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This is the first of a four-part series consisting of interviews with University of Iowa football assistant coaches. I asked them if, in their travels into schools and neighborhoods while recruiting, they noticed changes in kids and communities. We proceeded from there.
Still to come: Brian Ferentz, LeVar Woods, Phil Parker.
Bobby Kennedy, 49, is Iowa’s wide receivers coach. This is his fourth year at Iowa. His coaching career began as a graduate assistant at Illinois in 1990. He was also a grad assistant at Penn State before being a full-time assistant at Wyoming, Wake Forest, Arizona, Washington, Texas and Colorado.
Here are his answers to my questions:
On how recruiting has changed:
“The biggest thing is kind of the emergence of the social media. Now every kid’s on it. He’s tweeting about something, he’s sending out his highlight tapes. I would say the personal relationships in recruiting are the same, but just the information that’s out there, there’s so much more.
“Because you get on a kid’s Facebook or Twitter page and it’s a really good way to evaluate guys and see if you’re their type of guys. Are they caught up in all the social media hype or are they interested in being a good football player?
“This is my, I think, 26th year at this level. What I like to do, I still believe in the high school coach, in going in and talking to him and seeing what he says about a kid. ‘Hey, they’re good citizens, character, they can play.’ It’s so important for me to kind of get his endorsement, his recommendation.
“I think a little it’s skewed once in a while. Sometimes kids think ‘Oh God, I’ve got to have this personal trainer or that personal trainer, and this and that.’ It still comes down to how they play on the field.
“Going into the schools for the last how-many years, it’s pretty much the same. Because I like dealing with the people in the schools and I’m going to take their recommendation over anybody’s.
“I’ve been in the same recruiting area for 14 years. Those coaches I go see in Texas, when they say ‘Hey, you need to go check out this kid. The kid is this, that, but he’s also played really well against us.’ So I know he’s in a good program or he’s played against a good program. When I get those recommendations, those are the guys I want to go look at.
“To be quite frank, the great thing about the social media and about Hudl and Twitter and stuff like that, there’s more information at your fingertips. That’s the good thing about those branches or services. Absolutely.
“When a kid tweets something positive about one of his teachers or about his team or a teammate, or posts pictures with his teammates celebrating … I like seeing guys that are heavily invested in their team and about being team guys. I think it’s really important.
“I still really enjoy recruiting. I don’t know if kids are any different today than they were in 1990 except that they have more ways to get information. But they’re still going through the same things. Girlfriends, school, social — all these things. What’s fun for me is to see these guys come and they might have a great background, a great family situation, they might have an untraditional family situation. You see them come to an environment like this and you see them grow. To me, that’s the satisfaction that I get out of this thing.
“I love going in and talking to high school coaches, and sitting down with the counselors, and getting to know the parents and the kids and really what they’re all about. Creating those relationships and then having them last throughout the years … I don’t have kids of my own. It’s me and my wife. So that’s been a way for me to maybe fill a void in my life.
“One time I was recruiting a kid, Jackson Jeffcoat (who played at Texas). His dad (former NFL player Jim Jeffcoat) was a college football coach at the University of Houston. He’s now a coach at the University of Colorado. I remember talking to the Jeffcoats and they told me specific things. ‘If you want to recruit my son, here’s what you need to do and here’s what you need to respect.’
“So a lot of times in recruiting, if you listen to what people are saying you can figure it out pretty easily. So then when you do that and you create that relationship and they gain a trust for you, that you are going to take care of their son, that you are going to look out for him — looking out for him doesn’t always mean you’re going to tell him the good things he does. Looking out for him is going to challenge him, is going to tell him when he screws up and when you have to challenge him.
“Those parents who tell you ‘This is what we’re looking for,’ listening to them, it’s ‘How am I going to make this work? What’s the right way to approach this family and this kid?’ I think listening is a big part of our job.
“I always tell recruits I am a professor of football. I might not be a Ph.D. like Greg Davis or Brian Ferentz. But I like teaching, trying to transfer my knowledge to them so they know exactly what to do in certain situations, how to take the next step forward.”
After every Hawkeye win, Kennedy takes his position players back onto the field after the entire team has gathered in the locker room. They pose for a photo with the scoreboard included in the shot. I’ve seen him do that several times, and asked him why he does it.
“It’s not meant to be disrespectful (to opponents) in any way. Coach Ferentz teases me all the time because I’ve got 7,000 pictures on my phone. I don’t have a lot of hobbies. Taking photographs is kind of a hobby of mine, whether it be on vacation, whether it be family, whether it be players, whether it be guys at my house.
“I believe in memories. For me, it’s a way to relive those times. I wish I would have had it some of the other places I’ve been. I want to share memories with my players. I think sometimes you’ve got to reflect on the good times because everything’s not always going to be smooth.
“Winning a football game, at least in my life, it’s really important because that’s how I feed my family. It’s what I do for a living. But also, sharing those memories and having that camaraderie with your players, I think it’s really important. Like I said, it’s not meant to be disrespectful. or anything like that. I do it here in Kinnick after we win every time.
“You walk in my office, you’ll see a bunch of those pictures on the wall, and also in the office in my house. I’ve got pictures on the wall because I think sometimes as coaches, I don’t know if we remember the good times as much as we remember the disappointments.”