Iowa assistant coach Jay Niemann had always wanted to be part of the same team as his son Nick. Hear more: Mark Emmert, firstname.lastname@example.org
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Nick Niemann grew up attending his father’s football games. In Cedar Falls and Indianola. In Abilene, Texas, and DeKalb, Illinois.
He always wondered what it would be like to play for his dad, but that was a thought he kept in the back of his mind. It was too unlikely.
Nick Niemann, like older brother Ben, chose to play at Iowa. And the Hawkeyes aren’t often in the market for defensive coaches, which Jay Niemann has been for 34 years.
The improbable happened this spring. Longtime Iowa assistant Reese Morgan retired. Head coach Kirk Ferentz suddenly had a need for someone to help coach his defensive line, someone with strong recruiting ties in Iowa.
“It came completely out of nowhere,” Nick Niemann said, unable to contain his smile. “I was not expecting it.
“Not many kids get to play at this level, let alone have their dad be a coach at this level and on the same team.”
Jay Niemann was hired in May. It’s his ninth stop in a coaching career that has included time at Drake, Northern Iowa and Simpson College. A native of Avoca, he went on to play linebacker at Iowa State.
He was the defensive coordinator at Rutgers the past three years, watching his sons’ success from afar.
And now here he is, getting the chance to see Nick up close every day. They’ll spend fall Saturdays together again, swarming on to the Kinnick Stadium turf.
“I can’t even put a value on it,” Jay Niemann said of being around his son. “A lot of the pleasure I get out of it is just having the day-to-day interaction, even if it’s just short little couple minutes here, couple minutes there. In the locker room, at the training table or if he swings by the office.”
Jay and Lou Ann Niemann have gotten good at moving. They quickly bought a house in Iowa City and are already settled in.
“Hopefully, I’m done with it,” Jay chuckled, speaking of the vagabond lifestyle of a football coach. “We’ve had our fair share. But we’re all under one roof and set to go.”
Ben Niemann is in his second season with the Kansas City Chiefs. That will make this football season the easiest in years for Lou Ann.
“She’s probably the most excited out of our entire family because she’s been spread thin trying to fly three places on a weekend,” Nick Niemann said of his mother. “Now she can drive 10 minutes to my game and 3 ½ hours to Ben’s game, catch us all every weekend and not feel left out.”
Nick Niemann is battling for a starting linebacker job this summer. He had five tackles as a redshirt freshman and 43 last season.
At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, he has good size and speed for his position.
But Niemann’s best attribute may be how coachable he is. He had no choice in that, actually.
“If I wasn’t, then my dad would have been ripping me when I was younger,” Niemann said. “That’s one thing in any sport — if you don’t listen to your coaches you aren’t going to get any better.
“Coaches have higher expectations a lot of times. He held Ben and I accountable for things, whether it was on the field, off the field, our lifestyle. He always wanted the best of us. So we always tried to live up to that.”
Jay Niemann always kept his sons close when he was coaching, before they went off to college. They were ballboys for his teams, then high school stars at Sycamore in Illinois.
“They spent a lot of years on sidelines, in locker rooms, in huddles as young boys watching coaches talk to teams,” Niemann said. “There’s some things that you miss out on as a coaching family. But there’s also things you get to do that other young men don’t get to do because you are a part of a family that is around the game of football.”
And now they’re around it together again. Jay Niemann only got to attend Nick’s bowl games in recent years, too busy coaching his own team on Saturdays.
He’ll be at every one of them now. As will Lou Ann.
“It’s a huge blessing for our family and we’re so appreciative of this opportunity,” Jay Niemann said. “It doesn’t go unnoticed.”
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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