factor.
I'm not saying that Lester Erb is to blame for the dearth of experienced running backs that Iowa will bring into the Insight Bowl.
I am saying that his track record is pretty sketchy at this point.
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