Brown: Comparing Iowa's recruiting classes to Tennessee's
IOWA CITY, Ia. – When Butch Jones got his first head coaching job at Central Michigan in 2007, one of the football programs he tried to emulate was Iowa. It remained that way as Jones climbed the coaching ladder, to Cincinnati and now Tennessee.
"I really respect the job coach (Kirk) Ferentz has done," said Jones, who is preparing his team for a Jan. 2 meeting against Iowa at the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. "They're one of the programs that we model our football program here at Tennessee after, in terms of toughness and the mentality that they have in their program."
This will be Iowa's 12th bowl appearance in Ferentz's 16 seasons as coach. Tennessee will be playing in its first bowl game since 2010. Iowa has had two coaches — Hayden Fry and Ferentz — the past 36 seasons. Tennessee has had three coaches in the last six seasons — Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley and now Jones, who also wants to emulate Iowa's stability.
"Where we're at in the culture of football, everyone wants to make changes," Jones said. "When you look at Iowa, you think of stability. You think of consistency. And they've had great consistency, and great stability. Their teams are always very tough and physical. Very well coached."
Jones is trying to bring toughness and a mental edge to Tennessee. It's still a work of progress as he nears the end of his second season in Knoxville. But the Volunteers take a back seat to few when it comes to recruiting since Jones arrived.
And Jones' approach to recruiting is nothing like the blueprint Ferentz has followed for most of his residency at Iowa.
According to Rivals.com, Tennessee's 2013 recruiting class was ranked 21st nationally. Pretty impressive, considering the fact that Jones wasn't hired until three months before national signing date. The Volunteers signed five four-star and 15 three-star prospects. Iowa's class was ranked 53rd, with 17 three-stars.
Tennessee's 2014 class was ranked fifth nationally, with two five-star, 16 four-star and 13 three-star prospects. Iowa's class was ranked 59th, with two four-star and 11 three-star prospects.
The Class of 2015 is still a work in progress, but Tennessee currently has the No. 6 class with one five-star, 10 four-star and 13 three-star commitments. Iowa is ranked 52nd, with one four-star and 11 three-star commitments.
Ferentz has made a living off taking lightly regarded prospects and coaching them into NFL Draft picks — Dallas Clark, Chad Greenway, Bob Sanders, Bruce Nelson and Marshal Yanda are several examples.
"We attract a certain type of guy," Ferentz said. "They get there sometimes with great stories off the beaten path, and develop into really good stories. I think that's the thing any coach really enjoys. Typically our best players have been hard-working guys that tend to play their best as they get older."
Since his first bowl team in 2002, Ferentz has had just two recruiting classes finish inside the Rivals Top 30, in 2005 and 2007. On paper, the best Ferentz class was 2005. He signed his only Rivals five-star prospect that year, offensive lineman Dan Doering. He also brought in seven four-star prospects in Kalvin Bailey, Ryan Bain, Jake Christensen, Rafael Eubanks, Alex Kanellis, Tony Moeaki and Dace Richardson.
Only seven of Iowa's last 14 recruiting classes have finished inside the Rivals Top 50.
Jones' recruiting success is reflected on the Volunteers' depth chart. There are 24 players listed on the latest two-deeps from Tennessee's last two recruiting classes — two five-star, eight four-star and 14 three-star prospects.
Iowa has 11 players listed on its latest two-deep from the last two recruiting classes — eight three-star and three two-star prospects.
When you look at how the Hawkeyes were built, the current two-deep has as many four-star prospects – Austin Blythe, Jordan Walsh, Andrew Donnal, Ray Hamilton and Jaleel Johnson — as guys who joined the program as walk-ons — Boone Myers, Tommy Gaul, Cole Croston, Macon Plewa and Bo Bower.
That is Iowa football in a nutshell. If oddsmakers used recruiting rankings to determine favorites, the Hawkeyes would be even bigger underdogs against Tennessee.
"Luckily, games get decided on the field," Ferentz said.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.