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Overreaction Monday: Kirk Ferentz, the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Changing Landscape of College Football Recruiting

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Things are getting a little crazy out there in the world of recruiting. It’s time to appreciate what Hawkeye fans have in their head coach.

Iowa v Nebraska
In an ever-changing world, Kirk Ferentz is who he has always been.
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

In a world where caring is often characterized as creepy, there sure seem to be a lot of creeps. That’s nothing new. On the fan front, people have always wanted to know who will be the future of their program of choice. Nobody has had more of a vested interest in ensuring that future is bright than the coaching staffs of every college football program in the country.

But what’s changed recently is just how much people seem to care and what they’re willing to do to get those prized recruits. With coaching salaries climbing ever higher and social media making loads of information instantly available, coaches and fans alike have taken an extreme interest in which prospects are going to which schools. That’s led to some interesting behavior from both fans and coaches.

Of course, every fan base has that group of fans who spams recruits on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and myriad other social media platforms other people their age don’t even know exist. This ranges from the occasional “Go Hawks” on an offer announcement to responding to every post with a similar sentiment. Or worse.

But the madness doesn’t end with crazed fans. The drive for the best recruits is perhaps even crazier among coaches. From offering 300+ kids in a single class to hash-tagging everything under the sun to sleeping over at a recruit’s house (or jumping in a pool). College coaches seem more and more willing to do whatever it takes to get the recruits they think give them the best chance for success.

It’s times like these where Iowa fans should take a moment to appreciate the mature, no nonsense approach to recruiting from the Hawkeyes. Sure, there are times when we all wish there was a bit more of a sales pitch and hype machine from the Iowa coaching staff. These are high school kids, after all, and they sure seem to be buying whatever coaches want to sell them. So why not pitch them a bill of goods and get them on campus?

Because Ferentz and staff have proven time and again they aren’t here just to coach football - they’re here to develop young men. It can be frustrating to miss out on recruits or have them decommit. I’ve had my moments of bewilderment (cough, Eno Benjamin, cough cough). But at the end of the day, for every example of a guy we lost out on or decommitted because of Iowa’s policies or lack of sizzle or brutal honesty with recruits, there are 10 examples of getting the right players for the culture the staff wants to propagate, unheralded guys landing in the league because of their attitude and work ethic, and solid contributors to society at large giving back to their community.

It’s easy to forget about these things as an Iowa fan when we sit back and watch the world of college football recruiting turn. Big Ten schools like Michigan and Ohio State and Penn State are fighting off 4-star kicks with sticks. But that hasn’t stopped Jim Harbaugh from jumping in a swimming pool to help convince Iowa City-native Oliver Martin to spurn the Hawkeyes and ride the bench in Ann Arbor. It didn’t stop Urban Meyer from turning a blind eye to all sorts of unwieldy shenanigans from his players while at Florida. And it won’t stop any of them from telling a prospect whatever they want to hear to get them in the maize and blue, or blue and white, or scarlet and gray.

And recruiting success isn’t just limited to the blue bloods among us. The conference as a whole has really picked things up recently. The fancy new facilities in Evanston are a huge selling point for an already fiery Pat Fitzgerald. Nebraska has their hotshot new coach simultaneously setting the world on fire and leaving behind a cold frost. Even Illinois is managing to convince 4-star kids from Texas that Champaign-Urbanana is “Littyville.”

As much as some of those sales jobs might get under your skin, none is likely to do so quite the way PJ Fleck can in Minnesota. Despite only winning 35 division 1 games, Fleck is still energetic as ever, having ELITE recruiting weekends and getting more and more recruits on board to #RowTheBoat. The guy never stops selling. He is the antitheses of the Iowa staff.

A week ago, Fleck and the Golden Gophers hosted a big recruiting weekend, much like the one the Hawkeyes will be hosting this weekend. While that’s not uncommon, especially this time of year, the results were a bit out of the ordinary for the Gophers. Minnesota came away with 5 commitments from the weekend - quite the haul. Even more impressive is the fact that the commits were from Florida, Georgia and Ohio - all recruiting hotbeds.

Of particular note to Iowa fans was defensive back Solomon Brown, who the Hawkeyes had been targeting thanks to the built-in relationship from his high school coach Marcus Paschal, and who had been slated to attend the big official visit weekend in Iowa City on the 22nd. That visit won’t be happening now, as Brown was among the 5 Gopher commits last weekend.

But the most interesting aspect of that weekend is the circumstances under which Brown, and ostensibly the others, seem to have committed. There are now rumors Minnesota told Brown they needed a decision now and due to his comfort level with the staff, he went ahead and pulled the trigger.

This isn’t the first time rumors such as this have come out of a Minnesota visit. There have been rumblings since the arrival of Fleck about players being pressured into committing while on campus. There are half-jokes about players being locked into a room until they give there word. Those jokes seem less funny with the added context. These are life-changing decisions being made by teenagers and grown men are pressuring them to be made quickly and without all the information, putting themselves, their record and their bonuses ahead of the players they coach.

And while the high pressure sales job from Fleck may be palatable to fans if it truly works, there isn’t enough data to suggest it will in the long term. Through two recruiting cycles with the Gophers, Fleck has seen nearly 40% of his commitments de-commit ahead of signing day. That number is higher for those who committed on or immediately following a visit.

Iowa has, in fact, been the benefactor of several of those de-commitments the last couple classes. In 2018, Noah Shannon committed to Fleck while on a visit to Minnesota only to change his mind three weeks later. He’s now on campus in Iowa City. He’s joined there by a pair of 2017 commits who followed a similar course. Both Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Trey Creamers committed to Minnesota before signing with Iowa. That seems to have worked out well.

So perhaps Hawkeye fans should not only be thankful for the way the Iowa staff goes about their recruiting process, not using high pressure tactics and being straight forward with prospects, but be even more thankful that places like Minnesota are using those tactics. It makes the genuine approach of the Hawkeyes that much more of a stark contrast, ensuring recruits who fit the mental mold required to play for this staff have an easier time weeding out other suitors.

It can be difficult to remain satisfied with recruiting classes in the upper 20s and 30s as the rest of the conference climbs. Watching big time prospects go for the sales pitch and the hashtag can be frustrating, even for the fan who only casually follows recruiting.

Imagine what that must be like for the coaching staff? To go through the talent evaluations, uncovering every rock, the back-breaking travel across the country trying to connect with 16-, 17-, 18-year old kids, only to watch them get excited over new uniforms, a high-energy coach and some catchy slogans. To know track records, wins and losses, 2-stars turned into draft picks and authentic relationships mean little in the face of high pressure tactics and a willingness to say whatever it takes.

It would be beyond frustrating.

As cheesy as the mantra “Win. Graduate. Do it right.” may be, with the crazy recruiting world we live in, Hawkeye fans should be glad the staff seems to take it to heart. Well, that and the wins over the Buckeyes and Wolverines.... and Gophers.

Happy Monday ya’ll. Don’t fall for the sales pitch of the hour. We’re going to get through this week doing things the right way. #TowTheBoat