The college football season is now firmly in the rearview mirror. And yet, it’s too early even for the way too early looks at the 2018 season. While this time of year is typically chalk full of recruiting news, this year is a bit different. The new early signing period has moved all the excitement up a few months and we are left with a bit of a January lull in Hawkeye Football news.
Luckily, the new early signing period wasn’t the only rule implemented this year by the NCAA. You may (or may not) recall that way back in April of last year, the NCAA approved the addition of a 10th on-field assistant coach. The addition is big not only because it will be on the field, but it will also be out on the recruiting trail.
The additional position became effective on January 9th, or one week ago. There was speculation Kirk Ferentz might announce the new addition at his press conference last week, but alas that was not the case. So here we are, watching a number of other programs making their announcements and it’s time to do what Iowa fans do best: speculate.
We’ve put together our very own list of candidates on a big board of sorts. The actual hire is almost certain to come from outside this list, but that’s totally beside the point. It’s January. It’s cold. We need something to banter about. So hit us with your thoughts in the comments.
I’ve taken the liberty of breaking our list down into a few categories. Don’t @ me.
Ok, we might as well get this one out of the way right off the top. Seriously, this would be a dream come true and a story come full circle. But it isn’t happening. Stoops is currently employed in an administrative capacity at Oklahoma and his son, Drake, just spurned the Hawkeyes’ scholarship offer for a chance to walk on (though he will still be attending the school for free - nobody said life was fair) at OU.
Still, a guy can dream.
Speaking of not happening, there’s a certain former Big Ten head coach sporting a tigerhawk tattoo on his leg who happens to be unemployed. Is there a chance in hell ol’ Bert goes from head coach at an SEC school to position coach at a Big Ten school? No. If, by some series of odd coincidences he did, would he stay more than a year before bouncing for a coordinator or head coaching position? No. Is there a segment of the fanbase who still genuinely believes Barta should fire Kirk Ferentz and bring in Bielema? Probably.
We’ll never know what could have been.
In keeping with the theme of former Iowa staffers, Philbin checks a lot of boxes. He has the ties to KF having been a part of his original staff back in 1999. He also has experience working with former Iowa OC and current QB coach Ken O’Keefe outside of Iowa (Philbin was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins during O’Keefe’s tenure there as WR coach).
A year ago, this may have been something short of a pipe dream. Philbin was fired as head coach of the Dolphins in the fall of 2015. He then spent two years in Indianapolis as assistant head coach and offensive line coach. It may have been possible to lure him away from that gig.
However, there is roughly a 0.0000000000001% chance Iowa lures him away from his new gig as the offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers (again).
Possible? Yes. Probable? No.
Hey, look! It’s another former Iowa staffer (and player)! Diaco, the former linebacker in the mid-90s, spent time on Hayden’s staff as a GA shortly after his playing career ended. He’s since climbed the coaching ladder, going from assistant coach at directional Illinois and Michigan schools to an assistant at Virginia.
His real breakout, though, came when he joined Brian Kelly’s staff at Cincinnati. Kelly named Diaco defensive coordinator in 2009. The following season, Diaco followed Kelly to Notre Dame where he was defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. After winning the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach in 2012, Diaco took the head coaching job at Connecticut following the 2013 season.
During three seasons at UCONN, Diaco led the Huskies to an 11-26 record and a loss in their only bowl appearance. He was fired following the 2016 season.
Bobby D. spent this past season as the defensive coordinator for THEE Nebraska Cornhuskers. Iowa fans will recall fondly how he bought into the recent Nebraska tradition of sending 11 players out onto the field to “play defense” in what looked more like Swiss cheese and then go on and on about the vaunted black shirts tradition.
He was fired, along with Mike Riley, et al following the 2017 season.
So, he’s available, yes. Though I don’t know what kind of a fit he would be in Iowa City. I think he would likely be greeted with less than open arms by most Hawkeye fans. Don’t think this one it happening.
Montgomery is an interesting name and one that would have made some sense a few weeks ago. He played three years under Ferentz when he first arrived in Iowa City as a holdover from Fry’s final season in 1998. He remained as a defensive tackle through 2001.
He then stayed on at Iowa as a student coach in 2002 before taking a job at Iowa City West High. He then went on to be the defensive coordinator at North Iowa CC before becoming a GA at UNI. Following the GA stint, he stayed on as a DL coach. That’s the spot he’s made a name for himself, working his way from UNI to Wyoming and Indiana before jumping to Michigan in 2011 and then Oklahoma under Stoops in 2013. In 2015, Montgomery jumped from college to the pros, taking a position as defensive front assistant with the Green Bay Packers.
So the resume is there. The problem? Montgomery accepted a position as assistant head coach and DL coach under Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M less than two weeks ago. The chances he jumps ship for what would likely be a pay cut at Iowa so soon are slim in my humble opinion.
Shumpert is a more recent player under head coach Kirk Ferentz, having played for the Hawkeyes from 2010-2014. While his playing career didn’t amount to much, he has since rejoined Ferentz and Co. as a grad assistant. He just finished up his second season in the role and finding a full time position for him is possible.
Ferentz doesn’t have a long track record of turning GAs into full time assistants immediately though. I’m sure there’s an example out there somewhere, but I don’t recall any previous GAs sliding directly into assistant roles.
Speaking of recent WRs, Marvin McNutt is a former Hawkeye even the youngest of Iowa fans should recall. Playing from 2008-2011, McNutt left Iowa City as the career leader in receiving yards and touchdowns. His senior season (2011) also holds the mark for single season receptions (82), yards (1,315) and TDs (12).
Following his time with the Hawkeyes, McNutt had short stints with the Eagles, Dolphins, Panthers and Redskins from 2012-2014 before seeing his NFL career come to an end.
In 2016, he was named the head coach of the Cedar Rapids Titans, an Indoor Football League team. After one season as head coach, McNutt was named as the general manager of the team. Unfortunately, a single season as the coach of an IFL team likely isn’t enough to get a spot on Ferentz’s staff.
Like McNutt, Young is a former Hawkeye standout. Playing from 2003-2007, Young sits at third all time in career rushing yards at Iowa. Following his Iowa playing career, Young spent four years in the NFL playing for the Vikings, Jaguars and Steelers before his NFL career came to an end in 2012.
In July of that year, Young entered the college coaching ranks, accepting a role in quality control for offense and special teams with the University of Colorado. He spent only one year with the Buffaloes and now appears to be working in sales. Like McNutt and Shumpert, I doubt the resume is strong enough to in the door. And frankly, given how long he’s been out of coaching, who knows if he would want to.
Shots In the Dark
There are plenty of other options out there that could make some sense, but seem kind of unlikely for various reasons. Let’s hit them rapid fire style, shall we?
Hey, if Jim Leonhard can go from former NFL player to defensive coordinator in the Big Ten with only one year as an assistant, why can’t Greenway just walk into an assistant job at his alma mater?
Former player? Check. Coaching experience? Check. Only at the high school level? Gotta start somewhere! And he just sent us a quality WR recruit in Calvin Lockett - maybe he could help with recruiting Florida?
He played for four years under KF. He played for Belichick. He needs a job. His dad is still working in the program. Who cares if he’s never coached before!
Hey look! This guy coached the Browns DL in ‘94-’95 and then the Ravens DL from ‘96-’98. I feel like someone else in the Iowa program spent time with those teams around then? Nevermind that he hasn’t coached in the college ranks since 1993, he’s still a DL coach with the Bengals. Maybe the Hawkeyes can match pay and reunite old friends?
Speaking of Brown/Ravens connections, look at Scott O’Brien! Browns from ‘91-’95, then moved with them to Baltimore from ‘96-’98, all as a special teams coach. He’s a midwest guy, originally from Wisconsin, and he’s been in New England under our old pal Bill since 2009. But he’s gone from special teams coach to an area scout (since 2015). Maybe he wants to get back to coaching and back to the midwest?
Note: If we are picking favorites from each category, this is who I’m taking from this bunch.
See a trend here? Before he was the Man-genius, Mangini was an offensive assistant with the Browns and Ravens in ‘95-’96 with Ferentz. He is also currently unemployed. I said it was shots in the dark.
One last shot in the dark on former Browns/Ravens staffers. Hill was in Cleveland from ‘92-’95 as a TE and OL coach. He moved with them to Baltimore in the same role in 1996 before departing to be the head coach at Fresno State from 1997-2011. He went back to the NFL in 2012 as OL coach in Atlanta after being fired at Fresno State. He hasn’t coached since 2013.
OK, up to this point, we’ve basically just been covering our bases. The guys in this group are the ones I think have a realistic shot.
It was glossed over a bit and not widely discussed during the season, despite the relative success of the special teams units (excluding the punter position, of course), but recall that Kevin Spencer was added as a quality control assistant working with special teams last summer.
Prior to joining the Hawkeyes, Spencer spent 22 years in the NFL as a special teams coach earning a reputation as a guru. Some of those early years were spent under Bill Belichick at Cleveland from ‘91-’94, overlapping with Kirk Ferentz. That connection and the itch to get back into coaching is how Spencer ended up on the staff at Iowa last season.
The catch here is Spencer’s specialty is clearly special teams. He’s never coached any other position group. And with the recent announcement of LeVar Woods as full time special teams coach, there isn’t much of a need for a special teams coach. I would expect him to potentially stay in his quality control role as long as he’s happy, but doubt he is added as a full on-field assistant.
Donatell is a former linebacker for the Hawkeyes, playing from 2008-2012. Following his playing career, he spent two seasons at USF as a GA before moving on to UCLA for as a GA from 2015-2016.
In spring of last year, Donatell joined the Seattle Seahawks as a defensive quality control coach. According to the Seahawks’ official website, his “primary responsibilities include video study of opponents, self-scouting, playbook production and assisting defensive coordinator Kris Richard.”
While his resume is a bit shorter than the other members of the “short list,” he does have experience as a GA at the collegiate level at two different schools and now a year in the NFL. Additionally, some of the comments from Ferentz at his last press conference seemed to indicate they have been in talks with someone from the NFL, potentially about the assistant role.
I’m not betting on it being Donatell, but he’s a new name to watch when these searches happen from time to time.
Perhaps the opposite of Donatell, Blazek is one of the usual suspects. Blazek was a center under Kirk Ferentz during his first two seasons at Iowa after spending a pair of years at Butler CC. Upon graduation in 2000, Blazek became a student assistant in 2001, then a GA in 2002-2004.
In 2005, Blazek left the Hawkeyes to become offensive coordinator and OL coach at Fort Hays State where he stayed until 2008. From 2008-2012, Blazek was co-offensive coordinator and coached TEs and the OL at Winona State. Then, from 2013-2015 he was the OL coach and run game coordinator for Western Illinois.
In 2016, Blazek became the offensive line coach at Rutgers. This past season, he was also named assistant head coach while retaining the OL role.
While Blazek doesn’t have the NFL ties alluded to by Ferentz in his presser, he is a name that’s come up in the past as a potential candidate. He certainly has the resume and taking a similar position at his alma mater for what would likely be a pay bump seems like a reasonable possibility for him.
If the hire doesn’t come from the NFL, Blazek is a decent bet.
Raih’s name is one that’s popped up as a potential assistant a few times previously. As such, you may recall he played QB under Ferentz from 1999-2003. He then spent three years selling medical devices, and apparently doing pretty well at it, before getting the itch to get into coaching.
He started as an intern under Rick Neuheisel at UCLA in 2008. He also worked as a GA for the Hawkeyes helping with QBs, TEs and the OL from 2010-2012. From there, he went on to spend a year at Texas Tech as director of high school relations and assistant QB coach. He was promoted to outside receivers coach before departing to join the Green Bay Packers in 2013.
During his time with the Packers, Raih has moved up from coaching administrator to assistant offensive line coach to offensive perimeter coach over four years. He has a great combination of coaching experience at the college and NFL levels, as well as Texas recruiting connections and an Iowa background.
Raih would make a great addition to the Iowa staff if they could lure him away from Green Bay.
The last name I’ll mention is the one I’m placing the most chips behind and that’s simply because I think it makes the most sense when you combine experience, need and the KF connection.
Ben Sirmans isn’t likely a name most Iowa fans have heard of. He didn’t play for and has never coached the Hawkeyes. But he was a running back under Kirk Ferentz during his tenure as the head coach at Maine from 1990-1992. If you’ve listened to any Ferentz presser ever, you know he remembers literally any person who has ever played for him. You can bet he remembers his all-conference RB Sirmans.
Following his playing career, Sirmans stayed on at Maine as RB coach and recruiting coordinator. In 2000, he departed Maine for a 5-year stint as RB coach at Kent State. In 2005, he became the RB coach at Michigan State. The following year he added special teams to his responsibilities. He then spent five years as RB coach at Boston College before making the jump to the NFL.
In 2012, Sirmans joined the St. Louis Rams as RB coach where he remained through 2015. In 2016 he joined the Green Bay Packers as RB coach where he remains today.
With the recent announcement that LeVar Woods is moving from TE coach to full time special teams coach, there is speculation that offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz may take over that position. He has prior experience coaching TEs both at Iowa and in the NFL and he spent this past season as the RB coach while acting as OC. Such a move would leave the Hawkeyes in need of a RB coach.
Who better to fill that role than someone who has spent 16 years coaching the position at the collegiate level (including at another Big Ten school), who played the position under Kirk Ferentz himself and who has spent the last six years coaching RBs in the NFL?
I can’t really think of anyone.