Jason Manson is back in Iowa's football facility, and it's coming at the perfect time

Finally, Jason Manson is back home. The 2006 Iowa graduate has been trying to make his way back to Iowa City for a few years as a part of coach Kirk Ferentz's staff.

After two previous attempts, one as a quality control assistant and the other as running backs coach, Manson is back in one of the most important roles in Ferentz's program. In May, Manson was named the Director of Player Development, a role that helps freshmen transition into the program and prepares older players for life outside of the program.

A former quarterback under Ferentz, Manson made one career start during his Hawkeye career. Starting at Syracuse in 2006 with regular quarterback Drew Tate injured, Manson helped the Hawkeyes to a 20-13 double-overtime win.

Fast forward to 2021 and he's helping the program in the clutch again, but in a different way.

On the heels of a traumatic 2020 for the program, Manson steps into a role that was created to maximize players' experiences on campus. 

"I look at myself basically as a mentor," Manson said. "Somebody that they can reach out to if they're going through something or need something. Send them in the right direction to make sure they're utilizing all the resources that are available. 

"There's a ton of resources on the campus. I remember when I was here I didn't utilize those resources, I didn't ask the right questions. Hopefully I can recognize when guys are struggling or need help and point them in the right direction and hopefully they feel comfortable reaching out to me." 

Quarterback Jason Manson (back) was a career backup to Drew Tate (front) during his time at Iowa. Now, he's returned as the program's new Director of Player Development.

Manson's hire is one of the first in the new cultural shift in Iowa's program. Like many alumni, Manson, a Black former player himself, was disheartened by Iowa's issues with racial disparities that were aired last summer by current and former players. Strength coach Chris Doyle, a frequent target of those complaints, was let go amid the turmoil

"It was definitely tough to watch in the media," Manson said. "Some of it hit home and some didn't apply but it was interesting to hear the different perspectives. It was some disappointment, some frustration, some disbelief. 

"But it some relief because players were speaking out. All in all it definitely helped fuel my fire to come back." 

Then, he was on the outside looking in. Now, he's in the building and can take a firsthand approach in helping make the environment more inclusive. In his opinion, the most important component for change is communication. 

"It's going to come from working with the players," Manson said. "Understanding their perspectives and then working with (Ferentz) to make sure we have a nice balance of what coach wants and what players need. 

"I think everyone needs to communicate openly. Not be afraid to communicate and make sure that we follow through and put things in place." 

When he's not helping players in the transition phase, Manson works to make sure players are thriving in all areas: academically, mentally, socially — not just athletically. Those aspects of players' lives are sometimes tough to manage when some aren't happy with their role on the team. 

Manson can relate. He wasn't a marquee player while at Iowa but still left the school satisfied with his experience. He was once in their position and believes his story will make players comfortable confiding in him about how they're feeling. 

"I remember being a player not being comfortable voicing my opinion," Manson said. "'Why am I changing my position?' You're getting pressure from back home. I could've asked those questions but when you're 17, 18, 19 years old it's hard to advocate for yourself with some of these bigger conversations. 

"Through my experience coaching at high schools and other colleges I think I've always had good relationships with players to where they feel comfortable opening up to me. I hope to provide that here." 

Manson was most recently the head football coach and assistant dean of students at the St. Thomas More School in Montville, Connecticut. He has also been an assistant football coach for Central Connecticut State (from 2010 to 2014).

Iowa director of player development Jason Manson speaks to reporters during a Hawkeyes football summer media availability on Wednesday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

He won't be on the recruiting trail but will be a valuable asset on player visits to campus. Manson knows firsthand how high schoolers and their families think and what they're prioritizing during the recruiting process. 

"I encourage them to ask the questions," Manson said. "If it's something on their minds that everyone wants to know, ask. I think that's the biggest thing, don't be afraid to ask the questions." 

Manson's goals for this year are simple and two-fold: every freshman makes it through academically and every outgoing player is prepared for a full-time job after Iowa, whether that's in the NFL or the workforce.

Further down the road, he's looking to add new innovations within his role. One of them is establishing an official Hawkeyes football alumni network that will serve as a platform for older alumni to regularly connect and network with younger alumni to give mentorship and job advice.

Mostly, Manson is just thankful to be back. He's looking forward to taking on the challenge of this role and hopes it's the beginning of carving out a long coaching career similar to that of the current head coach. 

"It's kind of surreal but definitely a proud moment," Manson said. "It's also a challenge to make I continue to do the things that have gotten me back here and try to do it at a level to keep me here longer.

"Coach Ferentz is the longest-tenured head coach in college football and that's something I value. I have a young family and I don't want to be moving around, hopefully I can continue to learn from him and provide that same level of stability for my family." 

Kennington Smith is the Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at ksmith@gannett.com