As the Iowa football team struggled the last few years, arm chair quarterbacks from across Hawkeye Nation weighed in with suggestions. Usually when these things occur the coaches find themselves at the firing range, sometimes literally.
Critics wondered if the game had passed by Carl Jackson, who turns 68 in August. The running backs coach couldn’t possibly be able to relate to recruits and players some 50 years his junior, they wondered.
“I don’t think there is any coach out there right now that listens to the same type of music I listen to,” Hawkeye Running Back Albert Young said with a laugh.
Young, who is preparing for April’s NFL Draft, felt like Iowa lost a great asset on Monday when Jackson announced his retirement from football. Age was only a number.
“Coach J gave me great advice today,” Young said. “It was something that was going on with me and it had nothing to do with football. He related. He told me a story and compared it to the same situation that he was in. It didn’t matter about his age. It sounded just like what I was talking to him about.
“People talk about age, this and that. It’s when people don’t adapt to the situation, to the times of what is going on. You can have young coaches that don’t do what they need to do to relate to players. The can be old time. Age isn’t a factor, especially at a position like running back. You can have a young guy that can relate, but can’t coach.”
Jackson began his coaching career at North Texas High in 1963. He worked at Iowa from ’79-81 under Hayden Fry and came back in ’99 to work for Kirk Ferentz the last nine years.
“Carl is the best running backs coach that I have ever been around at any level,” Ferentz said. “More importantly, he's been a mentor for me and he's been a great, great friend. If you look through Carl’s resume, what you see is a demonstration of excellence.”
Jackson was a part of five Big Ten Champion Hawkeye teams, three of which went to the Rose Bowl (1982, '86, '91), in his 22 years at Iowa. During his career, Jackson coached some of the top running stars in Hawkeye history, including Ronnie Harmon, Rick Bayless, Dennis Mosley, Nick Bell, Tony Stewart, Ladell Betts, Fred Russell and Albert Young. He helped recruit the school’s all-time leading rusher, Sedrick Shaw.
“It’s pretty obvious I like Iowa,” Jackson said. “I came back for a second tour of duty. I really enjoyed myself here. I met a lot of great people, worked with a lot of great coaches and had a chance to work with a lot of great young men.”
I had the opportunity to interview Carl throughout his second stint at Iowa. I also had the pleasure of seeing him around town at places like the farmer’s market downtown. What you saw is what you got – A down-to-earth, nice guy, and a heck of a knowledgeable coach.
Young said Jackson unified.
“It was fun playing for him,” Young said. “It really was because I feel that our position, as a group, we were one of the tightest groups that there were on the team. Not that the other groups aren’t. It just seemed like everybody in our room, whether it was a senior or a freshman, we were a tight-knit group. Coach J was the leader of that group.”
Jackson didn’t pull a lot of facemasks in his day and find the need to scream at practice, Young said. He’d holler if he had to, but he had a knack for getting his points across at a reasonable volume.
“That’s mainly because he taught us what we needed to know so we wouldn’t mess up,” Young said.
Jackson, who won a Super Bowl ring coaching with the San Francisco 49ers, realized that the running back position was where the athletes did a lot on natural ability. He prepared them to best take advantage of that ability.
“You just need a coach that can get the message across schematically and just teach young backs fundamentals of the game,” Young said. “Nobody comes in knowing how. I keep stressing blocking. None of these guys blocked in high school.
“As for myself, I feel like that’s one of the strong points of my game. I never blocked a soul in high school. I always ran the ball. For Coach J to even have me talking about that and being proud of that shows you a lot right there.”
Young on Monday spoke with Shonn Greene about Jackson and how they were able to relate to the coach. Greene spent two seasons with the Hawkeyes, attended Kirkwood this year to get his grades in order and re-signed with Iowa last week
“As players, we all feel comfortable coming in and talking to him,” Young said of Jackson. “That’s going to be missed. Coach J was definitely more than just football.”