Ferentz on rocky recruiting: 'You can't lose something you never had'

Mark Emmert

IOWA CITY, Ia. — After three days of negative publicity when a high-profile recruit announced his “decommitment” from the Iowa football team, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz came out swinging Wednesday.

Ferentz never mentioned Texas running back Eno Benjamin by name — NCAA rules prohibit coaches from talking about recruits before they sign a National Letter of Intent — but it was clear who he was referring to when he said at the beginning of his news conference:

“You can’t lose something you never had.”

Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz defended his recruiting philosophy after a high-profile prospect backed away from the Hawkeyes on Sunday.

Benjamin, a four-star prospect from suburban Dallas, had announced a verbal commitment to the Hawkeyes in the spring and spent months touting the school on Twitter. But the relationship between coaching staff and athlete apparently ruptured when Benjamin took recent official visits to Missouri and Arizona State.

Ferentz and his recruiting staff discourage that practice.

“If they want to commit to us, they commit and that really means the only official visit they’re going to take is to our place,” Ferentz said of the message given to Hawkeye recruits. “There’s exceptions to every rule and there’s conversations that take place. Everybody’s got a matter of choice. The prospects have the ultimate freedom, and they should. Recruiting is all about prospects finding a university that’s best for them. I’ve always believed that. It’s not about making a college coach happy or anybody else happy other than the prospect and their family.

“Our encouragement has always been for any players, any prospects to really do your homework, do your research, get out and talk to people, see people face-to-face. Don’t just do it off a helmet or what the cheerleaders look like at this school and that type of thing.”

Rivals: Eno Benjamin’s decommit from Iowa the nation’s biggest for 2017 class

However, Ferentz conceded that there are times when Iowa allows a recruit who has verbally committed elsewhere to take an official visit to Iowa City.

“We’ll listen,” he said. “No hard, firm policies other than it’s kind of case by case.”

When Benjamin reopened his recruiting process, with a reported official visit to Michigan upcoming, it dropped Iowa’s national recruiting ranking for its 2017 class from 25th to 32nd, according to Rivals.

And the leakage may not be done. Cornerback Chevin Calloway, also of the Dallas area, has verbally committed to the Hawkeyes but also recently visited Arkansas. He is ranked 12th nationally in his position group.

Division I football recruits are allowed to take five official visits, meaning the host schools pick up the tab. Verbal commitments are not binding. The official signing day is not until February, although there is a push to establish an early signing period the summer before an athlete’s senior year in high school to limit the amount of decommitments that occur.

“It hardly comes as a surprise to us,” Ferentz said of news that an athlete has changed his mind. “And quite frankly, that’s why some schools oppose early signing for that very reason, just so there’s a chance to have that type of activity.”

Ferentz initiated the discussion about the recruiting process during his bye-week news conference, later answering a few follow-up questions on the topic.

“It would be naïve for us as coaches to think that you’re never going to get a surprise,” he said. “The recruits we’ve dealt with have been great, they’ve been very straightforward.”