Recruiting Q&A: Kelvin Bell describes the Iowa identity
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The pitch for Kelvin Bell as Iowa’s recruiting coordinator is pretty simple.
The burly and animated Mississippi native arrived in Iowa City in 2000 as a promising defensive lineman, had his playing time cut short by injury, stuck around, then returned in 2012 and spent the last two years as director of on-campus recruiting.
Bell got his Hawkeye promotion in February when previous recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace was named linebackers coach. He’ll still serve as an assistant defensive line coach, but the primary focus since National Signing Day has been to build on a 2017 class that 247 Sports currently ranks in the top 25 nationally.
Bell spoke with the Register earlier this month. Here are some excerpted questions and answers from that interview.
This program has made a living off of developing in-state kids, and 2017 is setting up to be a huge group. What’s been your approach with them since taking over as recruiting coordinator?
Kelvin Bell: We love Iowa kids because they love Iowa football. They understand what it means to be a Hawkeye. A lot of them have grown up dreaming and wanting to play Iowa football. If there is a kid in the state who, from a character standpoint and an athletic standpoint, fits what we’re trying to do, then you better believe we’re going to exhaust all options to make sure that kid is a Hawkeye.
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How does this staff handle changes in technology, specifically social media, when it comes to recruiting?
KB: We still have a hands-on approach. You can’t email or Twitter yourself to a scholarship or acquiring the right kids in your program. You have to put your hands on them, you have to dig. You have to go behind the scenes to find out about a kid. It helps with communication. It’s a lot easier now. I can Twitter message a kid and tell him to call me and he calls me, instead of using a phone call during a certain time of the year and hoping. In that regard, social media makes kids more accessible, but we still have to do our work and can’t recruit solely through Twitter.
What did you like about your own recruiting process in high school that you’ve applied to this job?
KB: Just the way that Iowa recruits. We recruit football players. We’re not married to stopwatches or tape measures. If I were two or three inches taller, I probably wouldn’t be here right now. But Iowa took a chance on me because they did their homework. I remember (former) coach (Ron) Aiken coming down, meeting my mom, going to my high school. Coach Phil Parker (Iowa's defensive coordinator) was actually the first coach to come to my high school and meet me. That was 17 years ago, and now I work for him. When you’re doing the work to try and find intangible things, that’s what was special about my recruiting process and that’s what’s special about Iowa.
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Then how do you balance tangible numbers and the eye test in your evaluation process?
KB: That’s hard to say. Guys like big running backs, and everyone wants an Adrian Peterson or Melvin Gordon, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound back. You walk in the door and think, ‘Gosh, we’ve got to have that guy.’ One of the best backs to ever play here was Fred Russell, and he was 5-7. You don’t want to stare at that tape measure or stopwatch and miss a guy like Fred Russell. If a kid can flat-out play — regardless of how he fits the prototype — he can fit in here at Iowa.
Is that kind of thinking what encourages the ‘hands-on approach’ you mentioned?
KB: Exactly. There’s a lot of pay-by-phone or mail-order recruiting going on right now, with schools reaching out and contacting players that they’ve never seen before. That’s dangerous on a couple of fronts. We want to make sure we avoid stuff like that. That’s not the way we do things, and that’s not what’s made Iowa successful.
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What’s it like pitching Iowa’s traditional development process — usually a couple years in the program before playing time — to recruits out on the road?
KB: When you’re talking to kids and you use the ‘D’ word — I’m talking about development — when you throw that out there and they latch on and they believe that, then that’s our kind of guy. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of high school football players out there who believe they don’t need to be developed. They think they’re going to come in and perform. It’s not like that. When you find a kid that’s hungry for development and wants to be better and believes that you can make them better, that’s the right fit for us.