By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Hayden Fry used to say that negative recruiting was a way to cover, or compensate, for not having enough strengths to promote and sell.
If you can beat them on the recruiting trail with what you have to offer, then rip them.
Fry was against criticizing his opponents, and I’ve talked to enough recruits over the years, including some who didn’t play for Iowa, to know that he was providing more than just lip service.
I’ve heard the same about Kirk Ferentz, that for the most part he is against negative recruiting, and that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering Ferentz was Fry’s offensive line coach at Iowa for nine seasons from 1981-89.
I’m not suggesting that Iowa never has criticized opponents while recruiting over the last 40 years.
It would be naive to think that because nobody is perfect, but I’m comfortable in saying that Iowa doesn’t make a habit of negative recruiting, at least not since Fry was hired shortly after the 1978 season.
Fry would’ve looked foolish trying to negative recruit when he took over at Iowa shortly after a 2-9 season, and after 19 consecutive non-winning seasons, while it just isn’t in Ferentz’s nature.
And once Fry rebuilt the Iowa program, he didn’t have to resort to negative recruiting.
The product on the field, the fan support and Fry’s charisma was enough to sell Iowa to recruits.
Unfortunately, Iowa might be an exception in this case because there is little, to no doubt, that other schools, including some in the Big Ten, take part in negative recruiting, and right now, Iowa appears to be a target.
Make that an easy target.
From Kirk Ferentz’s age – he will be 66 on August 1 – to the racial unrest from last summer when multiple former Iowa black players accused the program of racial disparities, Iowa is vulnerable right now to negative recruiting.
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that opponents are supposedly using the racial controversy against Iowa because recruiting is a nasty, win-at-all-cost business.
To harp on Ferentz’s age, on the other hand, just goes with the territory.
Opponents used Fry’s age against him in the latter years.
It’s just how the business works.
Iowa is in the midst of a difficult stretch in recruiting, having lost at least four recruits to other schools over the last week or so, including two tight ends, and four-star Council Bluffs defensive lineman Hunter Deyo, who committed to Iowa State.
Iowa’s 2022 recruiting class currently has eight players committed, with instate defensive lineman Aaron Graves ranked the highest by Rivals as a four-star prospect. Graves has been committed to Iowa for over two years.
The class also has five three-star recruits, one two star and one recruit who currently doesn’t have a ranking, and that’s tight end and Sun Prairie, Wis., native Addison Ostrenga, who committed to Iowa on Friday after having been committed to the Iowa baseball team.
In many ways, Iowa’s 2022 class is typical, but it just feels different, partly due to the recent setbacks on the recruiting trail.
Tyler Barnes, who is Iowa’s Director of Recruiting, and Kirk Ferentz’s son in law, pretty much confirmed the rumors that opponents are negative recruiting against Iowa with a tweet that he posted on July 1.
“The amount of negative recruiting I’ve heard this month is laughable,” Barnes said. “Recruits, if a school has to negative recruit nonstop against 1 of your top choices, stop & think for a second why they are wasting all that time rather than trying to show you what they are truly about.”
The amount of negative recruiting I’ve heard this last month is laughable…
Recruits, if a school has to negative recruit nonstop against 1 of your top choices, stop & think for a second why they are wasting all that time rather than trying to show you what they are truly about.
— Tyler Barnes (@TylerBarnesIOWA) July 1, 2021
That statement makes sense in a lot of ways, but fair or not, some also might perceive it as whining under the circumstances.
Iowa only has itself to blame for the racial stuff, and Ferentz’s age is a legitimate concern.
The global pandemic has certainly made recruiting more difficult because coaches and players couldn’t meet face to face for more than a year. The pandemic also broke just a few months before the accusations of racial disparities were made public, so the Iowa coaches couldn’t meet face to face with recruits to discuss the matter.
And while it’s unfortunate and disappointing that some schools feel a need to negative recruit, it’s nothing new.
Just imagine if Iowa hadn’t won its final six games last season after having started 0-2. A poor performance on the field would’ve been more ammunition, but Iowa prevented that from happening, and now has to do it again.
A successful 2021 season won’t cure all of Iowa’s ills, but it would help to shift the narrative, and show that the program is moving in the right direction in the wake of the racial unrest.
It would also show that Kirk Ferentz still has what it takes at his age to get the job done at a high level.
Every season is important, and there is always pressure to win, but the pressure is amped up even more for the 2021 season because of the circumstances.
The good news is that Iowa on paper compares favorably with every team in the Big Ten West Division, including Wisconsin.
Ohio State is the only Big Ten team that looks noticeably superior to Iowa on paper, and that’s almost always the case.
Iowa will face Indiana at Kinnick Stadium and Iowa State in Ames in the first two games, so the pressure will be sky-high right out of the gate because both of those programs are ascending.
Should Iowa win the Big Ten West, the negative recruiting wouldn’t go away, but would lose some of its effectiveness.
Because at some point, criticism can start to look more like jealousy, or a sign of being insecure.