'Unorthodox' interview with Norm Parker led Ben Hansen to role with Iowa football team

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Did a part-time job at Menards really launch Ben Hansen’s career with the Iowa football program?

It appears it was certainly a factor, Hansen recalled with amusement during a Wednesday interview on the “HawkCentral” radio program on KxNO in Des Moines.

Hansen is in his eighth season as Iowa's assistant director of football operations.

He was a junior at the university in the spring of 2009 when he got the urge to see if he could find some way to help out the football team. An email to one coach led to a meeting with another staff member and eventually an interview with the late Norm Parker, the Hawkeyes’ legendary, longtime defensive coordinator.

Hansen, who grew up in Hampton rooting for the Hawkeyes, bought his first suit for the occasion. The resume he handed Parker noted that he was working in the “doors and windows” section at Menards.

That’s what got Parker’s attention.

“I’m glad I did. Because Norm loves Menards, I guess. And we talked more about Menards than we did about football, about 20 minutes,” Hansen said.

More:A new era dawns at Kinnick Stadium: Sculpture on the north wall, a spruced-up tunnel to 'swarm' from

The second interview was devoted to football, which Hansen played in high school and for one season at Buena Vista University. Parker was impressed enough to bring Hansen on as his lone student assistant, assigning him to help with the defensive line, a position he had never played.

The renovations last year to the tunnel that Iowa football players take from their locker room to Kinnick Stadium were overseen by Ben Hansen, the team's assistant director of football operations. "We wanted to make sure what was in it embodied everybody — not just this team, but the players that came before. We swarm out together," Hansen said then. "We wanted to bring a little bit of life into the tunnel."

A decade later, after an internship at Stanford and with a graduate degree in sports management from Tennessee, Hansen is helping Iowa prepare for a football season unlike any other. The Hawkeyes are set to begin training camp Friday, with a season-opener scheduled for Sept. 5 against Maryland at Kinnick Stadium.

But the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to disrupt things at any time.

“You’ve got to 100% think that way (that there will be a full season), or else you’re only going to hurt yourself in terms of planning and preparing,” Hansen explained. “Our mindset is full steam ahead and we’ll adjust as we go.”

Hansen, who assists Paul Federici at Iowa, is tasked with scheduling fall camp, taking care of travel details for the team and keeping players informed about myriad logistical details. He prefers the administration side to on-field coaching, Hansen said. And he constantly marvels at the path he took to land his job.

“Because it’s been unorthodox, I’ve always had that walk-on mentality within this program and trying to earn it every day,” Hansen said.

Hansen addressed the two major topics surrounding Iowa football this summer: allegations by former players of a pattern of racial bias in the program, and trying to get current players ready for a season amid a pandemic.

Hansen said he was “a little surprised” in June when some Black former Hawkeyes raised concerns about how they were treated while at Iowa. He said he applauds them for raising their voices.

Being from rural Iowa, “I don’t have as big of a perspective,” Hansen said. “And it’s a great time at that moment to stop and listen.”

As for the new coronavirus that forced the cancellation of spring practices, Hansen noted that the staff is having daily conversations with players about the need to wear masks, wash hands frequently and practice social distancing whenever they leave the football complex. Hawkeye football players arrived on campus June 8 to begin voluntary workouts.

“We all have to be smart with how we conduct ourselves outside of the building. We can manage everything that we do within this building,” Hansen said.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has said that some of his players have tested positive for COVID-19 this summer, but there has been no significant outbreak and the schedule Hansen helped set up has not had to be disrupted.

Iowa learned its new 10-game schedule for this fall Wednesday. The destinations for the five road games didn’t change, but the dates did. Hansen said he typically books hotel rooms two years in advance, so he was scrambling to change those. He also reached out to the bus companies the team uses to let them know the new dates, although he’s unsure how many players will be allowed on each vehicle while maintaining social distancing.

“You just kind of keep schedules near-sighted, and right now our biggest goal is to get the guys out there for their first practice Friday,” Hansen said.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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