IOWA CITY — Lester Erb took over as Iowa’s running backs coach in 2008. His first back was Shonn Greene, who set Iowa’s single-season rushing record and won the Doak Walker Award.
Since Greene, who’s now a New York Jet, Iowa has struggled to keep enough running backs to fill a depth chart.
Between 2009 and 2011, Iowa has lost five running backs for a variety of reasons, from transfer to dismissal to quitting the sport. Brandon Wegher, Adam Robinson and Marcus Coker started for Iowa. Wegher scored a freshman record eight TDs in 2009. Robinson climbed to No. 12 on Iowa’s career rushing list before being dismissed after 2010. Coker was No. 2 in the Big Ten and is No. 12 in Iowa history, but he transferred after an investigation for an alleged sexual assault.
Jewel Hampton also transferred to Southern Illinois after 2010. Mika’il McCall also transferred to SIU after last season. He was suspended and decided to transfer.
Yes, it’s been frustrating for the running backs coach.
“We’re dealing with 18- to 22-year-old guys,” said Erb, who started at Iowa as wide receivers coach in 2000. “As you know, 18- to 22-years old, you don’t always make the best decisions.
“As much as we can educate these guys, and Kirk [head coach Ferentz] does a great job of educating these guys on the pitfalls of being a college student, especially a college football player, I mean, through the various program speakers, we have had a number of examples, obviously, but really it comes down to decision making.
“As coaches, we can’t be with those guys 24 hours a day. It really comes down to education and hoping those guys make good decisions.”
The transfers had Erb evaluate his approach, he said.
“It’s an educational process,” he said. “Whether you’re a parent, whether you’re a teacher, when your students don’t always get the message, you have to re-evaluate what you’re doing.”
Coker’s departure was especially stunning. It also leaves the Hawkeyes largely unproven at running back. This spring, sophomores Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock will get the majority of practice. Incoming freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill will add to the mix in the fall.
Canzeri took No. 1 repetitions on Wednesday. Bullock shared No. 2 with sophomore De’Andre Johnson.
“The guys we have had in the room have been eager to learn,” Erb said. “As a coach, you kind of start over every year anyhow, but I’ve had some practice at it.”
Rise of the graduate assistants
Head coach Kirk Ferentz announced a staff shift on Wednesday, with tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson switching to defensive line assistant and full-time recruiting coordinator.
Graduate assistant David Raih, a former Iowa quarterback, will take over tight ends.
Ferentz also announced Chris Polizzi has been hired as a graduate assistant. He comed to Iowa after serving as a grad assistant at Utah last season, coaching tight ends and assisting with defensive scout team.
Schools are now allowed four graduate assistants, who are allowed to stay at a school for three years.
The lineups and depth charts aren’t anything to write in ink at this point, but Iowa’s No. 1 offensive line included redshirt freshman Austin Blythe at right guard Wednesday. He was joined by three-years starting center James Ferentz, returning guard Matt Tobin, left tackle Brandon Scherff and right tackle Brett Van Sloten.
Senior Casey McMillan practiced with the defensive line. He’s played O-line his previous three seasons.
Defensive linemen Dominic Alvis (ACL) and Carl Davis (knee surgery) weren’t in pads.