Iowa Football

Iowa's Seth Wallace talks about his big break in coaching and how Norm Parker factored

The Hawkeyes linebackers coach/assistant defensive coordinator has climbed the ladder from Coe College wide receiver to the top echelon of college football coaching

Coe football coach Erik Raeburn poses with four seniors in 2000, defensive back Zak Gordon, defensive tackle Jason Hocke
Coe football coach Erik Raeburn poses with four seniors in 2000, defensive back Zak Gordon, defensive tackle Jason Hocker, offensive lineman Nick Nielsen and wide receiver Seth Wallace. (The Gazette)
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In 1997, Seth Wallace was a freshman running back for Coe College. Yes, his dad, Greg, then was head coach at Grinnell College.

Why didn’t Wallace, a Class 3A second-team all-state running back with 1,461 rushing yards as a senior at Grinnell High School, play for his dad? He was asked the question for a story in The Gazette in 1997. It was also noted in the story that Wallace wore gold earrings in both ears.

C’mon, he was a freshman in college. It was the ’90s.

“I went to Coe because of the connection my dad had with Grinnell College. He knew the program, he knew the people,” Wallace said. “I’ll be real honest with you. Academically, I didn’t have enough of that to play for my father.”

It more than worked out at Coe for Wallace, who’s now in his seventh season as Iowa’s linebackers coach and assistant defensive coordinator. Wallace ended up being a key cog in the Kohawks passing game. He still has the second-most receiving yards in a game (234 against Buena Vista in 2000, a game in which he caught a 95-yard TD pass).

And, yes, Wallace ran 42 yards for a TD in the second half of the Coe-Grinnell game in 1997. And, yes, those points stood up in a 20-13 Kohawks victory.

Wallace joined the On Iowa podcast recently and talked about his breaks in coaching, among other topics, including who might play middle linebacker for him in 2020.

For a Division III wide receiver to work his way to the top echelon of college football coaching, yes, it took a few breaks and vision to go from an assistant coaching position at Coe in 2001-02 to Lake Forest with a stop as a grad assistant at Iowa, three seasons at Valdosta State (Ga.) and then, in 2014, a full-time assistant position on Kirk Ferentz’s staff in Iowa City.

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When asked about his big break, Wallace first brings up former Coe coach Erik Raeburn, who hired Wallace to coach wide receivers/tight ends and special teams.

“I was set to graduate and move on and he asked me if I wanted to get into coaching and be a member of his staff,” Wallace said. “I did that for two years in a very, I guess, intense way.

“I jumped right into it. He gave me the opportunity to hit the ground running and coach. After two years, I knew it was probably time to move on, see something different and get out of my comfort zone.”

That led to a three-year stint at Lake Forest College in Chicago, where Wallace started as defensive backs and special teams coach and progressed to two seasons as offensive coordinator and special teams coach.

Wallace hit it off at Lake Forest with linebackers coach Chuck Bullough. Bullough? Yes, Michigan State. Bullough played linebacker there. His dad, Hank, was a legendary offensive lineman and assistant coach for the Spartans. Chuck’s brother, Shane, played linebacker for the Spartans and three of Chuck Bullough’s nephews also played linebacker for Michigan State.

“My luck took place at Lake Forest College,” Wallace said. “There was a guy there named Chuck Bullough. He was on Dick Jauron’s staff with the Bears. That staff was let go. If you know where the Bears’ facility is in Chicago, it’s right there in Lake Forest.”

Bullough didn’t want to move his family, so he volunteered for a season at Lake Forest. Wallace had an office in the original Halas Hall in Lake Forest. Wallace and Bullough shared an office for six months and built a relationship.

“At that time, he said, ‘if you ever want to be a graduate assistant, let me know,’” Wallace said.

So remember the Michigan State element? Here’s where Norm Parker enters the picture. Before Parker, who passed away in 2014, became Iowa’s irascible defensive coordinator, he was Michigan State’s irascible defensive coordinator for 12 seasons (1983-94).

“I kept knocking on Norm’s door. I tried to visit as much as I could,” Wallace said. “The relationship with Chuck Bullough led to me coming here as a graduate assistant. To be honest with you, We wouldn’t be having this conversation if it wasn’t for the good fortune I had in Chicago.”

Wallace got an office in Iowa’s Hansen Football Performance Center in 2014 as recruiting coordinator and assistant defensive line coach. In 2015, Wallace coached cornerbacks and nickelbacks. This was the same year corner Desmond King won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back.

In 2016, Wallace moved to linebackers. In 2017, he added assistant defensive coordinator to his title. That coincided with the Hawkeyes employing a 4-2-5 cash safety defense, which Iowa leaned on in the second half of 2019.

“Hopefully, we’re settled into this thing and we’re not faced with the amount of deficiencies we faced early last year,” Wallace said.

The evolution of the 4-2-5 will not make Iowa’s outside linebacker (Leo) obsolete, but when the 4-3 is used, it likely could be a fifth defensive lineman who has the ability to cover the flat. Wallace also said he’d like his inside linebackers to have the position flexibility to flex out to the outside if needed.

“You can’t recruit to that position anymore, especially if you tell them we only use it 20 percent of the time,” Wallace said. “So, you have to recruit to the interior and then have the flexibility to move those guys to the exterior.”

For Wallace, spring football would’ve been about figuring out who his middle linebacker will be for 2020. He mentioned all of the names — Nick Niemann, Dillon Doyle, Djimon Colbert (the starter at the weakside position last year) and Jack Campbell, who burned a redshirt after last year’s middle linebacker Kristian Welch was injured.

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“There’s good reason for us to have flexibility in both of the interior positions,” Wallace said. “Those two positions in the last three or four years have become interchangeable.”

Depending on whether or not an offense lines up heavy to the field or the boundary, Iowa’s inside linebackers can change their roles. One thing Wallace did point out was Iowa’s middle linebacker has missed at least one game in each of the last three seasons. Yes, Iowa is looking for a new middle linebacker, but Wallace has his eyes set on building depth.

Wallace comes by his coaching style honestly. There’s a fierceness that might even rival defensive coordinator Phil Parker. Wallace was a 10- or 11-year-old ball boy with his brother on the Grinnell sidelines. It was an eye opener for a kid that age to hear “football talk” on the sidelines. And here, “football talk” is cussing.

“Whether you were on the home side or the visitor’s side, at 8, 10, 11 or 12, you’re around some interesting things you probably shouldn’t be around before that age, listening to coaches and the way they responded to things on the sidelines. It did give us a chance to be around our father.”

Greg Wallace served as Grinnell’s football coach from 1998 to 2008 and won 68 games, second-best in school history. He was voted Midwest Conference coach of the year three times (1994, 1997 and 1998). The 1998 team is recognized as the best squad in program history, winning the league title outright while posting a perfect 10-0 mark.

Wallace said his dad missed 95 percent of his games at Coe, which makes perfect sense. Greg Wallace also was a little preoccupied on Saturdays. Wallace also mentioned that he did compete against his dad once.

He didn’t mention that he rushed 42 yards for the winning TD 72 seconds into the third quarter against his dad. That didn’t come up.

Seth Wallace did tell The Gazette in 1997, “I don’t know which side mom (Sherry) will sit on.”

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(The On Iowa Podcast had Iowa linebackers coach/assistant defensive coordinator Seth Wallace on April 29. You can find that show here. The On Iowa Podcast will be hosting Iowa football assistants through out the summer. Thanks for listening!)

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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