IOWA CITY — It was never warm or fuzzy, but it kind of worked.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos were never on the same page. You could argue they were barely on the same planet during the wide receiver’s five seasons as a Hawkeye.
From the interview session in 2007 when “DJK” wore a hat, sunglasses and earrings to Tuesday’s drug arrests, Johnson-Koulianos and Ferentz just haven’t been that into each other.
Johnson-Koulianos, 23, faces seven charges: four counts of possession of controlled substances, two counts of unlawful possession of prescription drugs and one count of keeping a drug house. These are all misdemeanors.
This fall, Ferentz was asked what exactly the reason was for Johnson-Koulianos’ media ban.
“He likes the limelight more than I do,” Ferentz said. “He’d be a great head coach. You guys would love him. The press conferences would go four hours a day. He’d be having fun and you guys would be having fun.”
Johnson-Koulianos, a native of Campbell, Ohio, started his career at Iowa as an August recruit in 2006. He signed on with very little fanfare. Then, ESPN analyst and Ohio native Kirk Herbstreit talked him up during a Big Ten media day in Chicago five years ago.
That set the expectations for Johnson-Koulianos somewhere between super hero and superstar.
“I watched him in the Big 33 [a high school all-star game] and thought, this kid’s dynamic,’” Herbstreit said this summer. “I knew when he went to Iowa, I knew it was just a matter of he and Kirk getting on the same page and if that ever happened, huge things could happen for him. I think that’s kind of where they are right now.”
With 17-word statement from Ferentz, this relationship seemingly ended Tuesday night.
“I am highly disappointed to learn of the charges. Derrell has been suspended from all team activities,” Ferentz said.
Their relationship might most easily be distilled to this.
Ferentz has a thumb that is gnarled for some reason, maybe from his days as a linebacker at UConn. Johnson-Koulianos might have a had a manicure or two during his days in Iowa City.
It might be as simple as that, gnarled thumbnail vs. manicure.
“No words,” Johnson-Koulianos said of his relationship with Ferentz during Iowa’s media day in August, his last public interview as a Hawkeye. “It’s a visual understanding. I look at him, he looks at me, and that’s it. He doesn’t have to say anything.”
The kicker is that this worked, kind of. Johnson-Koulianos leaves Iowa as the school’s career leader in receptions (173) and receiving yards (2,616). He led Iowa in receiving his first three seasons and caught 10 TD passes this season, more than he had his first three.
As Ferentz and Johnson-Koulianos played out over five years of media bannings, non-starts and quarter or half suspensions, things were much more complicated.
“He might slip on a banana peel every now and then,” Ferentz said in 2009, explaining, sort of, why Johnson-Koulianos was held out the first half of Arkansas State. “He has worked hard. He had a good spring and a good camp.”
In the same thought . . .
“Talking about the Web sites and the fan perceptions, it sounds as though everyone has this thing about a doghouse,” Ferentz said. “I remember Earl Weaver (former Baltimore Orioles manager) and reading something about him saying he didn’t have doghouses for players.
“A guy might get on my list for a while, but I’m not big on that stuff. I’m all for helping guys improve. That’s the business we’re supposed to be in, teaching kids how to improve and do things. I think he’s going to have a good season and we really feel good about him.”
Ferentz did reveal at some point this fall that Johnson-Koulianos had a class scheduled during practice on Wednesdays. It probably rankled Ferentz that a fifth-year senior couldn’t clear his schedule for practice. With a media ban in place — which was sometimes voluntary, Ferentz said — Johnson-Koulianos’ side of that story was never heard.
“One thing I’ve always told him and have told everybody, the less said, the less you have to take back,” Ferentz said. “Maybe he’s caught on to that a little bit, but I’m sure he’s going to tell all in January.
“He’s got a good thing going. I think he’s in a groove, he’s in a mode. So, why screw that up? I didn’t ask him, but I’m guessing that’s what he’s thinking. Plus, I just said a minute ago for him and I to think that we could think alike, there’s probably not too many areas we’d agree on.”
After Iowa’s crushing loss in the season finale at Minnesota, Johnson-Koulianos made a quick Facebook reference to the “tell all” press conference briefly after he wasn’t allowed to start.
In early December, the two had an intense meeting in Ferentz’s office.
“An Internet legend, I don’t know if I’m excited about that,” Johnson-Koulianos said in 2008, “I’d rather be an on-the-field legend, but you’ve got to start somewhere I guess.”
Not long after he was bailed out of Johnson County Jail on Tuesday night, Johnson-Koulianos’ Facebook accounts were deleted.
In the Johnson County Courthouse on Wednesday morning, Johnson-Koulianos hugged four people. No one from Iowa was there. The only mention of football was from a woman who sat in from of him. She was a Wisconsin fan and said she was sorry her team beat the Hawkeyes.
One gentleman in an Iowa jacket looked back at Johnson-Koulianos and shook his head.
This relationship is over.