Rutgers football takes on New Mexico at Highpoint Solutions Stadium in Piscataway. STAFF VIDEO BY MARK R. SULLIVAN Mark R. Sullivan
PISCATAWAY - Most fathers have to spend money and wait in line at an airport to see their college-student children at this time of year.
Not Jay Niemann. He won’t have to travel to see his sons, Ben and Nick, this Saturday. In fact, it won’t cost him a dime, and he’ll be getting paid.
But therein lies the problem.
Niemann, who is in his first season as the Rutgers defensive coordinator, will be hard at work Saturday trying to stop 25th-ranked Iowa’s offense when the Hawkeyes visit High Point Solutions Stadium. But one couldn’t blame him for occasionally sneaking a peek at Iowa’s defense, considering starting outside linebacker Ben Niemann is the older of Jay’s two sons.
Ben Niemann, a junior, has a team-leading 23 tackles. Nick Niemann, Jay’s other son, is a freshman linebacker for the Hawkeyes who has yet to see action through three games.
The Niemanns’ unique version of parents’ weekend will come with some mixed emotions, especially for Lou Ann Niemann, Jay’s wife and the mother of Ben and Nick.
“I’m just trying to keep it business as usual,” Jay Niemann said Monday. “We’ve known for a long time that this week and this game, this day, was going to be coming,” he said. “And as I’ve said all along, the boys have to prepare like they have to, and I have to do it like I have to.
“My wife’s caught in the middle,” Niemann added. “She’s trying to be loyal to me and to them. She’s got to be a mother first, and I know she’s going to be passionate about cheering for Ben and hoping that he plays well. It’s a tough middle-ground place for her to be.”
Niemann said, “I hope we win the game, and I hope (Ben) plays great.”
As Niemann said, his family knew this day would come when he agreed in December to join the staff of head coach Chris Ash, who had played under Niemann when he was an assistant coach at Drake.
Ben already was in his sophomore year at Iowa at that juncture, and Nick had committed to play for the Hawkeyes. His father was asked if Nick had considered changing his mind and coming to Rutgers to play for his dad.
“He had committed to Iowa prior to me deciding to take this job,” Niemann explained. “The plan all along, if possible, was for our two boys to play together. We’re thankful to the University of Iowa and coach (Kirk) Ferentz and his staff and the people there that made it possible.
“Things happen for a reason,” he added, “and they’re both happy where they’re at, and that’s good for us.”
“That’s pretty cool for that family,” Rutgers junior defensive end Darnell Davis said. “I would enjoy it if my dad was coaching the other team.
“There’s been a few comments,” junior nose tackle Sebastian Joseph said with a smile, “but it’s all love. Coach Niemann’s done a great job with us, getting us ready, preparing us week in and week out for the games.
“He looks calm and collected, but don’t let him fool you,” Joseph said. “He can get emotional.”
One thing that will help calm the father’s emotions on game day is the fact Ben will be on defense, as opposed to being a member of Iowa’s offensive unit.
“I’d sure hate to be scheming against one of my own kids,” Niemann said. “Since he’s on the other side of the ball, we don’t have to be worrying about that. That takes a little bit of the anxiety out of it.”
He indicated he won’t boycott talking to his sons this week. He’ll just make the conversation stays away from what will take place at noon Saturday.
“Usually we talk a couple times a week,” Niemann said, “and we’re going to talk again this week. We just won’t talk about Rutgers and Iowa football. We’ll talk about life. We’ll talk about school. We’ll talk about how they feel physically.”
And what will happen once those three-plus hours Saturday are over?
“Once we get through with the game,” Niemann said, “hopefully, we’ll get a chance to group up in the parking lot before they (go) to the airport (and) get a chance to visit a little bit if the situation allows for it.”
Either the father or his sons will be in need of a little bit of consoling by then, and Jay’s play calls and Ben’s play figure to have a large say in that.