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Look Ahead to 2012: Hiring right defensive coordinator a key

[ 13 ] January 1, 2012 |

Next football season — Sept. 1, to be exact — Iowa will play Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago.

James Vandenberg will throw the ball to Hawkeye receivers like Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley, he’ll hand the ball to anyone still standing at tailback — and someone will formulate the defensive strategy.

That’s the biggest offseason situation after Iowa finished 2011 with a 7-6 record following Friday’s Insight Bowl 31-14 loss against 19th-ranked Oklahoma at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.

Norm Parker retired after 40-plus years as a coach, the final 13 as coach Kirk Ferentz’s defensive coordinator.

Defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski accepted a similar position at Nebraska just before the bowl game, leaving two positions open on what has been a stable staff.

It could take awhile to fill the voids — and Ferentz says he’s all right with that.

“It’s more important to get the right person,” he said. “If it costs us a recruit or two, we will make up for that next year.

“Replacing Norm Parker — you don’t just jump at that. I’m going to make sure we have the right people in place.”

Ferentz’s history has been to promote from within his staff, and conventional thought centers on secondary coach Phil Parker and linebacker coach Darrell Wilson being in the mix to become coordinator.

LeVar Woods is a possibility to replace Kaczenski, a role the former Hawkeye player filled in the practices before the bowl game.

“I would consider anybody,” Ferentz said. “I would consider anybody who is a good fit for our program, including former players.”

That would seem to also include guys like former Hawkeye Bob Diaco, Notre Dame defensive coordinator; and maybe even Ferentz’s son Brian, who is tight ends coach for the New England Patriots.

“We have a lot of former players,” Kirk Ferentz said. “Here we go with the rumor mill.”

Some players — present and past — threw their support to coaches they know in the days leading up to the bowl game.

“I’ve been around a lot of good football coaches … and I’d love to see coach Parker as the defensive coordinator,” former Iowa safety Sean Considine told a cluster of reporters at practice last week.

Linebacker Tyler Nielsen also leaned toward the coaches he knows.

“Either Phil Parker or coach Wilson will do a great job,” Nielsen said. “LeVar’s been doing a good job while filling in for coach K.”

Another question that will be answered before spring practice starts in March will be running back, where 1,384-yard rusher Marcus Coker was suspended before the bowl game for violating the student-athlete code of conduct.

“The invitation is there for him to come back,” athletic director Gary Barta said.

Stay tuned.

A LOOK BACK AT THE SEASON

High point: The Hawkeyes’ sky, once believed to be falling, became sunny again after a 24-16 upset of 13th-ranked Michigan at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeye team with the head-scratching loss at Minnesota became bowl eligible after beating the Wolverines for the third time in a row, and it came at a time when some fans questioned the program’s direction. Minnesota beat Iowa on a touchdown with 2:48 remaining a week earlier, so the Hawkeyes were used to drama when a last-drive catch by Michigan’s Junior Hemingway in the back of the end zone was ruled incomplete. “It couldn’t happen two weeks in a row,” Broderick Binns said. “We looked at each other — it wasn’t going to happen again.”

Low point: From a game standpoint, clearly the loss at Minnesota created the most head-scratching. “I would call today a team loss,” coach Kirk Ferentz said after a 22-21 loss against a two-win Minnesota team the Hawkeyes actually led by 11 points with just less than 14 minutes to play. “If you don’t finish drives and get points, that will come back and get you,” Ferentz added. “If you can’t stop the run, at some point it’s going to get you, and we didn’t really do anything to distinguish ourselves on special teams.” From a personnel standpoint, Marcus Coker’s pre-bowl suspension tops the list.

Could have used: As good as Coker was, he could have used a trusted backup. But that wasn’t the case, and that’s why the sophomore carried a whopping 281 times – the sixth-highest total in the nation. The best option, Mika’il McCall, was suspended before the bowl game for reasons unknown. The Hawkeyes could have used him in the bowl game, but instead, turned to more unproven backs.

Offensive MVP: Marvin McNutt rewrote the record books after having the best season — and career — of any Iowa receiver. “Marvin has put the work in,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “You look at two of the guys that he’s passed, Tim Dwight and Danan Hughes. Both had excellent NFL careers. So it is a real tribute to Marvin to make a position switch (from quarterback) and pass two guys who were career receivers at Iowa. It really speaks to the work he has done. I’m really happy to see him have that kind of success.

Defensive MVP: Iowa doesn’t pull off its biggest upset of the season without defensive end Broderick Binns. Against 13th-ranked Michigan, Binns not only had three tackles for loss, but he broke up three passes. The 6-foot-2, 261-pound senior was named to the media’s second all-Big Ten team and his coaches selected him as the team’s defensive MVP after leading the Hawkeyes in tackles for loss with 12. He was second in sacks with five.

Reasons for optimism: Quarterback James Vandenberg returns to guide an offense that could include eight who started — if junior left tackle Riley Reiff chooses college over the NFL draft, and if running back Marcus Coker returns to the team. While there’s a big void with the loss of McNutt, Vandenberg has experienced receivers in Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley. “It’s not like there won’t be anyone to throw to,” McNutt said. “There’s a lot of good guys on this team just waiting their turn.”

Reasons for pessimism: Cynics might think otherwise, but losing three starting defensive linemen never is good. A new defensive coordinator and a new defensive line coach must find a way to shore up a rush defense that allowed an average of 156.0 yards a game. Whoever Ferentz hires, there will be a transition period; not only new coaches instilling new idea, but new starters and their backups now becoming significant contributors. Of course, this all changes if Coker doesn’t return. Then the pessimism factor turns to the running back position.

WHAT’S BACK

Rushing yards

(Assuming Marcus Coker and Mika’il McCall return from suspensions)

Returning: 97.1 percent

Departing: 2.9 percent

Passing yards

Returning: 100.0 percent

Departing: 0 percent

Receiving yards

Returning: 46.6 percent

Departing: 53.4 percent

Scoring

Returning: 74.9 percent

Departing: 25.1 percent

Tackles

Returning: 54.8 percent

Departing: 45.2 percent

Sacks

Returning: 27.3 percent

Departing: 72.7 percent

Tackles for loss

Returning: 32.3 percent

Departing: 67.7 percent

2012 SCHEDULE

Sept. 1 vs. Northern Illinois at Soldier Field

Sept. 8 vs. Iowa State

Sept. 15 vs. Northern Iowa

Sept. 22 vs. Central Michigan

Sept. 29 vs. Minnesota

Oct. 13 at Michigan State

Oct. 20 vs. Penn State

Oct. 27 at Northwestern

Nov. 3 at Indiana

Nov. 10 vs. Purdue

Nov. 17 at Michigan

Nov. 23 vs. Nebraska

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Randy Peterson: Randy Peterson covers college football, college basketball and the Iowa Cubs for the Des Moines Register. Randy can be reached at randypeterson@dmreg.com or on Twitter via @RandyPete View author profile.

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