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IOWA CITY — For a second there, Thursday’s introductory news conference for Iowa’s assistant football coaches Kelton Copeland and Tim Polasek became a game of comparing scars.
In this case, switch out scars for those first jobs as college football coaches.
Wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland started his coaching career at Emporia (Kan.) State a week after his playing days as a quarterback ended there. He progressed to Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College from 2007 to 2010.
There he did a little bit of everything.
“Honestly, that’s the place where I wore the most hats,” Copeland said. “I did everything from strength and conditioning, I taught classes, I ran our indoor facility, I was our equipment manager and, oh by the way, you’ve got to coach a position, too.”
Copeland coached the secondary and wide receivers at Coffeyville. The class he taught? It was always some type of health or physical education class.
That’s a pretty good start in the coach “rags to riches” Olympics. Tim Polasek, Iowa’s new offensive line coach, raised the stakes.
This was the winter of 2006. Polasek was an assistant coach at Wisconsin-Stevens Point. You don’t make a living wage as a Division III assistant, so Polasek was out logging. Yes, logging. He got a call from Craig Bohl, who was head coach at North Dakota State. It was 12 degrees in the woods of central Wisconsin and Polasek answered his cell.
“‘Is this Tim Polasek the football coach?’” the voice on the other end said. “And I said, ‘It’s Tim Polasek the football coach and logger.’ At that time I was three days a week I was recruiting for a Division III school, UW-Stevens Point, and three days a week I was logging. I mean, cutting timber down and doing it all.”
Polasek had to sell the new driver in his golf bag for enough gas money to road trip to Fargo, N.D. A friend from his hometown, Iola, Wis., bought it. Polasek made the trip, got the job and ...
“The really cool part of that story — and it just comes back to people — Iola, Wisconsin, a guy purchased that driver and he mailed it right back to me right away. It was kind of a running joke that he would have given me the money regardless, but that’s a true story.”
Polasek talked about making $6,500, sleeping on floors and watching video with the defensive staff to learn run fits so he could use the info to teach his running backs at NDSU.
The fact that Copeland left his hometown of Miami, Fla., to begin his college career at Saginaw (Mich.) Valley State also speaks to his desire to make football his life
Of course, head coach Kirk Ferentz topped the war stories. He made just $4,000 a year during his time as a graduate assistant at Pitt.
The overarching theme here isn’t humble beginnings but the willingness to fight through discomfort. Ferentz went looking for exactly that with these hires.
“It’s not a requisite, but I think it speaks a lot when people start at the beginning and work up the ladder,” Ferentz said. “Networking is important, but it’s so overstated. You see too many people who are worried about networking and worried about all of the wrong things instead of just getting better. ... Saginaw to Emporia? That says a lot right there to me. How about Miami to Saginaw? Those kinds of things speak volumes for the person you are, what you’re trying to do, what’s important to you.”
There will be some discomfort for Copeland and Polasek.
You know all about Iowa wide receiver. It was Iowa’s weakest position group in 2016. It will get an immediate boost with senior Matt VandeBerg’s return from injury. The passing game under first-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, Kirk’s son, is the topic currently under discussion with the staff.
“Anytime you walk into a room, it’s always a challenge for the first time,” Copeland said. “These guys are looking at you, and you’re looking at them and they’re wondering and you’re wondering, the whole deal to me is everybody gets a clean slate.”
Polasek has coached fullbacks at two schools. He’s never coached offensive line. Yes, Kirk Ferentz has reached “Yoda” level in O-line coaching status. And yes, Brian Ferentz coached a running game that produced nearly 5,000 yards, 58 TDs and the Joe Moore Award (top offensive line unit in the nation) in the last two years.
Given Iowa’s artillery in the offensive line coaching department, what made Polasek want to come to Iowa and coach offensive line?
“Why wouldn’t you want to is the better question,” Polasek said. “I mean, an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to be uncomfortable for a couple of weeks here. ... I see it as an opportunity to learn and grow from several guys upstairs that really understand the position. I’ve always been of the mindset that I’m going to try to create uncomfortable situations for the players, so why would that be any different for a coach that’s trying to move forward and do great things?”
Recruiting territories haven’t been divvied up. Copeland has recruited south Florida, Chicago, Kansas City area, Detroit and Indianapolis.
“I’m born and raised in Miami, Florida, so obviously if I have the opportunity to recruit down there, so be it,” Copeland said. “I’m totally fine down there. If it’s Chicago, if it’s Kansas City, wherever coach Ferentz and the rest of the staff decides to put me, I’m confident in my abilities. I know what we’re looking for.”
Polasek has recruited the upper midwest, Chicago area and Orlando and Tampa in Florida.
This is a time of discomfort and growing. So, Polasek is ready to mine the moon for players if that’s what it takes.
“I’m totally confident you could drop me off with a helicopter in the desert and we’ll go find some people to build a relationship with, and find out who the biggest guy is that can bend and move,” Polasek said. “We’d do our best to get him educated on the University of Iowa. Not only that, get him on campus multiple times and go from there.”
• Brian Ferentz will coach running backs, Kirk Ferentz said.
“Brian, last man standing, so that’s the plan right now,” Kirk Ferentz said.
• Ferentz was asked about special teams. Last season, linebackers coach Seth Wallace coached coverage units and tight ends coach LeVar Woods coached returns.
“One thing good about the way we’ve done things here, we’ve got a lot of flexibility right now with our staff and with the additions we’ve made.” Ferentz said.
• The NCAA released a statement on Tuesday saying it might push the start date for a 10th assistant coach to Jan. 9, 2018. It was originally scheduled to be implemented “immediately” if passed in April, but concerns on schools budgeting for the new opening have come up.
Ferentz said Iowa has a plan for nine or 10 coaches and that could include Copeland working on special teams.
• Ferentz was asked about the possibility of expanding Iowa’s recruiting footprint. He went another way with the question.
“Expanding or contracting,” he said. “It could be either way. One thing I always want to make sure we’re doing is really doing a quality job where we do go and not missing those guys that have already been described as good prospects maybe some people drive by. We don’t want to miss those guys.”
• Ferentz said third-year sophomore Ryan Boyle will move back to quarterback. The 6-1, 215-pounder moved from quarterback to wide receiver last season and recorded no statistics.
“Ryan wants to go back to quarterback, so we’ve made that move,” Ferentz said. “Not that we’ve done anything football-wise, but I know he’s out throwing the ball.”
This move will give Iowa four QBs this spring — presumed starter Nathan Stanley, Tyler Wiegers, Drew Cook and Boyle. Freshman Peyton Mansell will join the team in the fall.
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