Gone Baby Gone: Rick Kaczenski Leaves Iowa Football Staff

And the hits keep coming. Per UI Sports Information:

"Defensive Line Coach Rick Kaczenski has decided to leave our staff for another coaching opportunity. During the last five years, Rick contributed greatly to our program. We wish Rick and his family the best."

That "other coaching opportunity" is still yet to be confirmed, although if certain speculation is be believed, it's for the defensive line coaching job at Nebraska. If true, that's certainly an extra kick in the nuts from our bosom buddies across the Missouri River (I guess winning that terrible game a month ago wasn't enough for them).

Kaczenski becomes the second member of the Iowa coaching staff to depart this month, following defensive coordinator Norm Parker's announced decision to step down after next week's Insight Bowl. "Business as usual" has been the m.o. for the Iowa coaches during Ferentz's tenure as head coach -- he's made just six changes to the initial staff he hired in 1999. -- but that's changing in a big way this year. The last coach Iowa hired was Erik Campbell in 2007, who became available in the wake of Lloyd Carr's departure from Michigan. Kaz took over a full-time job on the Iowa coaching staff that same fall (he had been a grad assistant in 2005 and 2006), replacing Ron Aiken (who left for a job with the Arizona Cardinals).

So how big of a blow is Kaz's departure? It's difficult to say. On one hand, he was the defensive line coach at a time when several standout players emerged from that unit -- Adrian Clayborn, Karl Klug, Christian Ballard, Mike Daniels, and Broderick Binns all flourished under his coaching (Mitch King and Matt Kroul also had their best Iowa years under the Kaz-coached years of 2007 and 2008) -- but attrition at the position was a constant problem and one that came home to roost this year, with arguably the worst defensive line performance of any Iowa team in the last decade. (To be fair, though, defensive line attrition has been a significant problem at Iowa prior to Kaz's ascension to defensive line coach; remember when Iowa had to start badly undersized King and Kroul at defensive tackle on the 2005 line? We can thank the attrition fairy for that development.) Still, Kaz was clearly doing something right with guys like Clayborn, Ballard, Klug, etc. -- it would be a mistake to suggest that he's not a good coach.

If his coaching track record is a mixed bag leaning positive, though, then his recruiting track record is a mixed bag leaning negative. Kaz's primary area of responsibility has been Florida and, as Jon Miller noted in a story yesterday, the results have been underwhelming:

David Blackwell: Never made it to Iowa, went to Iowa Western
Jeff Brinson: Transferred
Jack Swanson: 4th year junior, listed behind Tanner Miller on Nebraska-game depth chart

Joshua Brown: Transferred in summer of 2010 after redshirting in 2009

De’Andre Johnson: RS freshman RB, played sparingly in 2011

Torrey Campbell: Redshirted in 2011
Jake Rudock: Redshirted in 2011

Greg Mabin: Offers from Jacksonville State & Tulane
Daumantas Venckus: Offers from Iowa, Navy & Colorado State

Not counting the two incoming recruits, three of the players he recruited either never made it to Iowa or transferred after a year or two. Among those who have stayed, none have made much of an impact yet -- although De'Andre Johnson may have a chance to shine in the Insight Bowl and it's still far too soon to judge either Campbell or Rudock.

On the other hand, much like the defensive line attrition, Iowa's struggles with Florida-area recruits is not a problem specific to Kaz's tenure: since 2002, the only Florida-area recruits who have made a significant impact for Iowa have been Damian Sims, Marcus Paschal, and Edmond Miles. The truth is that the Florida pipeline from the early days of Ferentz's tenure -- the one that produced Antwan Allen, Fred Barr, Colin Cole, Abdul Hodge, C.J. Jones, Maurice Brown, and (oh yeah) Brad Banks -- essentially dried up when Bret Bielema bolted for Madison. Defensive line attrition and poor Florida recruiting aren't new problems for Iowa football -- but they didn't get fixed under his tenure, either.

So what now? While we've had a rough idea of who's in play for the defensive coordinator job, I'd be lying if I said I knew who was on the shortlist of defensive line coach candidates. After all, experience isn't even necessarily a prerequisite for the job -- Kaz got the job despite being an offensive lineman as a player and coaching offensive linemen at South Carolina, South Carolina State, Elon, and East Tennessee State. He even got his start at Iowa by working with the offensive line as a graduate assistant. On the other hand, it could also be a Soup-style hire: a seasoned veteran coach with considerable experience working with the position in question. Ferentz's track record with new hires is also inconsistent: Campbell was an unquestioned home run, but Darrell Wilson (replaced Bielema) and the promotions of Kaczenski (replaced Aiken) and Reese Morgan (replaced Joe Philbin) have had their ups and downs.

While it hurts to lose a promising young coach like Kaz, this change also represents an opportunity for Ferentz: to inject some new thinking to the defensive line coaching and to boost recruiting efforts. We'll see what he does with that opportunity. The departure of Kaz and Norm guarantees the addition of at least one fresh face to the Iowa coaching staff. The one thing we do know? Kaz isn't going to be the new defensive coordinator.

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