Following the end of the 2011 football season, Kirk Ferentz said he would be doing a complete evaluation of the Iowa Football program.
Those words weren't new coming from Ferentz. He's said that before and will probably say them again in the future.
Ferentz knew change was coming.
Coach Norm Parker had already announced that he would be heading into retirement. Little did we know that Parker's departure was only the beginning of big changes, which included the departure of offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe to the Miami Dolphins to take over as their wide receivers coach.
One of the final moves Ferentz announced came just as spring practice began. Tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson would keep his recruiting title and move to help new defensive line coach Reese Morgan with those duties. Ferentz said this would free up Johnson to focus more of his day to day work specifically on recruiting and evaluation of prospects.
At the time, most people thought, good move, but it might take time to pay dividends.
With 15 verbal commitments on the board before the calendar turns to July, I guess most of us were probably wrong.
What is clear is that when Ferentz said he was going to do a top to bottom evaluation of the program and he hinted that Iowa Football had to change and he wasn't just paying lip service to that notion.
Ferentz and his staff were off to a pretty good start heading into this past week, but with seven verbal commitments in the past nine days and fifteen total pledges in the fold, folks, we are in completely uncharted waters at this point.
One year ago, Iowa sat at five verbal commitments. Two years ago, the Hawkeyes were at the same number. Three years ago, Iowa had seven verbal commitments heading into July, which was the previous high water mark in the Ferentz era.
Times are changing and Ferentz picked a good time to change with them.
For the past few years, prospects appear to be making their decisions earlier and earlier. Five years ago if you were looking for early verbal commitments in college athletics, it generally came from the world of college basketball. Not anymore.
Earlier this spring we took at look at the Rivals 100 list and over half had already made a verbal commitment. The numbers held true for the Rivals 250, where just over half had made their college choices.
It's probably time to note that all of these commitments, to Iowa and every other school, are non-binding at this point. Prospects will not be able to sign their National Letter of Intent until the first Wednesday in February of 2013. While it's not much fun to talk about for the Hawkeyes or any other program, one has to wonder if the growth in early verbal commitments will lead to more prospects changing their mind in the months of December and January.
Time will tell on that front, but as Hayden Fry might say, the good news is there's a lot of hay in the barn right now and that's a good thing for the Iowa program.
Rivals.com currently had Iowa with the 26th best recruiting class in the country and that's without assigning a star value to three commitments that occurred in the past week. Once Rivals national recruiting experts finish their film evaluations of those prospects, the Hawkeyes will likely see a slight bump in their national standing, perhaps into the Top 20 nationally.
Remember those days in early April when a few Big Ten schools were racing out to a big lead in terms of sheer numbers of recruits? Yep, and Iowa fans were concerned about it because the Hawkeyes were sitting at or near zero.
That is no longer the case. Only eight D1 schools in the country have more verbal commitments than the Hawkeyes following their three person haul on Sunday. Iowa is currently tied for ninth with Texas, a school that routinely has put out the help wanted sign in February and basically filled their class in a few weeks. Iowa now stands second in the Big Ten when it comes to the number of verbal commitments and only trails Michigan, who has a nation leading 22 verbal commitments.
What changed in Iowa City? How did it change?
It seems like Iowa has gotten a bit more aggressive this spring when it comes to pushing prospects along in the decision making process. On Friday we spoke with new commit Sean Welsh, who said that after visiting Iowa earlier in the week, the Hawkeye coaches told him that they were holding a spot for him until Friday and then they would be willing to take a commitment from any offensive line recruit who held an offer.
While something along these lines has happened in the past to help push a recruit into making a decision sooner rather than later, it's working this spring. The combination of a gentle nudge in the right direction couple with recruits wanting to make their intentions known earlier has helped push the Hawkeyes to fifteen commitments.
It also appears that the staffing changes and position coaching movement has reenergized the coaching staff. New offensive line coach Brian Ferentz has picked up three verbal commitments from his recruiting turf, including two in the last week.
What is even more remarkable about Iowa's hot start in recruiting is that until Sunday, the Hawkeyes had not received a verbal commitment from an in-state prospect. In fact, of the fifteen verbal commitments, nine states are represented (Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio, Texas, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, and Indiana).
One aspect to all of this that could be in play is simply that Ferentz wants to get as close to wrapping up his 2013 recruiting as possible. Let's face it, with new coordinators on both sides of the football; Ferentz would likely want the focus of his staff turn to coaching and teaching, rather than recruiting once fall camp beings in August. The Hawkeye coaches will obviously have to do their fair share of babysitting the verbal commitments during the season, but it's a heck of a lot easier do that than getting a verbal commitment from an uncommitted prospect.
The key thing here is that Iowa isn't settling for a recruit as a "fallback" option. It's still very early in the recruiting cycle and the prospects picking up offers and committing are doing so in April, May, and June, and not at the last minute before signing day.
It's been an exciting couple of weeks and months on the recruiting trail and now we wait to see how many verbal commitments the Hawkeyes will pile up before the start of the 2013 season. Thus far, the early reviews on Ferentz and his changes to the Iowa program have been very positive.
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