Iowa's 21st-year football coach Kirk Ferentz arrived through the side door of the West Des Moines Sheraton, as usual, for his annual April stop to chat up the Polk County I-Club faithful. But this time, he wasn't the only distinguished coaching legend to join the party.
Outgoing defensive line coach Reese Morgan accompanied Ferentz for this fund-raising stop. The longtime, loyal Ferentz assistant announced his retirement last month after 19 influential years with the program — as a coach of three different positions, as a recruiter and, maybe most importantly, as a high-character influence of young men.
Morgan’s presence here signaled the end of an era … but also an important hiring task that continues to loom for the head coach.
Ferentz has yet to replace Morgan — who was coaching the defensive line — with a full-time assistant coach.
On Monday night, he said he hopes to have a new hire announced by the end of this month.
“(The wait) has allowed us some time to think about what we’re looking for, in terms of naming another assistant," Ferentz said. "I think we’re far enough down the road where we have a good idea of what it is we’re looking for, specifically. We’ll start the process sometime this week and get things rolling.”
With Kelvin Bell going from recruiting coordinator to head defensive line coach, that leaves open some recruiting duties that the staff has decided will be spread evenly. Here's how it'll work: The new assistant will assist Bell on the defensive line and handle in-season recruiting evaluations on defense. Running backs coach Derrick Foster will handle in-season evaluations on offense.
Three weeks out of five into spring practice, and there’s plenty of on-field action to discuss, too.
Ferentz last met with the media before practice No. 1. Now, nine are in the books, with No. 10 on Tuesday.
Any injuries of note?
The most significant injury was to walk-on linebacker Colton Dinsdale, who suffered a knee injury that Ferentz said would take nearly a year of recovery.
“Knock on wood, hopefully, that’s our only surgery," Ferentz said.
But the biggest name Ferentz mentioned was new defensive end Amani Jones. The senior suffered an ankle injury that'll keep him out for the rest of spring practice.
Best position group he’s seen so far?
The defensive line has been encouraging. Ferentz was always comfortable with the front four of A.J. Epenesa, Brady Reiff, Cedrick Lattimore and Chauncey Golston.
But he's liked the progress from red-shirt freshmen John Waggoner (defensive end) and Noah Shannon (defensive tackle). Plus, Ferentz said sophomore Daviyon Nixon looks good — but is "rusty" — and that Austin Schulte (who has recovered from several injuries) has been "a pleasant surprise."
"We're not as deep as we need to be yet, but it’s encouraging to see those guys perform," Ferentz said. "That's the first thing that comes to mind."
How much reality is there to Iowa looking like a 3-4 defense at times?
Linebackers coach Seth Wallace put that line in the water with Iowa media two weeks ago, saying that, with Jones moving to a stand-up defensive end, the Hawkeyes are featuring some 3-4 looks in practices.
Ferentz said that, even with Jones out, the 3-4 is still real and being tested in practice.
"A big part of the experimentation was giving (Jones) a chance to get some work in there — some quality work," Ferentz said. "He can’t do that, obviously, but we’ll keep toying around with that and giving some other guys some work."
Finally, one last defensive note.
At linebacker in Iowa's base 4-2-5 scheme, Ferentz said a top five has emerged for two spots. Kristian Welch, Nick Niemann and Djimon Colbert are the expected names. But red-shirt freshmen Dillon Doyle and Seth Benson have joined the competition, as well.