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.
Throughout this series, we have emphasized that, in a Kirk Ferentz coaching search, Kirk Ferentz ties trump all other factors. If Iowa doesn't stay in-house with Phil Parker or Darrell Wilson, then, the natural instinct would be to go outside for someone with Ferentz ties, and nobody outside the program has more ties to Kirk Ferentz than Ron Aiken.
Aiken spent the first decade of his career coaching in the high school and small college ranks, eventually rising to become head coach at Langston (OK) University. He left Langston in 1999 to become linebackers/defensive ends coach at New Mexico under Mike Sheppard (not successful) and Dennis Franchione (pretty damn successful). He then left to join Norm Parker's staff at Vanderbilt as defensive line coach for two seasons, coached defensive tackles during John Mackovic's final season at Texas, and spent a year coaching linebackers at San Diego State before becoming an original member of Kirk Ferentz's staff in 1999 for a second stint as Norm Parker's defensive line coach.
Aiken's effect was immediate. By 2001, Iowa's defensive line was one of the most dominant units in the conference, featuring Aaron Kampman, Colin Cole, Howard Hodges, and Jared Clauss; all four won all-Big Ten accolades over the next two seasons, with Cole going all-American in 2002. When that line graduated, Aiken rebuilt with Matt Roth, Jonathan Babineaux, Tyler Luebke, and Derrick Robinson; Roth and Babineaux were all-conference selections and first-day draft picks. Another round of graduation brought Kenny Iwebema and Bryan Mattison at the ends, King and Kroul in the middle. Aiken himself was also picking up awards, including the American Football Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year award in 2002. In 2007, the NFL came calling and Aiken was waiting for it. He's served as defensive line coach for the Arizona Cardinals since then, with generally positive reviews.
Ron Aiken has two things in his favor, only one of which we have discussed with other candidates. He obviously has connections to both Ferentz and the program; Aiken left under positive circumstances, for an obvious promotion. He has continued to informally stump for Iowa while with the Cardinals. He's drafted and coached Iowa guys. There are positive vibes there, to be sure. Almost as important to his candidacy is his professional experience. Ferentz has always revered the systems and structures of the NFL. He's run his program like a professional franchise (right down to information control). Prior to this offseason, he had sent more former assistants to the pros than he has to other schools, an almost unherard-of statistic (six assistants left the program from 1999 to 2010; three went to the NFL, two went to other NCAA programs, and one retired). When other coaching staffs visit similar programs over the offseason to study their methods, Ferentz focuses on Belichick's New England methodology with borderline-religious zeal. To have gone to the NFL and succeeded as Aiken has is a major plus; when coupled with his connections to Ferentz (and, to a lesser extent, Iowa), they might even trump Phil Parker's loyalty and make Aiken a top candidate. Remember, too, that Iowa administrative assistant LeVar Woods will graduate onto the staff next year -- increasingly likely as defensive line coach, Aiken's former spot -- and Woods played at Iowa during Aiken's first tenure. Installing Aiken could provide an old hand to guide Woods in his new position and ensure that the Hawkeyes' success in recruiting and coaching defensive linemen continues despite the loss of Rick Kaczynski.
The negatives are a little more difficult to identify. Aiken was Iowa's top recruiter in Texas during his time at the school. On its face, this could be another positive; Iowa has not had a consistent presence in the Lone Star State since his departure, and a pipeline to Texas can make a rebuild go exponentially quicker. With that said, Aiken's returns from Texas were never particularly stellar. In his last four seasons at Iowa (going back to 2003, as far back as the Rivals assistant-by-assistant recruiting information goes), Aiken landed exactly one contributor: Kenny Iwebema. If recruiting acumen was an important factor for Ferentz in finding a defensive coordinator, though, Norm Parker would have probably retired five years ago. This is to say nothing for the fact that Aiken could reopen doors in Texas and open new ones in the southwest, both areas where Iowa has begun making inroads in recent years.
The question, then, is whether Aiken would leave Arizona for the job. The Cardinals don't publish assistant coach salaries, as far as I can tell, but Aiken obviously makes more than the $188,000 per year he was banking when he left Iowa. He also almost certainly more than the $332,000 Ken O'Keefe is scheduled to make next season as offensive coordinator. If Iowa's going to pony up the money to bring in an outside assistant as defensive coordinator, it's easy to see Aiken as that guy. If that money's not in the budget, though, they're not going to be able to afford Aiken without the candidate taking a pay cut. As much as Aiken might want the promotion in a program he knows and likes, it's difficult to see a circumstance where that's possible.