IOWA CITY — Michael Vick, Leonard Little, Ray Lewis.
The first was found guilty of federal felony charges because for an implication in an illegal interstate dogfighting ring. The second pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. The third had murder charges dropped after agreeing to testify against two co-defendants and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice.
They were established NFL players at the time of their arrests. Vick returned to the NFL after serving 21 months in prison. The other two didn’t have their careers interrupted.
If an NFL organization thinks a player can or does make its team better, it gets in the second-chance (third-chance, etc.) business.
No matter what kind of feelings anyone in the Iowa football program may have shared about wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, he would have been in an NFL camp this summer if a team strongly believed he would be an asset.
Johnson-Koulianos was dropped from the Hawkeyes’ squad last Dec. 7 after he was arrested on five counts of drug possession. All but a charge for possession of marijuana were dismissed.
The list of NFL players with worse rap sheets could stretch from Lambeau Field to the Superdome. So it has been a mystery to many why Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa’s leader in career catches and receiving yards, didn’t get invited to a single NFL camp as a free agent.
Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is as respected and trusted a college coach as there is in NFL minds. He was an NFL assistant for six years. He has friends up and down the league. His son, Brian, coaches on Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots staff. On virtually every weekday during the season, a few NFL scouts are welcomed in the Iowa complex to watch tape.
Trying to scare those NFL folks away from Johnson-Koulianos, Ferentz said, isn’t something he’s done.
Rob Howe of HawkeyeInsider.com of the Scout.com network, raised and pursued the issue Tuesday. Howe is a good, fair-minded reporter. Here is part of an exchange he had with Ferentz Tuesday.
Howe: You guys have had a good history, successful history of guys that come through your program and get into NFL training camps even if they’re not drafted. Are you surprised that Derrell never got into a camp this off-season?
Ferentz: I mean, when it comes to who the NFL, what they see and what they choose to do, I don’t know if I’d ever be surprised. They all do their homework, and it’s in their hands.
Howe: He reached out to me and said that he thinks that you maybe have said some negative things about him that’s kept him out. Can you comment on that?
Ferentz: Yeah, first of all, I really don’t want to go into a dissertation with someone that didn’t finish the season, other than to say, typically players’ actions speak for themselves, and I haven’t slammed any player to anybody since I’ve been here. That would be a no, I guess, right? ...
Howe: Did NFL people contact you about him and ask you about his character?
Ferentz: No. ... I had very few questions in the fall, quite frankly. So on that topic I can unequivocally say nobody has asked me anything since and including December. ...
Howe: You had 75 of 82 (senior starters) from ... 2002 to 2009 that got into camps. It seems a little puzzling that a guy that is Iowa’s all-time leading receiver couldn’t find his way into a camp.
Ferentz: Again, I’ll go back, I haven’t said anything negative about anybody, period. And the other thing I’d just add, I imagine most of the guys that ended up in NFL camps probably played in their last game as a senior on the team. That would be my guess. ...
No matter how many NFL players have run afoul of the law, the word “cocaine” is a major red flag to the league whether a charge was dropped or not. Multiple sources including Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported Iowa’s Christian Ballard failed a drug test at this year’s NFL Combine. It wasn’t coke, and Ballard got drafted.
Also, Johnson-Koulianos wasn’t an A.J. Green or Julio Jones, two of the first six NFL draftees this year. He was a very good college player who did some very good things. But again, you have to think if a pro team thought he could have made a significant difference it would have brought him to camp, perceived character risk or not.
Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ two best rookies were running back LeGarrette Blount and receiver Mike Williams.
Blount was suspended by Oregon Coach Chip Kelly for 10 games in the 2009 season after punching a Boise State player in the season-opener and had disciplinary problems at Oregon before that. Williams missed his 2008 season at Syracuse because of academic suspension. He quit the team in midseason the following year for undisclosed reasons.
The Buccaneers joined the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals as the three teams that had scouts attend a workout Johnson-Koulianos held in Iowa City the same day in March as the Hawkeyes’ conducted a pro day for scouts of every NFL club.
“There’s already been discussion that I’m not getting very good feedback from inside the (Iowa) program,” Johnson-Koulianos told The Gazette’s Scott Dochterman that day. “I knew that was going to happen. I’m not surprised by that.”
But if you were Ferentz, you’d do what he said he does. Which is this:
“If an NFL guy asks me a question, I answer it very candidly.”
Over 30 Ferentz-coached players are in the league today. That’s in the top 10 of all schools, more than Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State or Wisconsin can claim. None of those players got or kept their jobs on recommendation alone.
NFL teams had nine months to assess Johnson-Koulianos from his arrest to the day they could sign undrafted free agents. That’s a lot of time to draw conclusions.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Johnson-Koulianos told this to Chris Hassel of WHO-TV in Des Moines:
“Multiple NFL sources have confirmed that I didn’t get great reviews from Iowa I was also told from someone of great power if I caused any more headaches, they would make sure the NFL knew about it. That was said to my face, prior to my arrest. You do the math. ... I would like you to know that I want nothing but the absolute best for head coach Kirk Ferentz and everything Iowa. ... While I want nothing more than to get back on the field, I’m afraid those chances are no more.”
Also Tuesday, Johnson-Koulianos posted the following on Twitter:
“I blame no1. The media is keeping this issue alive not I.”
Fine. Let’s get back to this season, and fast.