One of Kirk Ferentz’s biggest criticisms as a football coach is that he’s too stubborn and lacks imagination.
He’s accused of living in the past and being too rigid when things go awry. His offense has been criticized for being too conservative and too predictable, while his defense doesn’t take enough chances to make big plays.
As for his approach to recruiting, that’s a completely different story. Even Ferentz’s harshest critics would have to agree that he’s thinking outside the box and trying to stay ahead of his competition by using new ways to connect with recruits.
Actually, it’s not that Ferentz is thinking outside the box, but rather he’s allowing his staff to do so, most notably 26-year-old administrative assistant Max Allen.
He is largely responsible for Iowa’s new approach to recruiting, which includes using Photoshop to enhance the mail sent out to specific prospects. The letters come in the form of puzzles, comic strips and also as a homage to the cover of Sports Illustrated that’s titled Hawkeye Illustrated. Each illustration is designed for a specific recruit and can’t be larger than 8½ by 11 inches, per NCAA rules.
Three-star running back recruit Devine Ozigbo recently posted on his Twitter account a piece of mail that he had received from the Iowa coaches. It came in the form of a puzzle and shows a photo illustration of Ozigbo avoiding a tackle in a high school game with Kinnick Stadium serving as the background.
“So far, no one has done mail like Iowa!” Ozigbo said on Twitter.
— Devine Ozigbo (@DevineOzigbo22) March 29, 2014
That’s exactly what Allen wants to hear, because recruiting is mostly about being noticed.
“What we’re trying to do is create unique personalized mailings so that our prospective student-athletes can get excited about what’s being sent to them,” Allen said Thursday morning. “It’s good to know that what we’re creating and putting out there is being received well by other prospects. That’s what we want to do.”
Allen wants to give recruits incentive to open Iowa’s mail instead of tossing it on a pile and forgetting about it. Some of the mailings come as pieces to a bigger puzzle that when completed shows a picture of a recruit in action with color-coordinated Kinnick Stadium serving as the background.
“I’ve seen photos that these guys post and they’ll have a stack of mail from various schools, and there is so much of it that it’s hard for me to believe that they open it all,” Allen said. “So the message that’s in these mailings I feel gets lost a lot of the time. So these coaches are spending all this time sending them out and it’s not getting to their target.
“So what I’ve been trying to do is create these mailings for these guys to get excited about. So when they see that envelope from Iowa show up at their door it’s not going in that stack. They’re going to see that one and open up because it’ll have their photo on it. It’ll have their name and a cool sign out front.”
On the back of each letter is a message or words of encouragement from a member of the Iowa coaching staff.
“That’s the stuff we’re really trying to get out,” Allen said. “It’s a good design on the front, so they’re opening it, which is what we want. And then they read the note on the back, which is the message that we are trying to get to them.”
Allen started his current job in July. He was hired to replace Ferentz’s son-in-law, Tyler Barnes, who now works with the Vanderbilt football program.
Ferentz also hired three new assistants before the start of last season in receivers coach Bobby Kennedy, running backs coach Chris White and linebackers coach Jim Reid. Ferentz’s son, Brian Ferentz, also joined the staff in 2012 as the offensive line coach.
With the transition came a change in recruiting philosophy. The coaches decided, with Kirk Ferentz’s blessing, that it was time to be more creative.
“Just in the past couple of years, there have been some new coaches added to the staff and I think they wanted to pursue new recruiting endeavors and just some new stuff to get our name out there in a different way,” Allen said. “I’ve a fallen in love with Iowa and the fans of Iowa City. It’s been an awesome opportunity and it’s definitely different from anything they’ve done before. I really think it’s different than anyone is really doing in the country.”
Allen hardly was an expert with Photoshop when he came to Iowa. He learned to work with it the old fashioned way.
“Before I got here, I had very limited knowledge and skills when it came to that,” Allen said. “But I use it a lot so with practice and repetition and being on it all the time, I’ve kind of built these skills up to do what I’m doing now.”
Allen knew about Iowa’s success under Ferentz just from watching the Hawkeyes play over the years.
“I had followed college football for a long time, since I was old enough to remember,” Allen said. “Coach Ferentz has been at Iowa since I was 11 or 12 years old. And just watching them play on national TV and in bowl games basically every year, I got to know the program pretty well.”
Allen also knew Kennedy after working with him at the University of Colorado, where Allen graduated with a degree in Finance. Kennedy still was new to the Iowa coaching staff last summer when he informed Allen about the job opportunity.
Allen interviewed for the position and was hired shortly thereafter. He had served as Colorado’s assistant recruiting coordinator in his previous job.
“It feels good to come in the office and feel that what you’re doing is making a difference,” Allen said. “It’s just been awesome to have this staff be so supportive and really give me freedom to come into the office every day and work on different ideas and come to me with new ideas, too, and trust me to do something that is going to appeal to a prospective student-athlete.
A native of Durango, Colo., Allen chose to major in Finance partly because he felt it would increase his opportunities for employment. He also had a passion for art and now gets to feed that passion with his current job.
“Being a finance major, I didn’t know what I wanted to get into, so I felt like that was a pretty good all-encompassing major,” Allen said. “I didn’t see myself getting into the creative design part of things. But I’ve always had a great appreciation for art and artistic people. I just surrounded myself with friends who either worked in video or creative design and art and always loved being around that. So it’s been fun to kind of join their realm.”
Allen is now surrounded by football coaches who appreciate his creativity and his work ethic.
“He’s been a tremendous resource for us,” Iowa linebackers coach LeVar Woods said. “I think it’s been good for kids. I’ve heard a lot of kids say while we may not send the most mail, but we send the best mail. And that is kind of what we want to do. We want to get their attention.”
In other words, Ferentz’s staff is trying not to be boring and predictable.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football