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IOWA CITY — Iowa’s assistant coaches always will be the engine of the Hawkeyes’ recruiting efforts. They’re the ones on the ground, in the plains or the southwest or wherever that ground might be.
They cultivate the relationships, the trust and, ultimately, build the bond with a prospect to the point where he and his family say yes to Iowa.
They can’t do it themselves.
You’ve noticed the speed of recruiting picked up the last few years. Last summer, Iowa had nearly all of its 2016 class committed before the season started. This year, it’s the same deal, with 15 commits in a class that might grow to 20.
All of these prospects have families, phone numbers, coaches, social media accounts and, oh yeah, a senior year of football in front of them. The Hawkeyes also happen to have a season in front of them, which, really, is why everyone is here.
Iowa’s recruiting staff met the media on Friday to talk about their duties and talk about Iowa’s recruiting process. This included Kelvin Bell, a full-time on-field assistant (defensive line assistant) and recruiting coordinator, Scott Southmayd, director of player personnel, and Tyler Barnes, director of recruiting.
Their duties include roster management, coordination of coaches on the road, on-campus visits, coaches’ video evaluation, talent evaluation (that includes sorting through the unsolicited emails, phone calls, text messages) and “other duties as assigned.” It’s all coordinated and extremely fluid.
“We’re information gatherers,” Barnes said. “We try to do everything possible to help our coaches out and help them make educated decisions on the guys we need to offer and the guys we want to take. ... Anything we can do to dig on a kid or find information on a kid or really help build his profile to make sure, OK, this is a guy we like, this is a guy we’re ready to move on. That’s what we’re there to do and it varies and it’s very, very, very fluid.”
So, coaches bring in names from the road, from relationships they’ve built, those names are vetted and the recruiting board starts to take shape.
The concept of roster management is, essentially, how the team is built. Is it built to support your style of play? It’s a collective effort to make sure the scholarships go to the position areas that need them the most.
“When you’re talking about 85 scholarships, there’s no reason for us to have 15 receivers on scholarship,” Bell said. “That’s not who we are. We want to make sure that we balance the roster to fit the kind of team we want to have on the field.”
Social media has become a monstrous component for recruiting staffs all over the country. This year, Iowa has been blessed to have a few “student” recruiters, particularly Texas running back Eno Benjamin, who’s been actively encouraging fellow Texans to check out the Hawkeyes. Including Benjamin, Iowa has five commits from Texas for 2017.
“With social media and the publicity that recruiting gets now, these kids are more connected to each other,” Bell said. “I think it’s good, as long as the message is controlled and the kids are thinking the same way and are excited about Iowa football and the way we do things. The message is controlled. We want to make sure the guys understand what it’s going to take to play here.”
Also with social media, there’s communicating with prospects and monitoring what they say. Yes, that matters, maybe more than we think.
“My grandma used to say ‘What’s down in the well comes up in buckets,’” Bell said. “If a kid is repeatedly putting negative things out there on Twitter or things he wouldn’t say in front of his mom or his grandmother, then that’s a red flag. No matter how talented that kid is, if he has the disregard as far as language or any other type of thing kids put on Twitter, he probably wouldn’t be a good fit here at Iowa.”
Iowa assistants have shifted areas of concentration in recruiting over the years, most of which likely is tied to specific coaches. Bret Bielema recruited Florida well when he was a linebackers coach at Iowa. Iowa has ducked out of Pennsylvania. Iowa’s staff has been in and out on Texas and seems really to be back in this year.
Remember, there’s a ton of fluidity with all of this.
“The one thing that makes it fluid is the man at the top (head coach Kirk Ferentz, who’s entering year 18 at Iowa),” Bell said. “When you walk into a school with a Tiger Hawk on your chest, regardless if you’ve ever been in that area, they understand what it means, they know what coach Ferentz stands for. I think that gives us the flexibility to move around a little bit.
“There are some areas where you want to put a coach in his niche. (D-line coach) Reese Morgan needs to be in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota. His name resonates. I’ll tend to go down south, because I have a niche there (Bell is from Olive Branch, Miss.).”
More and more staffs are getting creative with how scholarship offers are used. The “committable” vs. the “non-committable” offers showed up around 2013. It’s a way to get a prospect’s attention, but what’s it really worth?
“It’s the early hook a lot of schools dig into a kid,” Bell said. “‘Hey, I’m going to offer you now, but I’m not ready to take your commitment, I’m going to see if I can find better.’
“I think it’s a direct reflection of what’s happening at the top. Coach Ferentz isn’t going to extend anything to us that he’s not willing to back. Therefore, we’re not going to extend anything to a kid that we’re not willing to back.”
Bell said assistants have the freedom to offer scholarships without Ferentz signing off, but ...
“We just better make sure, in our minds, that if we do offer this kid that we’re willing to take him,” Bell said. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re trying to back out of something. It’s probably safer not to, just to make sure your bases are covered and this kid is a fit.”
And, of course, in college football recruiting, you’re going to hear a lot of “no” and “no thank you.” That’s the business. It’s the fuel behind miles and miles of bandwidth on recruiting websites, the pain of missing a recruit.
What about the guys whose jobs are recruiting?
Barnes returned to Iowa in April after serving on the recruiting staff at Vanderbilt, mostly under head coach Derek Mason, the last three seasons.
“The best thing coach Mason said, and I still have to remind myself this sometimes, was it’s not the guys you didn’t get, it’s 100 percent the guys you do get,” Barnes said. “I give myself a 24-hour rule to pout and kind of cry about it and then the next day you move on. It’s on to the guys who want to be Hawkeyes and who want to be around here.”
Bell said, “You can’t worry about the ones you miss. If you put your best foot forwards, if you tell the kid the truth, if the kid visited and decided it wasn’t the place for him, whether he comes or doesn’t come, he’s probably right. You can’t worry about the guys you miss. You have to make sure the ones who are here are the right ones for the program.”
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