What do you do when your boss, who obviously enjoys your work, taps you on the shoulder and points you to another department. The department you’re in is shipping. The new one the boss want you to take over is receiving.
What you do is pull up your sleeves, educate yourself and get to it. This what Iowa D-line coach Reese Morgan has been up to the last month.
Morgan moves to D-line after nine seasons coaching Iowa’s offensive line. He said they’re very young up front and not ready to play this spring. He also said he sees possibly eight players in a rotation.
He also touched on a pair of redshirt freshmen who’ll factor, DT Darian Cooper and DE Riley McMinn.
“From a young standpoint, Darian Cooper I think is going to be an excellent player. He has some natural tools. But he’s very, very raw, very young, learning the system, just like his attitude.
“Riley McMinn is another guy, I think he’s got a big upside. Riley is very raw. Not there physically. He’s a 240‑some‑pound freshman going against a guy that’s a little older and bigger than him.”
Morgan and the D-line know all eyes are on them. It’s Iowa’s youngest unit and its coach is in his first year coaching defense on the Big Ten level.
“When you have a group of guys, a lot of people are just, you know, they’re kind of the hotspot right now, you know. If we can somehow help them believe in themselves a little bit more, if they can trust what we’re trying to do, and if we get them to play as hard as they can and give great effort, then teach a little fundamentals, teach some technique, teach some things along the way. Our thing is about daily improvement. If they can get a little bit better each and every day.”
COACH MORGAN: Spring ball is a third of the way through. We’ve have five practices, three padded, two unpadded. We have a young, inexperienced group. They’re eager to learn. They’re great young men. They’ve bought into what we’re trying to do. Really it’s been fun.
For me on a personal note, I am absolutely loving it, enjoying it. What a great opportunity Coach Ferentz has provided. You miss the guys you’ve worked with obviously, but they’re still out there. You can still have the relationships. But this is just a great group of young guys to work with.
In addition to that, you’re on the other side of the ball, working with a new staff. Been fun being in the room with Phil Parker, Darrell Wilson, LeVar Woods, and Eric Johnson is helping us as well.
We’re off to a good start. We’re not ready to play a game. We’re young. I’m sure we’ll have a few questions that will address that.
Q. What was your initial reaction when you were asked to make that switch and how has that transition been for you?
COACH MORGAN: I’ll tell you, coach has a plan for everything. As you well know, he’s a tremendous coach. When he presented this opportunity and challenge, I was excited about it. I was a little bit shocked at first thinking, Oh, wow.
But it really has been, the transition, has been great. I’m trying to learn from everybody. We’ve got some former NFL players that are here training and so forth. Had the opportunity to make a couple visits and talk to people.
It’s just like anything else, in your profession, you’re trying to be the best you can be, you’re trying to learn from other people, so forth. Certainly I’m in that situation now as well.
Q. In what way has Eric Johnson been helping you out?
COACH MORGAN: Eric’s job is with the recruiting. Eric knows the defense. He’s been on the defense. He was a player in the defense. He was a student assistant, a GA in the defense at Vanderbilt with Norm. He was kind of available there. We were able to kind of steal him away from recruiting for a few practices. It’s been really a benefit.
Q. Everyone in your position group, the young guys, apparently all of them are getting more of a chance than they have in the past. Are there a couple guys that emerged?
COACH MORGAN: I’ll tell you what, it’s really hard to tell right now. I can tell you this: no one, even the guys that have played, which are very few, has a spot set, regardless of their year or age in school. We’re going to play the best four guys.
I could see us realistically playing six, seven, eight guys realistically. I think we’re probably going to have to do that to a certain extent.
I think the progress has been good. I think some guys have stepped up and risen and taken advantage of their opportunities.
I would mention‑‑ without mentioning all the guys, I can go through and talk about them, but I think a guy that to me has really bought into it, is really trying hard, been on the scout team a lot of the, is Louis Trinca‑Pasat. Steve Bigach, leader of the group, Steve has been on the field and played. He’s respected by the players because of his knowledge and because he’s such a hard worker. He cares about the other guys. He’s trying to help ‘em out a little bit.
From a young standpoint, Darian Cooper I think is going to be an excellent player. He has some natural tools. But he’s very, very raw, very young, learning the system, just like his attitude.
Riley McMinn is another guy, I think he’s got a big upside. Riley is very raw. Not there physically. He’s a 240‑some‑pound freshman going against a guy that’s a little older and bigger than him.
Mike Hardy is a guy, we’ve been pleased with his progress. Bud Spears, Melvin Spears, has gotten better each and every day. He’s a guy you feel pretty good about.
We’ve got a group of guys that nobody knows about or anything else. But I’m excited to work with them.
Q. Do you see any true freshmen (indiscernible)?
COACH MORGAN: It’s tough at that position. I think either line position, it’s hard to do because of the physical nature. Certainly those two young men would have physical ability to do that possibly. It remains to be seen, it really does. We’ll have to see how things go in August. If they happen to be here training in August, how they progress.
It’s the physical part, the mental part, then the toughness part. Football is a tough game. Thank goodness not always the most talented guys are the guys that play. It’s the guys that are the most productive.
Example, Tom Nardo last year. Who is going to be the next guy? Who is going to be the next Tom Nardo, Karl Klug? That’s the challenge we have for these guys.
Q. What would your expectations for Carl Davis be when he comes back?
COACH MORGAN: Just like they are for everybody else. The beauty that Carl has done, Dominic as well, during their time away, their role has changed, okay? Their role has changed. They now have become mentors for players. They’re now coaching the guys. When the ones are in, they’re coaching the twos. They’re back there interacting with them. Both guys have been on the field, although Carl has been limited. Dom has been out there, had a chance to feel it. He was out there a year ago, am I good enough to play, I’ve had some injuries.
Carl’s role has been really good. The expectations for him will be extremely high because he’s played. But he is a young guy. He is a young guy. But I’m impressed with his knowledge of the defense and the fundamentals.
Q. How much do you know enjoy the challenge of trying to rebuild this division right now?
COACH MORGAN: I better like it (laughter). It’s fun. When you have a group of guys, a lot of people are just, you know, they’re kind of the hotspot right now, you know. If we can somehow help them believe in themselves a little bit more, if they can trust what we’re trying to do, and if we get them to play as hard as they can and give great effort, then teach a little fundamentals, teach some technique, teach some things along the way. Our thing is about daily improvement. If they can get a little bit better each and every day.
Our opponent right now is ourselves. Our challenge is how much can we improve. Can we watch yesterday’s tape and can we show improvement from yesterday to today. Are they getting their hands inside more, pad level better, footwork better. If our guys buy into that, we have a chance.
Q. Has it been difficult to put your ego aside in some way, now have to ask people how to coach the position or former players?
COACH MORGAN: Not at all. I tell you what, first of all, I’m just fortunate as heck. I don’t call this work. How many people can show up, get paid well, do what they love to do, they’d do it for nothing. Just like many of you are passionate about your job. I mean, this is what we like to do. It’s so much fun.
Ego‑wise, I remember getting turned down for high school jobs, interviewing for them. I remember coaching junior high boys basketball, not knowing anything about it, having a guy come in who ended up winning a couple of state titles in girl’s basketball, Jim Scheffler (phonetic). He said, You organize the practice, deal with the parents, take care of the discipline, I’ll help with the other stuff.
I think what it is, Coach Ferentz is such a great man, I think he’s created a culture here where everybody wants to do things, wants to help out. I feel very fortunate to be a part of it, quite honestly.
Q. The perception from the outside is that the D‑line is the most inexperienced ‘weaker’ part because there aren’t any named players. Do guys have a chip on their shoulders?
COACH MORGAN: I haven’t heard that much. I kind of caught the gist.
I think sometimes, and I don’t know how much our guys pay attention to really what’s going on out there in the media, but I think it’s obvious they have to, but they do on their own. Hopefully they’ll want to have a little bit of that chip on their shoulder, that mentality that, Hey, we can play, too.
We’re not pigeonholed. We can’t go out and recruit anybody right now. We’ve got the guys we have. We have 10 guys right now in spring ball that can participate. Our job is to do the best we can at getting those guys to improve, develop them, have them understand conceptually what’s going on, understand the fundamentals of football, leverage, pad level, effort, toughness, all that stuff.
Q. You have been a two‑gap. Is that going to continue or does that change?
COACH MORGAN: You might want to talk to Phil about that. I think there will be a lot of similarities. I think there’s going to be some things that Phil is going to try to do to help in certain areas. He’ll have some changes and tweaks.
It’s still going to be fundamentally very similar. There are going to be times where guys are going to have to have a two‑gap mark and bow up in there. When they do that, there’s certain techniques we have to do a good job of teaching to allow a guy to have success with that. When you have a hundred some young freshmen, it’s two‑gap. When you get double‑teamed, it’s 600 pounds.
Q. That can be defeating for a young player, to get his hat handed to him. Are you careful who you ask to do that?
COACH MORGAN: No, that’s going to be part of it. We’re going to do what we’re going to do. We’re going to have a certain level and style of play, you know. Our guys have been great about it, they really have. It has been energizing, rejuvenating, fun. I’m not sleeping a lot at night. I keep thinking about fundamentals, technique. Other than my wife not getting a lot of sleep, it’s pretty good.
Q. Looks like you recruited Casey McMillan. That’s a big learning curve.
COACH MORGAN: Casey was recruited, his other opportunities at other schools were on the defensive side. He wanted to come over. The numbers are down. Casey is a good guy. He’s going to be a senior. Hopefully he can have a role in some way, shape or form. But he, like every other guy, is going to have an opportunity. They have to improve themselves this spring.
Q. (Question regarding Riley.)
COACH MORGAN: I think starting he has to eat more, and he needs to gain some weight and some strength, pretty obvious. I think what he is, he’s an explosive guy. What you like about him, he’s very coachable. He is one of those guys that you show him on tape and the next day you see improvement immediately. He will do it the next rep. He’s got a great kinesthetic sense about himself.
He is a guy physically you’d like to have Chris Doyle spend some more time with him. He’s going to have to be ready to go, ready to play, as are all the guys.
Q. Kirk has joked about your recruiting trail hopping in your car. What is that like for you, driving around the state of Iowa?
COACH MORGAN: It’s not just Iowa. I was closer to Denver than I was Iowa City a couple times. We were recruiting some guys out in that area. Coach, I can save the university a ton of money if I keep going, there’s a Motel 6 in Sterling.
You enjoy it. It’s really about relationships and people. The relationships you develop with the high school coaches, the players, the parents during the recruiting process, when they’re on campus, you’re learning.
I don’t listen to the radio. I’m kind of thinking about stuff, on the phone. I don’t like to listen to the radio. I kind of just like doing it. I don’t know. It’s challenging. You’re always looking for that guy that no one’s going to drive to go see or no one thinks is good enough, Chad Greenway, Riley Reiff, Karl Klug. Nobody wanted Klug. Caledonia, Minnesota. Mt.Vernon. Chad didn’t know, Am I good enough to play at Iowa? South Dakota is right down the road. Riley went through that, too.
You don’t bat a thousand, but you really try to find that guy that has the characteristics and intangibles you’re looking for, then has the ability, maybe is playing in a program where he’s not getting coached as well.
But it’s fun. It is fun.
Q. (Question regarding Meyer.)
COACH MORGAN: It’s not that bad. Nate, I can talk about him now, he’s an interesting guy. Eight‑man football again, Player of the Year. Initially we had seen his transcripts. He was off the board. But he just really rallied and did a great job in the classroom.
You guys have probably watched him on tape. This guy is pretty special, he really is.
Q. Do you see him joining you?
COACH MORGAN: I tell you what, I think he’s being recruited as a running back right now. We’ll see. We’ll see. I think he could play a lot of positions.
Q. Is it kind of fun for you to find that gem?
COACH MORGAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s fun to find a guy, the diamond in the rough, the guy that maybe can help the team. What are the traits we’re looking for, okay? Are there some guys out there that have them? Evaluation, if you just judge it on tape, it’s hard. If you just judge it on camp, it’s hard. You have to take it into all considerations. Is he a multi‑sport athlete? Is he tough? How is he doing in the classroom? Does he fit the mold of the guys we recruit? Why has he been successful? Trying to identify those characteristics.
Q. Has your position of holding changed at all?
COACH MORGAN: I tell you what, I don’t know too many offensive line coaches that teach holding. Certainly our guys have never been taught that. They’ve always kept their elbows inside, which is hard.
But anyhow, I don’t think it really has. I know many people have. It’s all about separation. The difference is, offensive linemen in the run game, they’re trying to get their chest on us, we’re trying to separate. In the pass game, we’re trying to get our chest on them, they’re trying to separate. It’s pretty simple.
COACH MORGAN: I think he provides several things. I got an opportunity to go watch him. There was an offensive lineman at another location in red that won a national championship. We were recruiting him. Coop just stood out. There must have been 31 Division I, I‑AA coaches, must have been last May, evaluation period. Here is this guy running back and forth. Looked like a miniature Mike Daniels. He just stood out. Then walking to the car, all of a sudden, Hey, coach, saying hi to you, all that stuff. You could see it there. You could see it on tape.
He’s probably what most guys are recruiting. But he certainly is a guy that has great potential, I think.
Q. Was it easier for you to make the switch going from line to line?
COACH MORGAN: Absolutely. There’s so many characteristics that are the same. I spent some time talking to Ron Aiken, who I value greatly. Ron was a D‑line coach. I talked to Juan Castille, coach for the Eagles. He said, You’ll be surprised how many similarities there are. The leverage thing, pad level, footwork. It’s been great.
When you get in and start teaching technique in the room, you can see it’s all the same. We can tell the guy, Hey, this is what the guy is trying to do. Conceptually they can learn more, try to understand what the offensive guy is trying to do, which will hopefully make them a better player individually.
Q. How do the recruiting classes look for 2013, 2014?
COACH MORGAN: Am I allowed to talk about that?
I think there’s some good recruits out there, I really do. I think there’s some guys out there. There’s always going to be guys that you uncover, find, that are out there. I think there are already some guys that have considerable offers and so forth. I think we’ve got some good groups coming up, realistically.
Q. How much do you get from coaches calling you out of the cold?
COACH MORGAN: Absolutely, especially if it’s somebody you have a good relationship, you value and trust. We follow up on most everything, most every lead. It’s kind of nice, because when you go into a school, you’re evaluating that kid, you’re learning about that young man, but you’re learning about everybody in their conference, that part of the state or class. Have you been at a track meet, have you seen anybody there? Have you been to a basketball game, is there a guy like your guy somewhere out there? You talk to the custodian, the principal, the AD, the secretaries. There’s a lot of opportunities to get information out there, so…
Q. Do you see Steve and Mike being your leaders going into the spring then?
COACH MORGAN: I think Steve has earned that right based on the interviews with the players. I think they respect him for a couple reasons. Number one, his knowledge. Number two, because he has been on the field and played. Number three, because Steve really genuinely is a good guy and tries to help guys. That’s a culture we’re trying to build in that room, helping each other out. I think it’s been positive so far. I think Dom and Carl have embraced that role. Even though their main job is to rehab, they’ve taken a leadership role in terms of helping other guys learn.
Q. How many NFL players here working out have helped you out with some of the players?
COACH MORGAN: I don’t know how much they’ve done with the players. I know a lot of them are afraid to go by my door now. They’re trying to go around. We only have one bathroom up there for whoever is upstairs, so they’re trying to go the other way (smiling). I try to grab a guy, What do you think about this?
It’s really been great. The nice thing, the thing that I miss the most, is I don’t have the opportunity to be around Norm. He knows this. He’s here on a part‑time basis and so forth. I’ve been able to visit with Norm on several occasions, as much as he is around. But he’s got a way, as you well know, of taking a more complex item and making it simple. He just does a great job explaining things.
Yeah, we try to find as much as we can and try to make it simple.
COACH MORGAN: How did he sell it to me? He just asked me if I’d be interested in doing it, and I said, Sure. I think he knew the answer before he asked.
I did upset my wife and our daughters because I had found out and I didn’t tell them, okay? They had to find out in the media. I couldn’t do it because the coach didn’t release it, didn’t have a press conference. Our two daughters ripped me for not telling my wife. My wife understands. We don’t talk about that stuff. That’s just what you don’t do.
Coach talks about it, just like the recruits. There’s a right way to do it and the wrong. But I am in the doghouse, yeah.