Defense and special teams are among the focal points as Ferentz enters his 20th season at Iowa.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa football program has looked to the South to find its latest assistant coach.
The Hawkeyes on Tuesday officially added Derrick Foster as an offensive assistant, the latest and final hire in a completely reshaped offensive staff that was 12 months in the making. Though the university didn't specify a position, he is expected to coach Iowa's tight ends.
Foster was most recently the running backs coach and run-game coordinator at Samford University, an FCS program in Alabama that went 8-4 last season.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has said for a while that he had a plan in place for adding a 10th assistant, which was approved by the NCAA last year and went into effect in January.
Foster’s connection to Iowa appears to be through Seth Wallace, the Hawkeyes’ linebackers coach and assistant defensive coordinator. Wallace was the defensive coordinator at Valdosta (Ga.) State in 2011 when Foster was a first-year assistant coach with that Division II program.
And therein lies one of the possible strategies in Foster’s hire. The Hawkeyes have been trying, for several years (since Wallace initially came on board as recruiting coordinator in 2014), to make recruiting inroads to Georgia.
A quick scan of the Samford football roster shows 37 prospects from Georgia, a talent-rich state that doesn’t get the headlines of California or Texas or Florida. But in the Class of 2018 alone, a remarkable 28 high school prospects from the Rivals 250 hailed from Georgia.
"Derrick is an outstanding person and has built an impressive resume with experience at multiple levels of college football," Ferentz said in a statement. "He has an impressive record of success on the recruiting trail that will strengthen and expand our existing efforts."
Iowa’s efforts in Georgia have only yielded one signee — defensive back Trey Creamer in the Class of 2017. But one of the Hawkeyes’ top remaining targets in the Class of 2018, linebacker Jayden McDonald, is a Suwanee, Georgia, product who is considering Iowa, Kansas State and Mississippi.
McDonald has an official visit scheduled to Iowa City this weekend.
Beyond recruiting, though, Foster’s hiring does complete the offensive shakeup that occurred following Iowa’s 2016 season, when offensive coordinator Greg Davis retired and assistants Chris White and Bobby Kennedy were fired.
The Hawkeyes have since moved Brian Ferentz to offensive coordinator and running backs coach; added North Dakota State offensive coordinator Tim Polasek as offensive line coach; added Northern Illinois assistant Kelton Copleand as wide receivers coach; and brought back former Hawkeye offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe as quarterbacks coach.
The addition of Foster is the final step to allow LeVar Woods, who was Iowa’s tight ends coach the past three seasons, to a full-time role as special-teams coordinator. Giving special teams exclusively to one coach has been a Kirk Ferentz vision for years, and that's now a reality.
If Foster indeed takes over the tight ends, he'll step into a great situation. That position group is an Iowa strength entering the 2018 season, with Noah Fant (30 catches, 494 yards and a Big Ten-best 11 receiving touchdowns in 2017) and T.J. Hockenson (24 catches, 320 yards, 3 TDs) leading the way.
Foster is one of four minority coaches on the Hawkeyes' core 10-man staff, joining Copeland, Woods and defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell.
Foster was wide receiver at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, where he amassed 93 receptions in 41 career games.
After his first year as an assistant with Valdosta State, Foster spent one season at Tennessee in 2012 before head coach Derek Dooley was fired. He was a three-year assistant at Northwestern State in Louisiana and has been with Samford the past two seasons.
Samford's run-game statistics were woeful last fall under Foster's direction, with the Bulldogs averaging only 79.5 yards per game (114th out of 123 FCS schools) and 2.84 yards per carry. Those underwhelming numbers should indicate that Foster's hiring is more about Ferentz and Iowa finding the right fit, in which high character is always a priority.
"My wife, Bianca, and I are excited to be afforded this wonderful opportunity to become a part of the Iowa family as well as the Iowa City community," Foster said in a statement released by the UI. "Our journey is continuing, as this provides us with the opportunity to be part of a great staff and a university that is committed to excellence. I have a lot of respect for the stability and commitment of Coach Ferentz and his longevity with the program."