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Pat Harty: Blazek, Hernandez each would make great recruiters

[ 0 ] April 23, 2014 |

This hardly is going out on a limb, but I’ll predict that the next recruiting coordinator for the Iowa football team uses initials for his first name, including the letter J.

When the time comes to replace Eric Johnson as his recruiting coordinator, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz ultimately will choose between former Hawkeye center and current Western Illinois assistant coach A.J. Blazek and current Iowa graduate assistant D.J. Hernandez.

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Ferentz met with the media Wednesday and said he was surprised by Johnson’s decision to resign after 15 years on the staff. Johnson has since announced on Twitter that he plans to open a Culver’s restaurant in Hendersonville, Tenn., in November. Johnson graduated from Vanderbilt University, which is located in nearby Nashville, Tenn.

“We were all surprised a little bit on one hand, but also understand totally,” Ferentz said Wednesday. “He’s got a young family. So I just wanted to say, again, how much we appreciate all that he’s done. He’s been here from day one, 15-plus years now, and he’s done a wonderful job in a lot of different roles. But you couldn’t ask for anybody to do a better job than did he. I wish him all the best as he moves forward.”

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The feedback I’m getting since Johnson announced Friday that he was resigning is that Ferentz would be making a wise choice by hiring either Blazek or Hernandez. One former Iowa player said Wednesday that hiring Blazek as the recruiting coordinator would be a home run. The former player raved about Blazek’s infectious personality, his knowledge of the game, his passion for the Hawkeyes and his ability to mold young men.

The former Hawkeye also spoke highly of Hernandez, who coaches the Iowa tight ends. He praised Hernandez, who will turn 28 on May 18, for his ability to relate to players and for his drive and energy.

Drive and energy are without question two requirements for a recruiting coordinator. It also helps to be charismatic and trustworthy, the kind of person who makes recruits feel comfortable.

The job as recruiting coordinator is important at any major college, but even more so at Iowa, which has to overcome a low instate population.

The 35-year-old Blazek might have an advantage in that he played at Iowa for two seasons in 1999 and 2000, which were Ferentz’s first two seasons as coach. Blazek was a co-captain as a senior in 2000 and he twice made academic all-Big Ten.

Blazek then spent four seasons as a member of the Iowa coaching staff, the first year as a student assistant before becoming a graduate assistant for three seasons. His time at Iowa coincided with Brian Ferentz’s time as an Iowa offensive lineman.

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Brian Ferentz now coaches the Iowa offensive line, so it’s reasonable to assume that he and Blazek share a mutual respect.

Blazek helped lay the foundation as a player under Kirk Ferentz before helping with the resurgence as an assistant coach.

I remember Blazek as being engaging and articulate with the media, and always having a smile on his face and something encouraging to say.

Those close to Blazek say nothing has changed.

Hernandez is entering his second season with the Hawkeyes. He also was a captain for his college football team at the University of Connecticut, earning that title for two seasons. He played quarterback and receiver for the Huskies and was recognized as a Scholar Athlete in 2008 and he made the Dean’s List in both 2007 and 2008.

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Hernandez has had the terrible misfortune of dealing with his younger brother Aaron Hernandez’s murder case, but from all reports, D.J. Hernandez hasn’t let it affect his performance.

D.J. was instrumental in helping former Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz earn first-team all-Big Ten accolades as a senior last season.

It’s also reasonable to think that D.J. would have recruiting connections on the East Coast that could pay dividends.

Ferentz doesn’t have to rush to find a replacement for Johnson, with spring practice ending Saturday. Ferentz will be meticulous in his approach like he always is when adding a new member to his staff.

It’ll be a little different hiring a recruiting coordinator rather than a position coach, but Ferentz’s decision still will come down to finding the best fit.

“Obviously, the area of expertise is important, but I don’t want to put any restrictions on any applicants or prospects that way,” Ferentz said. “But it’s like everything, we are just trying to get people that we really think are going to be great fits here, embrace our culture and feel comfortable working with our staff and our staff working with them. I guess that’s the most important thing. And then we can tailor the job description or they can learn whatever they have to learn on the run.”

Other candidates likely will emerge during Ferentz’s search, but it’s hard to think of any more qualified than Blazek and Hernandez for this particular job.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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