Iowa Football Adds Betts, Barnett to Staff

By Patrick Vint on March 16, 2021 at 11:00 am
Kirk in his element
© Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via Imagn Content Services, LLC

You've gotta say this for Kirk Ferentz: The man knows how to milk the clock. 

More than a month after offensive line coach Tim Polasek and running backs coach Derrick Foster announced they were leaving the program, Iowa football announced their replacements Monday.  George Barnett will become the program's fifth offensive line coach under Ferentz, while Ladell Betts -- the MVP of Kirk's first Iowa squad -- rejoins the team as running backs coach.

Let's start with Betts.  Ladell came to Iowa in Hayden Fry's final season as a Parade high school All-American, a bell cow in waiting.  He didn't have to wait long.  He was the team's leading rusher for four consecutive years, the only player in Hawkeye history to accomplish that feat.  In 2000, Betts was literally Iowa's entire rushing offense: He recorded all 1,090 rushing yards the team had that year.  He was a second-round selection in the 2002 NFL Draft, the first Hawkeye in Ferentz's tenure to be drafted in the top 100, and played nine seasons in the league, mostly with Washington.  He retired after the 2010 campaign with over 3,000 career rushing yards.

Betts went directly into coaching.  He started with NFL Prep 100, a high school development seminar run by the league, where he assisted for four years.  From there, he moved into high school coaching in Florida, with stints at Coral Spring Christian Academy, Boca Raton High School and, most recently, Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale.  As head coach at Pine Crest, Betts led his team to an undefeated record last season (albeit 4-0 due to the whole pandemic thing).

Getting Ladell back in Iowa City is great for those of us who were in attendance during his playing days.  He obviously knows Iowa's system and joins a staff full of former Hawkeyes, including former teammates LeVar Woods and Kelvin Bell.  But it's Betts' ties to South Florida that are of the utmost importance here.  Running backs coach has become a key recruiting position for Iowa in the last few years, to the point where Derrick Foster was named offensive recruiting coordinator for the last two years.  The loss of Foster meant the loss of a key connection to recruiting in the South.  Betts doesn't have the depth of connection to the area as Foster, and it's a different area, but if his ties to the South Florida high school football scene work anywhere near as good as Foster's did in Georgia, Iowa is getting an in with the most fertile recruiting area in the nation that it arguably hasn't had since Bret Bielema left.

Where Betts is a (pardon the pun) bet on experience with the program and connection to the recruits it needs, George Barnett is about as safe a choice as Iowa could have made at offensive line coach.  Barnett has been coaching offensive line at the high school, Division II, FCS, and FBS levels for over twenty years.  He served as an offensive line coach with Chuck Martin at Grand Valley State in 2008-09, spent four years as offensive line coach (and one as offensive coordinator) at Illinois State under former Purdue assistant Brock Spack, then rejoined Martin at Miami (Ohio) for the last seven years, where he rose to the position of assistant head coach, co-coordinator and offensive line coach.  He took the offensive line job with Tulane in December, but didn't really get started there before Iowa came calling.

The ties to Martin and GVSU give Barnett the sheen of a Brian Kelly tree connection, but it's questionable what that would really mean.  Kelly isn't known for a particular style of offense (beyond his old spread setup before Notre Dame), let alone a specialized blocking scheme; Martin has essentially run Kelly's offense ever since Kelly left GVSU.  In other words, it's not as if Barnett has been learning at the knee of a zone blocking guru for the last two decades. 

With that said, there's little doubt that Martin and Spack are very good coaches, and Barnett's long tenure with them is a seal of approval that would appeal to a coach like Kirk Ferentz (as would Willie Fritz hiring Barnett in December).  In addition, Barnett's entire career (except for the last three months) has been spent in the heart of the Big Ten recruiting footprint; while he may not have the direct ties to Wisconsin that Polasek had, there's no doubt that Barnett knows his way around the states where Iowa goes to get most of its talent.

Maybe most importantly, Barnett looks like a stable choice (leaving Tulane at the altar notwithstanding).  He's served long tenures at his previous jobs: Four years at Illinois State, seven at Miami.  Iowa offensive line has been the closest thing to a stepping-stone position on Ferentz's always-stable staff, but Barnett looks like a hire for the long haul.

Iowa has been a bit coy about its spring football schedule, but reports have been that practice will likely start in the last week of March.  That doesn't leave much time for Barnett and Betts to get up to speed, a task that will be exponentially tougher for Barnett than Betts.  Late staff hires have led to struggles in the past  -- hello, 2012 Greg Davis -- but offensive line isn't offensive coordinator, and Iowa's current coordinator knows a bit about how the head coach wants his line to work.

So welcome to Iowa City, Ladell Betts and George Barnett.  As at least one of you knows, it's always a great day to be a Hawkeye.

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