At most schools, an open coordinator position wouldn't be cause for serious contemplation. Coordinators come and go, in most circumstances. Iowa football isn't most schools, though; the program hasn't hired a new coordinator in thirteen years, and a full-on head coaching search looks to be years away. Defensive Coordinator LET'S TALK ABOUT IT.
Rick Kaczenski is the second-shortest tenured assistant on the staff, the shortest-tenured of the defensive coaches. He's a kid. He's a pup. So why is it that Coach Kaz is one of the dark horse candidates to lead the Iowa defense for the next 40 years?
Kaczenski is the current Iowa defensive line coach, and has held that position for the last five seasons. He played offensive line at Notre Dame in the mid-90's for longtime Irish offensive line coach Joe Moore. As in, the greatest college offensive line coach of all time Joe Moore. Kirk Ferentz's high school coach Joe Moore. Kirk Ferentz's boss when he was a graduate assistant at Pitt Joe Moore. On the weekend that Joe Moore died, Kirk Ferentz won his first Big Ten Coach of the Year award. When asked about comparisons with his old high school coach, Ferentz said, "That's the best thing anyone could ever say about me. But I could never be like him. I'll never be that good."
Here's why that is important: When Bob Davie took over for Lou Holtz in 1996, one of the first things he did was fire Joe Moore. His former players were apoplectic. Most have never forgiven the school for that wrong. Moore sued Notre Dame for age discrimination and won. And who was there to testify on Moore's behalf? None other than Rick Kaczenski. And so when Kaczenski was bouncing around, from three years with South Carolina under Lou Holtz as offensive line and wide receivers coach, to one-year stints with South Carolina State, East Tennessee State, and Elon University, Kirk Ferentz found Kaz a place at Iowa.
Kaczenski spent two years as a graduate assistant, then moved into the defensive line coach spot vacated by Ron Aiken following the 2006 season. He's held that spot ever since, producing quite possibly the best string of defensive linemen the program has ever seen: Kenny Iwebema, Bryan Mattison, Mitch King, Matt Kroul, Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, Karl Klug, Mike Daniels, Broderick Binns. In the time that he has been defensive line coach, only two programs -- LSU and Alabama -- have had more defensive linemen drafted than Iowa. Kaczenski is a fiery motivator and a detail-oriented tactician who teaches his position with the knowledge of a player who spent his career trying to stop his players from getting to the quarterback. It's a potent combination.
On the recruiting trail, Kaczenski's results here have not been nearly as good. Kaz has taken over Iowa's efforts in Florida, previously held by Phil Parker. Iowa mines Florida for skill position players and defensive backs, and while it's extremely rare that the Hawkeyes can beat out Florida, FSU, and Miami for a local kid, Iowa's once-plentiful well of second-tier talent in the Sunshine State has run dry. While the numbers have been there for Kaczenski -- nine players in five years, almost all halfbacks, receivers, and defensive backs -- the production has not. Kaczenski was instrumental in the recruitment of Jake Rudock, however, and the initial returns on the Ft. Lauderdale-based quarterback look good. Oddly enough, Kaczenski's difficulties on the recruiting trail may work to his advantage; Ferentz has said that he wouldn't mind keeping his coordinators off the recruiting trail and using them as "heavies" to seal the deal, rather than cover territory, and Kaz has shown he can land recruits.
There is something to remember here that often gets lost in the discussion of "connections" to the program: While Hayden Fry built a coaching tree, with assistants leaving for bigger jobs every three to four years and starting their own branches, Kirk Ferentz has built more of a coaching pole. Kirk holds his assistants forever, and when they leave, he promotes from within to fill those vacancies. More importantly, connections to Kirk Ferentz are far more important to obtaining and retaining your position than connections to Iowa. Ken O'Keefe gave Ferentz his first coaching job. Lester Erb was a staff assistant with Ferentz in Baltimore. Darrell Wilson was an underclassman at UConn when Ferentz was a senior linebacker and graduate assistant. Eric Johnson, who played and coached at Vandy during Norm Parker's tenure, and Phil Parker have found their way in through Norm. Kirk Ferentz clearly loves and respects Norm Parker and has the utmost respect for Phil Parker. In fact, it could be that only one coach would hold more sway over Ferentz than Parker: Joe Moore. The Joe Moore whose implicit recommendation put Kaczenski on this staff in the first place.
Rick Kaczenski is a rising star in the coaching ranks, and will almost certainly get a promotion somewhere else if he doesn't get the defensive coordinator position at Iowa. He's also loyal to Kirk Ferentz and to Iowa, and the question remains whether he'd take a promotion somewhere else if offered. There is only one way of making sure we never find out: Giving him the promotion here.