Four-star defensive end Joshua King was being interviewed on Sunday at the Opening Regional when another 4-star recruit, quarterback Messiah deWeaver, shouted the words “Michigan State” as he walked by.
That was deWeaver’s way of encouraging King to join him as a committed member to Michigan State’s 2016 recruiting class. Michigan State’s popularity is soaring right now because of its success on the field and deWeaver’s recent verbal commitment is proof of that.
The Spartans are similar to what Iowa was a decade ago under Kirk Ferentz, a hot brand that’s benefiting from winning at an unprecedented rate.
Iowa, on the other hand, is now sputtering under Ferentz, making it harder to recruit.
The fact that Iowa only has two verbal commitments in the 2016 class to me is a concern. It’s not a huge concern at this point with the national signing day in February 2016 still 10 months away.
But it gives the impression that Iowa, whose record is 19-19 over the past three seasons, is struggling to sell its brand.
Indiana and Purdue are the only other Big Ten teams with fewer commitments than Iowa in the 2016 class. Each has one at this point. It’s usually not a good sign in football when Indiana and Purdue are the only Big Ten teams trailing you in something.
To no surprise, Iowa recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace tried to downplay the slow start to the 2016 recruiting class while addressing the media last month. He said things actually are ahead of schedule despite only having two commitments.
“There’s no red flags going up right now that we’ve got X amount of commitments versus what other programs have,” Wallace said. “But the way that we’re measuring it is in conversations that we’ve had with these young men, their parents, opportunities to be around them, having them here on campus during the months of January and February, and then as we’ve moved into March and April, having them here for spring practice, the opportunity to spend significant time with them is really how we’re measuring it because it still goes back to relationships.
“Nobody is going to make a decision without having those relationships built. We’re, again, ahead of the curve or are moving a little bit faster than we have in the past, but it’s allowed us to build significant relationships with some of these guys.”
There is plenty of truth to what Wallace said. Recruiting is mostly about building relationships and earning trust over time.
What’s confusing, though, is that Iowa is offering scholarships at a rate never seen before under Ferentz, and yet only two players in the 2016 class have committed, whereas Maryland and Minnesota have seven and six commitments, respectively. You’d think that by offering more scholarships at this stage than previous years that it would lead to more commitments.
Ohio State has 13 commitments, including 10 four-stars, in its 2016 class to lead all Big Ten teams. That should come as no surprise because it’s Ohio State and because Urban Meyer has the defending national champion Buckeyes on a roll that’s impressive even for them.
Trailing the Buckeyes in recruiting is to be expected. Trailing the resurgent Gophers is a concern.
Iowa had eight commitments in the 2015 class at this stage last season. So perhaps the slow start to the 2016 class is just an aberration.
However, five of the first eight commitments in the 2015 class were from in-state recruits who already were loyal to Iowa. The circumstances are different in the 2016 class, with West Des Moines Valley offensive lineman John Raridon the only recruit from instate who has an Iowa offer. And he already has committed to Nebraska.
Even if Wallace was concerned, he wouldn’t say it to the media. His only option is to keep plugging away on the recruiting trail and he knows that.
It’s not his fault that Iowa’s biggest problem in my opinion is recruiting. Wallace was hired as the recruiting coordinator less than a year ago in June. So he hasn’t had much time to make an impact.
He also joined a program that had been spinning its wheels for a while. So it’s only natural that recruiting would suffer.
That is eventually what caught up to Hayden Fry near the end of his illustrious 20-year coaching reign at Iowa, which lasted from 1979 to 1998.
The unwritten rule seems to be that if you coach football long enough at Iowa, recruiting eventually will become a problem. Ferentz, who is entering his 17th season, ranks second in coaching longevity at Iowa behind his predecessor, Fry.
Forest Evashevski is one exception, considering the talent he had throughout the 1950s. But he only coached the Hawkeyes for nine season and did so at a time when recruiting wasn’t nearly as challenging because of one-platoon football and easier academic standards.
The Iowa coaches, led by Wallace, are working hard to change that perception. But every coaching staff works hard in recruiting. It’s a non-stop grind that involves patience, persistence and the ability to promote and sell.
Location also impacts recruiting because some kids would prefer to stay closer to home. That’s why Chicago is always a priority for most Big Ten teams.
Iowa’s recruiting has been okay in Chicago, but you’d like it to be better.
Some fans have responded to the current skid by blaming Ferentz for being out of touch with today’s recruits and for having a boring offense. I’ve heard those two criticisms too many times to count, but don’t necessarily agree with either one.
Ferentz, who will turn 60 on Aug. 1, hasn’t forgotten how to coach or how to relate to recruits. He still is the same person he was a decade ago, and I mean that as a compliment.
His current assistants as a group might not recruit as well as some of the previous assistants, but how can you really tell?
Iowa’s recruiting was expected to receive a boost after Brian Ferentz joined his father’s coaching staff in 2012. And maybe it has, although, it’s hard to know the extent of Brian’s impact.
I don’t think there are any serious flaws to Kirk Ferentz’s operation besides the fact that he isn’t winning enough games. Losing is a huge flaw, I understand, but it’s the result and not the cause.
Ferentz has more to sell recruits with Iowa having recently completed a major facilities upgrade in football. He’s offering scholarships at a rate never seen before. And his staff is taking advantage of all the new advances in technology as a way to entice recruits through social media.
As for the offense, it wasn’t boring with all-America running back Shonn Greene leading the way in 2008 or with a stable of stars leading the charge in 2009. It’s only boring when Iowa underachieves.
I think what’s happened more than anything is the Iowa brand has become stale under Ferentz, mostly because he’s been here for so long. That hardly is a revelation, but it’s the only reason I can come up with at this stage.
Stay anywhere long enough and chances are it’ll end under less-than-desirable circumstances. The risk is even higher at a developmental program like Iowa.
There is only one cure besides maybe hiring a big-name coach to replace Ferentz. The problem is that Ferentz doesn’t deserve to be fired at this time, and it’s unlikely that a big-name coach would take the Iowa job.
So for as long as Ferentz is the head coach, the only way to improve recruiting is to win. It’s pretty simple, except for the winning part.
2016 Big Ten football commitments
As of May 6
Ohio State: 13
Michigan State: 7
Penn State: 6