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Iowa Football Recruiting: Dumpster Fire Edition

With the loss of Eno Benjamin and rumors abundant on other potential losses, I have to ask: what, exactly, are these guys doing?

dumpster fire
Live look in at the Iowa Football recruiting command center at the moment.

It’s bye week. Normally, we’d be slow on news. Not this week. No sir. Kirk and staff are the gift that keeps on giving. We have plenty to talk about this bye week thanks to the news being made off the field with the Iowa coaching staff.

Sunday night, Iowa lost one of its top recruits in the class of 2017 when 4-star running back Eno Benjamin announced he was re-opening his recruitment. That happens from time to time, and not just at Iowa. But typically, it isn’t the guy that’s been leading the charge in recruiting for a school who backs out. A situation like this deserves some closer attention.

Before we dive in, I want to give you a warning: this is definitely on the creepy side of Caring is Creepy. If you don’t care what some high school kid is saying on social media, you should probably stop now. This isn’t for you. If you are somebody who is just looking for some details on what’s happening with Iowa football recruiting, there are tons of recruiting services out there that you can pay to get that info. But if you want to toe that line between being a little creepy in regards to some high school kid in another state and “someone call the cops, he shouldn’t be near a school,” this is the spot for you. Proceed with extreme caution.

We start with Eno, because that’s the guy everyone wants to know about right now. Questions are swirling around why he would de-commit, will there be others, what’s going on? I don’t have answers. But I have opinions and a wild enough imagination to try and piece this all together for you.

This whole saga really began a few weeks ago. Speculation about a possible de-commitment came in late September. As most speculation does, this started with internet rumors, message boards, and the water cooler of the 21st century that is Twitter. Here are a few of the tweets (I feel ridiculous typing some of this, but if you want to ridicule me I tried to warn you about 300 words ago) that got the ball rolling down that Hawkeye panic mode hill:

Of course, Eno was then inundated with tweets from panicked Hawkeye fans. He did his part to calm people down.

And then stuff like this pops up and people freak out again, regardless of relevancy.

So, again, Eno does his part to calm things down for the hyper-sensitve, hide from Chris Hansen type fans on the interwebz.

So things stayed calm for a few days. Not much was formally reported at this point. There were, of course, rumors on message boards. Perhaps even some stuff floating around on the premium boards on various recruiting sites as Eno is rumored to have visited Mizzou on September 17th while Iowa was losing to NDSU (note that all the scuttlebutt above started the following week). Then we got this gem:

A day later, this one:

Meltdown in 3,2,1....

But wait, Eno is there to pull us back from the ledge!

(Note that this tweet has since been deleted...)

Whew, that was close. Everyone take a deep breath. So things aren’t going as well as we had hoped this season. Now we have a pair of losses, but our best recruiting class perhaps ever under KF is still on board and growing. While our staff is doing some stuff we question on the field, things appear to be in good hands as far as recruiting goes.

Oh sweet Jesus, we’re doomed.

About this time, stuff is starting to come out on various outlets. The general consensus is that Eno is still locked in to being a Hawk. He is wanting to take some visits, but Iowa fans should breathe easy on him. In fact, he has already visited Mizzou and was in Tempe visiting Arizona State this weekend (which is an Adidas school...).

Knowing what we know now (and we’ll get to that in a minute), this one is puzzling to me. Reading between the lines, this looks directed at the staff at Iowa.

Oh hey look, he still likes Adidas.

But he’s still there to reassure us everything is fine.

(Note that this tweet has since been deleted...)

In the week that followed, speculation more or less died down on Eno. It was pretty common knowledge that he had taken a visit or two, but nothing seemed to have changed regarding his pledge to Iowa. In Tuesday’s presser, Kirk was asked about the policy on not visiting other schools once a player is committed. He said the following:

Q. With recruiting today, how difficult is it to -- I don't know if enforce is the right word, the no visit after you commit rule that you guys have?

KIRK FERENTZ: I don't think you can enforce it. You can have policies. It's kind of like some of the things in our building, I tease our coaches sometimes, there's policies and then there's rules. Policies are policies. You can break policies. There's no penalty. But rules are rules. The rules don't forbid that, so there's no -- but we can have policies.

It’s like anything else, you just decide every individual case and kind of go from there. I think it’s good to have policies and beliefs, and hopefully everybody that’s on board is on board and goes with us.

Sounds to me like this whole thing is blowing over. Yeah, we don’t want out commits visiting other places, but it’s a policy. You can break policies. We can’t enforce it. You decide every individual case. If there ever was a case for an exception, it’s this guy. All is good in Hawkeye recruiting world and Eno is still a Hawk. Right?

Fast forward five days. All hell is breaking loose. Iowa just lost to Wisconsin (shocker). KF made some questionable remarks in the post game (shocker?) My fantasy team is crapping the bed (sigh). And just when you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom and are ready to look up at the bright future of Iowa football with this great class, Eno drops this:


No really, that was the response from Hawkeye “fans” on the Twitterverse. People got downright nasty with the kid. Most of the tweets have since been deleted, but everything from “you’re a terrible person” to “I hope you tear both ACLs and never play a down” were spewed at him (seriously, if you want to spew that garbage, do it at the staff that’s on Twitter, they’re grown men, they’re 40). Luckily, no other recruits use Twitter so those types of things won’t impact recruiting going forward.

Oh God, what have we done?

So how did we get here? Well, if you want to hate on the kid (apparently you people are out there, so feel free to state your opinions in the comments - in the meantime, I’m going to try to speak for you), you assume Eno saw the turd sandwich Iowa has been serving up this football season and thought perhaps the grass was greener on the other side of the fence. You take some visits, see some love from other schools and you look for any way to get out of your commitment. And you don’t want to look like you broke your word so you put it back on the coaches. I mean, that’s really the only way you can explain stuff like this:

You have to believe at the heart of it, this teenager you’ve never met is a bold-faced liar. And I can kind of get the sentiment. I mean, not the bit about him actually being a liar, but it is mind blowing to think Iowa’s staff would actually tell one of their prized recruits, a 4-star stud from a state you’ve been trying to break into for half a decade, to take a walk over a “policy.” You have to believe the kid is full of it if you want to keep any faith in the staff.

Then there’s the other side of the argument. Maybe Eno is speaking nothing but truth. Maybe this one is squarely on the staff. For starters, Eno started visiting schools before the proverbial shit hit the fan on this Iowa season. If he was truly looking, he was doing it for reasons other than Iowa not looking good this year. And if he was looking for greener pastures, wouldn’t he be visiting schools with better records than Iowa? ASU is 5-3 (2-3 in the Pac-12) and Mizzou is is 2-5 (0-3 in the SEC) and dead last in their division. That math don’t add up, sir.

And of all the kids to get cold feet, why would it be the one who has been heralded as the GOAT. The guy who basically built the pipeline from Texas to Iowa City. Eno was instrumental in getting a number of recruits from the state on campus and on board. And not just committed players like Gavin Holmes, Matt Hankins, Peyton Mansell, Beau Corrales, Chevin Calloway* and Josh Turner (from Florida), but also guys like Kobe Boyce and Camron Buckley. How do you explain a kid going from lead recruiter to jumping ship?

A common argument made by those standing on the side of the staff (I say staff, and I’ll be honest I have to believe this isn’t a unanimous decision) in this case is that this is the policy, recruits know it and breaking it is the player’s decision, not the coaches’. There’s some validity there. It is on the official scholarship offer given to recruits.

But most of those offers don’t come out until August. Eno committed in April. You’d think that was communicated in a manner other than on a piece of paper a kid may or may not actually read, but you never know.

And if you are asking a commit to “stick to his word” and not visit anyone else after he commits, wouldn’t you think the staff would then stick to their word? I mean, Kirk said flat out that policies can’t be enforced, you can break a policy and that every situation should be evaluated individually. If you evaluated this situation individually, I don’t know what sane person comes to the conclusion that you pull Eno Benjamin’s offer. Too little to gain, way too much to lose.

Others have pointed to the Karan Higdon incident late in the recruiting cycle for the class of 2015. If you don’t recall, Higdon was a high 3-star RB from Florida who was perhaps the crown jewel in the 2015 class. He also happened to have a coach who was a Michigan alum and did his best to get him a visit on January 31st, just four days before signing day. The trip was a whirlwind, put together last minute and short-lived. But it was enough. The Wolverines offered him on the spot. He then signed with them four days later and Iowa was left in a bit of a scramble. They ended up with 2-star RB Eric Graham from Alabama. Graham left the team this June.

It’s easy to see why the staff would want to avoid that situation. When asked about the policy in August, recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell said the following:

Once you’ve committed to us, we’re committed to you. We’re not going to go out looking at other kids at your position, so we don’t expect you to go out and look at other schools.

I can almost understand that. Except the whole, not going out and recruiting other kids at your position bit. First, Iowa does do that. They have been keeping tabs on Muscatine RB Alphonso Soko all year. He doesn’t have an offer (yet), but he’s been on campus a number of times. Oh, and by the way, Soko is committed to the University of South Dakota (and Beau Corrales was a Texas State commit a short while ago). Do as I say, not as I do, I suppose. “You, high school kid making a life altering decision, you aren’t allowed to look anywhere else or have second thoughts once you commit to us. Hey, you, high school kid, you’re making a life altering decision. I know you committed somewhere else, but come look at us!”

Then there’s the whole, we’re committed to you thing. Which maybe is the most painful part as a Hawkeye fan. Kirk already has a stigma of being the fat cat collecting his pay check and not putting in the work. Not changing or keeping up with the times. Over in Carver, Iowa fans have seen what a recruiter looks like. They see Fran constantly looking for the next great thing and never stopping. I honestly had hope we were getting there with football. Sure, Kirk and GD are probably not on the road much, but the younger guys are out there pounding the pavement. I KNOW they are working hard. So how does stuff like this happen?

When I committed the only person I've spoken to is coach (Levar) Woods, and he doesn't even coach my position. Coach Woods just recruits this area. The defensive back coach, coach (Phill) Parker, called me right after I committed and I've never heard from him again. I'm not a needy type of guy, but when I committed, I want to at least have some kind of communication. I want to feel like they are excited about me, but they won’t even answer me or my step dad's calls. He tried to get in touch with coach Parker to set up my official visit, and they said they would get back in contact and never did.

That’s not from Eno, that’s from Chevin Calloway. There has been speculation for a while now that Calloway may be gone. When the rumors first started swirling on Eno, we were assured he was the solid one, but we should worry about Chevin. Looks like for good reason.

Scout ran this story nearly three weeks ago. Based on what we now know about Benjamin, the quotes therein are flat out startling.

It was weird, to be honest. I have the head coaches at Arkansas and Ole Miss calling me weekly, and we can't even get my position coach at Iowa to get on the phone with me. A lot of the Iowa fans are mad at me for taking these visits, but they don't understand what is going on behind the scenes. I mean, I told coach Woods about the situation and week after week went by without ever hearing from them. How am I supposed to take that? Coach Woods said they couldn't read my mind but they still never got in contact with me. I don't know. You want to go where you feel wanted.

I can’t even wrap my mind around that. Calloway isn’t some scrub you are trying to string along. He is a 4-star CB from Texas with offers from the who’s who of college football programs. He, like Benjamin, could have visited or committed nearly anywhere he wanted at any point up until now. And yet, we learn that the staff is basically abandoning these guys once they give their word. And then expects them to just sit patiently until February, not listening to those phone calls or texts from other coaches.

It’s not reasonable to expect that. So you get this:

It's been hard to get in contact with them so I opened things back up. I'm still committed, but I'm definitely looking around.

And I have to believe this isn’t isolated to these two players. This group of recruits had bonded really well. Eno was the magnet drawing them all in. His personality is infectious. Now that you’ve pulled the chord on him and apparently let Calloway go (who, by the way, was best friends with another high profile recruit Iowa was after in Damion Daniels), what message do you expect the rest of the class to receive? Several other guys have had visits scheduled, some of which have been cancelled (Smith to Vandy, Hankins to Michigan). Do you enforce that same “policy” on the entire class, even when you are apparently too busy to give them the time of day? You seem fine scheduling visits from 2018 guys and even a few of the 2017 guys (Corrales, Mansell, Kelly-Martin and others were in town Saturday), but can’t return the phone calls for some of your top recruits?

At this point, I think the damage is likely done. This class could fall apart. It could hold where we are and be a pleasant surprise. Maybe we even find a way to fix this (Benjamin did put out a tweet last night, which has since been deleted, saying he wouldn’t rule out a return to Iowa but that it wasn’t up to him). If nothing else, I hope the staff learns from this.

This is a new era in college football recruiting. You can disagree with it all you want and you can talk down on this generation until you are blue in the face, but the kids who are going to be winning football games from here on out want to have open communication with their future coaches. They want to feel wanted. They want to be able to take advantage of the few privileges afforded them by the system in place. And they want their coaches to either be more understanding of that, or quit being so hypocritical.