116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Abdul Hodge still has some unpacking to do.
“I still got my clothes in a suitcase,” Hodge said Wednesday.
The Iowa alum has been a little busy fulfilling his dream.
“Coming from Iowa, it was always a dream to somehow get back and coach someday,” said Hodge, now the Hawkeyes’ tight ends coach, in his first news conference since returning to Iowa.
Hodge officially joined the Iowa staff on March 2, filling the vacancy opened after Ken O’Keefe stepped down from quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz switched from coaching tight ends to coaching quarterbacks.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz had Hodge on his “list for a while” when looking at potential fits for the staff.
Hodge’s return to his alma mater became official 192 months after he suited up. It feels like a lot less time than that, though.
“In some ways, it feels like I never left,” Hodge said. “I feel like I’ve been a part of this program since dating back to 2001 when I first stepped foot in Iowa City.”
Some of that familiarity comes from maintaining and building relationships with Iowa assistant coaches while he was working elsewhere. Hodge saw wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland, for example, on the recruiting trail.
Copeland already thought highly of Hodge before he arrived in Iowa City, and the last month reaffirmed that.
“He’s exactly the guy that I knew before I was working with him,” Copeland said. “My parents, they have a saying. ‘You don’t truly, truly know somebody until you either live with them or you work with them.’”
Copeland and Hodge practically check both those boxes as college football coaches.
“Five, six, seven months of the year, as much time as we spend in this building, we’re literally living together and working together,” Copeland said.
Hodge, a former linebacker, is making the switch from coaching outside linebackers to coaching tight ends — position groups that often match up against each other.
“Obviously we cover a lot of tight ends,” Hodge said of his previous coaching area. “So you kind of understand from a backward perspective what that position group is trying to get accomplished.”
That applies vice versa, too.
“Obviously being on the tight end side and coaching offense, now you know how that guy’s going to play you,” Hodge said.
Kirk Ferentz said he initially did not think of Hodge for tight ends because of his defensive background, but Hodge’s “eagerness” toward the new role swayed him.
“He sees it as a chance to grow and improve his vision of the game, which I think is smart,” Ferentz said. “It's good to have experience on both sides of the football.”
Hodge also has the benefit of being on staff with a handful of former tight ends coaches, including offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and special teams coordinator LeVar Woods.
Unique ‘breadth of experiences’
Hodge is relatively new to college coaching. Aside from his three-year stint coaching outside linebackers at South Dakota, the rest of his experience came at other levels.
“He was kind of a unique hire,” said Bob Nielson, the head coach at South Dakota. “He hadn’t had a ton of college coaching experience.”
But what Nielson saw from Hodge in his time coaching outside linebackers in Vermillion, S.D., was not what one might expect for someone without any college coaching experience.
"The breadth of experiences that he’s had — from his time as a player at the college level, the NFL level, some of the things that he did while he was away from coaching professionally — I think helped him build a skill set that has translated very, very well to being a college coach,“ Nielson said.
Hodge’s resume has a diverse array of experiences. After his NFL career was over, he started a technology company in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., his hometown.
He was also an intern at the NFL level on the Tennessee Titans’ staff. At the high school level, he has experience coaching defense and special teams. He also was a coach at a Florida company that helps high school athletes with recruiting.
Hodge didn’t have a “magic answer” Wednesday to what he’d bring to the Iowa staff.
“I just try to be myself,” Hodge said.
Being himself has meant being someone who prioritizes family.
“At the end of the day, I try to be a really good individual, a really good father, a really good husband,” Hodge said.
Nielson said a “family-centered environment” was important to Hodge in his time at South Dakota.
“The fact that he was there for (his players) to talk about things outside of football was also something that they valued very much,” Nielson said.
Some of that family mentality has already transferred to the Hansen Football Performance Center.
Hodge has been setting up one-on-one meetings with his players, “to not just understand who they are as a football player, but understand their story as a person.”
“Hopefully they can feel like they have someone who’s not only going to teach them, develop them and hold them accountable, but someone who’s going to be at their side, that’s going to advocate for them on their behalf throughout the season and throughout the years,” Hodge said.
Kirk Ferentz remembers the relationships Hodge kept with coaches when he was a player.
“Nobody knows better than Abdul or appreciates the role a coach has in terms of developing a real meaningful relationship with the players,” Kirk Ferentz said.
The Iowa staff still is discussing where Hodge’s geographic recruiting territory will be. For now, he’s looking at southern Florida and “maybe” the St. Louis area.
Kirk Ferentz doesn’t seem too concerned about Hodge’s recruiting ability.
“Talk about being a recruiter and a salesman, he got his wife to move from Fort Lauderdale to move to South Dakota,” Ferentz said. “It's a pretty good sale."
Then he sold her on another move from South Dakota to Iowa.
Even after the rest of his family moves to Iowa City, Hodge will certainly have a fan watching from 300-plus miles away in Vermillion, S.D.
“Certainly excited to watch his career continue to move forward there at Iowa as part of their staff,” Nielson said.
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