Hawkeye football recruiters maintain program's deliberate pace

Mark Emmert

IOWA CITY, Ia. — In a football recruiting landscape that is increasingly tilting toward glitz and gloating, Iowa just stays the course.

Under no-nonsense coach Kirk Ferentz, entering his 18th season, slow and steady has been the mantra and continues to be. Even coming off a 6-7 season in 2014, the veteran Hawkeye coaching staff was able to lure premium talent to Iowa City with a group of freshmen expected to make a big impact this fall

“They believed in what we were selling. We didn’t sell them any sugar,” Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell said Friday. “We promised they’d have a chance to graduate. We promised them they’d have a chance to play Big Ten football at a high level and we promised them they were going to play for a head coach who’s going to be around. And those kids took that to heart. They believed that.

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Quarterback Nathan Stanley is among an incoming class of Hawkeye freshmen that chose to come to Iowa City despite a 6-7 record in 2014. "We didn't sell them any sugar," Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell said.

“It’s about the message that you’re giving these guys. It’s got to be something rock-solid. It can’t be based in frills and empty promises.”

Bell is in his first season as recruiting coordinator after spending the previous two as director of on-campus recruiting. He was flanked by director of player personnel Scott Southmayd and new director of recruiting Tyler Barnes at Iowa’s football complex Friday as they met with reporters to discuss the ins and outs of the recruiting process.

Bell, who was a defensive lineman for the Hawkeyes, is now able to go on the road to recruit players, and his area includes southwest Ohio, Indiana and western Michigan. Southmayd and Barnes are the “support staff” in the office, keeping a database of players Iowa is recruiting, coordinating on-campus visits, etc.

Bell said that the pace of recruiting may be escalating nationally, but that Iowa will always maintain its own tempo.

“You have to find information quicker and no information is better than inaccurate information,” he said. “The process has sped up, but by no means do we want that to speed up our process. We still need to do our homework. Sometimes if you wait a little bit, if you’re patient, if you do your homework, the right kid will surface.”

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Other highlights from Friday’s discussion:

  • On the high-stakes world of recruiting, which Barnes also witnessed while working at Vanderbilt in the SEC before returning to the staff of his father-in-law, Ferentz, in April: “The beauty of what we do here is we don’t care what other schools are doing, and we’re not worried about what they’re selling. We’re going to stick true to what Iowa is and what we’ve done for the last 17 years. It’s going to be cut-throat no matter what, but we’re going to be honest and open with the guys we’re recruiting.”
  • On being able to recruit new areas like Texas, Bell pointed to the importance of the stability of the Iowa coaching staff.  “When you walk into a school with a Tigerhawk on your chest, the coach regardless of whether you’ve never been in that area before or if you’ve always been there, they understand what it means. They know what coach Ferentz stands for, so I think that gives us the flexibility to move around a little bit. Now there’s some areas where you want to put a coach in his niche. Like (17th-year defensive line coach) Reese Morgan needs to be in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota. His name resonates here.”
  • On current recruits taking to Twitter to try to bring other future Hawkeyes on board, Bell said: “These kids are a lot more connected to each other. I think it’s all good. As long as the message is controlled and the kids are thinking the same way and excited about Iowa football. … It’s their class. It’s something they can take ownership in and you want to make sure that they’re trying to attract the right kids to their class.”

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  • But Bell acknowledged that they have to monitor what potential recruits are saying on social media. “My grandma used to say what’s down in the well comes up in buckets. If a kid is repeatedly putting negative things out there on Twitter or things he wouldn’t say in front of his mom or in front of his grandmother, that’s a red flag. No matter how talented the kid is, if he has that kind of disregard as far as language and any other type of things that kids put on twitter, he probably wouldn’t be a good fit here at Iowa.”
  • On the importance of establishing relationships with the friends and relatives of a recruit, Barnes said: “You’ve got to find out who the key person in their life is. We like to stick within that group. Nowadays there are kind of third parties that are involved, and we try to stay away from those third parties. We try and stick to the people that are around these kids every day. … I think it can get hard if you let it get hard. I think we’ve made it clear that we’re not going to get into those waters.”
  • Watching a recruit choose another school is difficult, Barnes said, but you can’t let the feeling linger. “Of course you’re going to take it to heart. … I give myself a 24-hour rule to pout and kind of cry about it and then the next day I’ve got to move on. It’s on to the guys who still do want to be Hawkeyes.”
  • On how much the football program’s new facility helps in recruiting, Bell said: “I tell kids all the time when they walk through the doors and they see the ‘wow’ factor in the atrium. I say if you’re going to play football at the FBS level in a Power Five conference, then every building you’re going to walk into is going to look like this. And if it doesn’t they probably have a picture of some renderings of something they’re going to build in the next three or four years. So don’t get wowed by, it’s a great place, it’s an unbelievable facility to spend four or five years here playing college football. But it’s more about the people in the building than it is the actual building.”