Leistikow: In defense of Kirk Ferentz's no-visit policy

Chad Leistikow,

IOWA CITY, Ia. — A lot of people are wound up about the string of high school players who have backed off verbal commitments to join the Iowa football program.

I understand why. So does Kirk Ferentz.

“Recruiting is an industry now,” the 18th-year Iowa coach said Tuesday after news spread of wide receiver Gavin Holmes’ decommitment, the fourth of Iowa’s initial recruiting class of 2017. “There’s always been interest in it. Now, it's an industry just like the (NFL) Draft.”

Although the times are changing, Ferentz isn’t. He’s sticking to the long-standing no-visit policy for Iowa’s verbal commitments.

Good for him.

Until proven otherwise, the benefit of the doubt should go to the man who is tied for sixth all-time in Big Ten Conference coaching victories; not the Texas teenager tweeting how he thinks the Hawkeye program should be operated.

Kirk Ferentz greets wide receivers Matt VandeBerg (a two-star recruit) and Riley McCarron (a former walk-on) during the season opener. The head coach was back on the defense of his recruiting policies Tuesday after Gavin Holmes' decommitment.

You can attack Ferentz for a lackluster offense, but questioning his ability to find the right fit for the Iowa program is just silly.

In these 18 years, Ferentz has built Iowa football around character, hard work and trust.

“You've got to have good recruits to be successful, I get that,” Ferentz said. “What's really important is identifying and finding players that are going to fit here in our program and thrive in our environment. And it's not for everybody.”

Fittingly, on the day that Iowa lost a 2017 receiver, a much-more-proven one who will be back next season was giving his first interview in almost two months.

Matt VandeBerg — a two-star recruit from Brandon, S.D. — is the best, game-ready receiver the Hawkeyes could ask for entering the 2017 season. He’s a virtual lock to get a medical-hardship waiver for a fifth season after breaking his foot during a late-September practice.

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He’s a team-first — not a me-first — guy.

It would’ve been easy to gripe to teammates about the unfairness of suffering a serious injury in his senior year. Instead, he vented to his fiancée.

“You can affect guys around you, whether you’re positive or negative,” said VandeBerg, who will be looking to add to his 106 career receptions next season. “The more positive you can be, you help those around you.”

That’s the right kind of character; the right fit, if you will.

Josey Jewell has that, too. He's another two-star prospect that Iowa scooped up late in the recruiting process from Decorah.

Now, Jewell is one of five finalists for the Butkus Award, given to college football’s top linebacker.

That progression happened because of Jewell's makeup, not his measurables.

Had Iowa assistant Reese Morgan not identified him, Jewell (really) might have ended up playing for Division III Luther College.

“The way he operates is just unbelievable,” teammate Jaleel Johnson said. “First one in meetings, last one (to leave) meetings. He does everything at a high level. I think that’s what plays a role in him being such a great athlete, such a great player.”

And, by the way, Jewell is perhaps one of the top 2017 recruits in the country. On Tuesday, he defused speculation and fan concern that he would turn pro early, saying he would likely return to Iowa for his senior year.

Just scan pro rosters, and you’ll see dozens of guys that, whether they were highly recruited or not, bought into the Hawkeyes' "fit." And Iowa's coaching staff reciprocated by developing their ability and character, 24/7.

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One of the NFL’s most dominant offensive linemen, Marshal Yanda, picked Iowa over Iowa State.

One of the NFL’s most dominant defensive linemen, Mike Daniels, was a two-star recruit who picked Iowa over Temple.

Bob Sanders. Dallas Clark. Chad Greenway. Bryan Bulaga. Christian Kirksey. Brandon Scherff.

The list goes on.

With his proven track record, Ferentz shouldn't alter his principles.

It’s also important to remember that, for now, Iowa’s commitment losses are exclusive to the state of Texas, a pipeline that began with — then was cut off by — running back Eno Benjamin.

This isn’t a recruiting pandemic. National Signing Day on Feb. 1 is still more than two months away.

What about the perceived hypocritical stance — something Holmes brought up — by Iowa to host prospects committed to other programs? 

That's apples and oranges. If an athlete's still looking around, he's not really ready to get married.

“We have a good feel about what we're trying to do," Ferentz said. "We'll try to keep identifying guys that are going to come in here and thrive. Whether it's a Josey Jewell or whomever it may be, find the right guys that are going to be here.

"I'm confident at the end of the day, by Signing Day, we'll have the right 20 to 22 guys here."

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.