IOWA CITY — The assumption was that LeVar Woods would be Iowa’s new defensive line coach.
Woods, who’ll be 34 next week, took over for former D-line coach Rick Kaczenski when he left for Nebraska in December. He coached the D-line through the Insight Bowl. At one point, Iowa had just that one opening on defense.
Then, when Phil Parker was announced as Iowa’s next defensive coordinator last month, a game of musical chairs booted up. The trigger had to have been Brian Ferentz and his agreement to coach Iowa’s offensive line. That sent former O-line coach to the D-line and linebackers coach Darrell Wilson to the secondary.
And, oh yeah, Woods to the linebackers.
“I think everybody was just assuming that [Woods to the D-line], and I didn’t step in and say bad assumption,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Bottom line, Woods had a chair. It was just which one.
“It was really getting the best people, but the best people for us in the right spots,” Ferentz said. “I felt like LeVar, we could have gone ahead with keeping him on the defensive line. That was one I had in my mind, certainly. There were a couple spots on offense he could’ve fit in.”
During his intro news conference Wednesday, Woods shrugged off the wild ride of an offseason, which included him making recruiting visits as Iowa’s D-line coach.
“I didn’t assume anything,” said Woods, a former Hawkeye linebacker who spent seven seasons in the NFL. “I was by the seat of my pants with that whole experience.”
Woods, an all-stater during his prep days at West Lyon in northwest Iowa, has been a study in patience since he returned to Iowa City in 2008 as an administrative assistant. He retired from the NFL and wanted to raise his family in Iowa City. Woods always had coaching in the back of his mind. He and Kirk Ferentz even chatted about it in 2000, when Woods was a senior at Iowa.
Adminstrative assistant is a decidedly unsexy, ground-floor kind of a job in college football. His duties included anything and everything. Salary-wise, the job topped out at $38,000, which was a bit of an adjustment from NFL linebacker.
Woods didn’t blink. He wanted his family in Iowa. The coaching thing was a natural move.
“It’s sort of a leap of faith,” Woods said. “My wife [Meghann] and I didn’t come here to do the coaching thing. It was, basically we wanted to raise our kids in Iowa, and coach Ferentz said there’s an opportunity to come on the staff, sort of feel your way through and look at the program from that standpoint.”
Woods counts the time as an administrative assistant as valuable learning time.
“I did everything imaginable for this program and worked in different arenas that I think will help carry me on forward in this career,” he said.
He modestly muted the fact that he had a “couple of opportunities to look elsewhere” during that time. (Wisconsin? Bret Bielema was his position coach in 1999-00.)
The biggest adjustment for Iowa’s youngest coaches is recruiting. Woods got a taste in 2010, the year he filled in while retired defensive coordinator Norm Parker was hospitalized. He was out again this winter being partnered with Phil Parker, Wilson and running backs coach Lester Erb.
“It was wild,” Woods said. “It’s a whole new ballgame.
“All of my recruiting that I’ve done up to this point had been here on campus, and it’s a whole different ballgame when you’re sitting in the living room across from mom and dad and they’re asking questions that you’re not quite sure how to answer or know the answer to.”
Woods inherits an experienced group of linebackers that has been through the training room and back the last couple of seasons.
Junior James Morris, who fought a high-ankle sprain the entire Big Ten schedule last season, is in there somewhere, either weakside or middle linebacker. Junior outside linebacker Christian Kirksey showed a high ceiling against Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl, with seven tackles and one for loss. Middle linebacker might be a mystery with junior Anthony Hitchens (6-1, 224) and sophomore Quinton Alston (6-1, 224) as possibilities.
Iowa linebacker could get a boost from players returning from injury. Juniors Shane DiBona (ruptured Achilles) and Dakota Getz (torn ACL) should return. Sophomore Jim Poggi saw some special teams at the end of 2011 after battling shoulder injuries all season.
Woods didn’t slot anyone this week. He said competition will sort it out.
“When things are competitive, it brings the best out of people,” Woods said. “The people who are competitive, who are true competitors, which is what we want in players, those guys will rise to the top and those guys will help lead the defense and help our team improve.”
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