Kirk Ferentz probably never would lower himself to respond to Eric Johnson’s comments about why he left the Iowa football coaching staff, so I will by starting with a question for Johnson:
What did you hope to accomplish by airing your grievances to a Hawkeye website barely a year after resigning to enter the restaurant business?
I don’t blame the website, HawkeyeNation.com, for publishing the story because it’s always interesting when controversial remarks that are usually said off the record go public. Mitch Smith from HawkeyeNation.com deserves praise for getting Johnson to open up, but my hunch is that Johnson was eager to tell his side of the story.
And to say that his side was less than complimentary with regard to the Iowa football program would be putting it mildly.
Johnson told HawkeyeNation.com that he grew increasingly unhappy at work and that he didn’t always enjoy being around the people in that building all the time. I assume the building to which Johnson referred was the Iowa Football Complex and the people were his fellow assistant coaches.
Johnson said the attitude changed during his 15 years as an Iowa assistant, but without being more specific. He seemed to hint that the coaching staff wasn’t as united near the end of his time at Iowa.
“When I first went to Iowa, we were all there to work together for one common goal,” Johnson told Hawkeye Nation.com. “When I started reflecting on what I wanted to do with my life, I don’t think we had that anymore.”
Johnson also criticized Iowa’s approach to recruiting, saying it wasn’t emphasized the way he thought it should be.
“The great staffs are able to balance coaching and recruiting very well,” said Johnson, who served as Iowa’s recruiting coordinator for his last 10 years on staff. “It doesn’t always play out that if you win, you’ll get recruits, because a lot of teams win.”
So to summarize, the 42-year old Johnson told HawkeyeNation.com that he was unhappy at Iowa; that he didn’t like being around some of his co-workers or working long, stressful hours; that he didn’t think the coaching staff was working for the same common goal and that recruiting wasn’t emphasized how he thought it should be.
Johnson is now the franchise owner of a Culver’s restaurant in Hendersonville, Tenn., which is located approximately 18 miles from downtown Nashville. His decision to leave Iowa came as a surprise because it’s not often that a veteran assistant coach from a power five school resigns in his early 40s to work in the restaurant business.
His problems apparently had nothing to do with Kirk Ferentz because Johnson went out of his way to praise Ferentz in the article. He told HawkeyeNation.com that Ferentz’s coaching in the early years at Iowa was some of the best examples of leadership he’d ever seen.
It seems that Johnson wants us to believe that things deteriorated near the end of his time at Iowa. That causes me wonder if Johnson became frustrated with his working environment after Ferentz overhauled his coaching staff in 2012 and 2013.
But mostly, I’m left to wonder why Johnson felt compelled to lash out, especially since he claims to still have the utmost respect for Ferentz and for the Iowa players. Johnson had to realize that his remarks would paint a negative picture of the Iowa program at a time when Ferentz could least afford it.
His remarks also sound more like sour grapes from a long-time assistant who didn’t like his job anymore. There might be some truth to what Johnson said, but why share it publicly?
Maybe because this is the same Eric Johnson who called me at home several years ago to rip me for a story I had written about an offensive lineman recruit from Las Vegas who was frustrated about Iowa’s lack of interest. The recruit’s name was Jeremiah Poutasi. He was interested in Iowa because of its success with developing offensive linemen under Ferentz, but also because one of his high school teachers grew up in Iowa and was a huge Hawkeye fan.
Johnson yelled at me out for about 10 minutes, using profanity throughout his tirade. He also told me that Poutasi, who was a four-star recruit, wasn’t good enough to play for Iowa.
Poutasi was good enough to play for Utah, where he started for three seasons at offensive tackle before declaring for the NFL draft as a junior. He also was good enough to be selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans.
I respect Johnson’s opinion about many football-related topics. There were plenty of players, including offensive linemen, who flourished during his time on the Iowa staff. I just didn’t respect Johnson’s immature way of voicing his frustration to me.
And now I feel the same about Johnson’s comments about the Iowa program. He seems bitter and vindictive.