Bruce Kittle did no college football coaching between leaving Hayden Fry’s University of Iowa staff after the 1985 season and joining Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma program a quarter-century later.
Today he is an assistant coach for one of the nation’s most-prestigious college teams, with a resume unlike any of his peers.
Kittle’s playing days ended after the 1981 season. He was a four-year letterman, a starting offensive tackle and a team captain for the first of Fry’s three Rose Bowl squads. He then spent two years as a graduate assistant coach and two more as voluntary assistant for Fry.
In 1998, Kittle reflected back and said “I started to see it as less of my life and more of a game.” His new direction was Iowa’s law school. He finished in the top 10 percent of his class. Since then he was:
A lawyer in two private practices. An assistant law professor at the University of Wisconsin. A graduate with a master’s in divinity at Chicago Theological Seminary. An executive officer for Iowa’s Sixth District Department of Correctional Services. A director of restorative justice programs for the Iowa Peace Institute. The pastor at Faith United Church of Christ in Iowa City.
Those are jobs and titles. Behind them was someone who was trying to do right for people, to try to help people make better choices in life, to mentor people. For instance, Kittle became the restorative justice planner with the state of Wisconsin’s Division of Community Corrections. Restorative justice tries to restore the victim and the offender. Kittle mediated several meetings between murderers and the families of the victims.
After he moved back to Eastern Iowa in 2001, among Kittle’s many roles was one as the prevention program supervisor for Youth Leadership Program. That program offers youth in grades 6-12 positive experiences where they can learn leadership and responsibility. A few times, Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz and Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops were co-featured speakers at YLP benefit dinners in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.
Kittle is linked closely to both coaches. He was a senior tackle for first-year Iowa offensive line coach in Ferentz in 1981. His college roommate was Stoops, who invited him to join the Oklahoma staff last year as on-campus recruiting coordinator. When Kevin Wilson left the OU staff last year to become Indiana’s head coach, Stoops made Kittle his assistant coach for tackles and tight ends.
“I always felt in my heart … his heart was in coaching,” Stoops told The Oklahoman after promoting Kittle to assistant coach. “I felt it all along.”
Recently, I tracked Kittle down on the phone. He was in Seattle, where he’d just arrived. From San Diego. Recruiting. It was the three-week full-contact period, and Kittle was seeing America. Not long before, he had landed a prominent recruit from Tallahassee, Fla.
“Not that my other professions weren’t very satisfying,” Kittle said, “but being around all these young men with the chance to shape them and work with them, and being immersed in a group of people who are this passionate about something and want to be successful at it, I’ve never found anything that gave me a rush like this.”
He was a frequent visitor to Iowa’s football offices after he moved back to Iowa City several years ago, but Kittle really got re-hooked on coaching when he helped with coaching the youth teams his son was on. He then spent a couple years helping with the Northwest Junior High team in Iowa City. And then, a year at West High, followed by a year working on the Cedar Falls High staff of Pat Mitchell, who coached Kittle in high school.
“As that progressed I was putting my name out there at a couple of places,” Kittle said. He asked Stoops to put in a good word for him with other college coaches. Stoops caught him by surprise in early 2010 by asking him to join his own staff. Kittle couldn’t do any actual coaching last season, but he could attend practices and sit in on meetings. He had his foot in a very large door, and that door opened wide after last season.
Now, Kittle will coach in the Insight Bowl against none other the Iowa team headed by his longtime friend, Ferentz.
“When I worked with the offensive line at Iowa with Kirk, there were three main things I took away. One was X’s and O’s, stuff that kind of comes and goes. Then there was actual technique.
“But the thing that ties it all together and the reason Kirk is such a great coach is his attention to detail. He expects players to have that same attention to detail.
“That all feeds together to teach and inspire guys to be great, and it all starts with helping them make choices to get a lot of things right.”
Back in the first half of the 1980s, Ferentz and Kittle would get in a car in the summer and go try to learn some football.
“He was a football junkie open to getting better,” said Kittle. “We’d go on summer trips to see his mentors, driving all over the country to see other offensive line gurus.”
Kittle was a Hawkeye. He steered all sorts of Iowa athletes to work in the summer on that Youth Leadership Program. Now he’s a Sooner, studying game film of Iowa’s defense.
“It’s a little odd,” Kittle said. “Kirk’s certainly a mentor of mine. The foundation of a lot of what we do at Oklahoma comes from Kirk and his offensive line coaching. He’s been a pretty good influence on us.”
Bruce Kittle’s Professional Experience (from SoonerSports.com)
2011-present – Oklahoma
Assistant Coach, Tight Ends & Tackles
2010-11 – Oklahoma
On-Campus Recruiting Coordinator
2009-10 – Cedar Falls High School
Assistant Football Coach
2008-09 – Iowa City West High School
Assistant Football Coach
2007-10 – Faith United Church of Christ
Pastor (Iowa City)
2006-08 – Northwest Junior High School
Football Coach (Iowa City_
2003-10 – Sixth District Dept. of Correctional Services
2000-03 – Iowa Peace Institute
Director of Restorative Justice Programs
1994-2000 – University of Wisconsin Law School
Clinical Assistant Professor
1992-94 – Michael, Best & Friedrich Law
1990-92 – Simmons, Perrine, Albright & Elwood Law
1989-90 – U.S. Federal Court of Appeals, 8th Circuit
1982-86 – Iowa
Graduate Assistant Coach
• Member and certified mediator with the Iowa Association of Mediators, Wisconsin Association of Mediators and Victim Offender Mediation Association.
• Member in good standing and admitted to practice law in Iowa and Wisconsin State Bars.
• Member of Seventh and Eighth Circuits U.S. Federal Courts.
• Ordained Clergy with standing in Eastern Association, Iowa Conference, United Church of Christ, UCC Christians for Justice Action Network, Protestant Justice Action Network, Fellowship of Reconciliation.