IOWA CITY, Iowa - Ken O’Keefe chuckled when asked about Norm Parker’s thoughts on players leaving early for the NFL. There has been talk that a few Hawkeyes were considering it.
Norm’s not a fan. At least not this year.
“In my humble opinion?” Parker said, tongue planted in cheek, at a press conference here on Friday. “I think that any of you guys that think these guys are going to the NFL, don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s to their advantage to be a year bigger and stronger and faster and more mature.”
Parker and O’Keefe held a joint press conferences in the noon hour here at the Hayden Fry Football Complex. They spoke for a total of more than 50 minutes, touching on a broad range of topics. In a rare meeting with Iowa’s coordinators, we heard a lot of X’s and O’s and respect for Georgia Tech.
You can find a lot of those things on Hawkeyeinsider.com in terms of videos and audio. I encourage you to listen to these two guys break down Georgia Tech.
For me, the most entertaining part of the press conference was listening to Parker and O’Keefe offer opinion on players leaving early for the NFL. In other words, leaving when they have college eligibility remaining.
While Head Coach Kirk Ferentz said a few weeks ago that trying to peg where a guy will be drafted is an inexact science, Parker and the rest of the Iowa staff has put together a pretty good track record in this area.
Ferentz said that Shonn Greene’s draft evaluation last spring was affected by injury. I got the sense that the staff expected the running back to be selected higher than the third round when hearing the coach speak.
Only three players left Iowa early since Ferentz took over for Fry as head coach in 1999. Dallas Clark has proven you can leave with eligibility left on the clock and make it big in the NFL.
The 14-0 Indianapolis Colts, coached by former Hawkeye Jim Caldwell, selected Clark in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He’s served as a main target for future hall-of-fame quarterback Peyton Manning since he arrived in Indy.
I’ll interject a slice of opinion here: If Dallas Clark doesn’t get a trip to Miami for the Pro Bowl in February, the game is a fraud (and it might be, anyway).
But I digress, under Ferentz, Clark was the first Hawkeye to fly the coop for the money. And he’s obtained bushels of it after helping lead Iowa to an undefeated Big Ten season and serving on the Kinnick Stadium grounds crew before he was placed on scholarship. .
Fred Russell stepped up next. The Michigan native was in the tough spot. He was coming off an MVP of the Outback Bowl victory against Ron Zook, Chris Leak and Florida. I believe the consensus was that Freddie wasn’t going to improve his draft position much by coming back…but, man, could you imagine a healthy Russell with Tate in ‘04? Wow.
The year before Russell left, future Outland Trophy winner Robert Gallery returned to Iowa City even though he was hearing that he would be a lock, first-round pick from outsiders. He wound up the second overall pick in the NFL Draft after his senior season and nailed an up-front signing bonus in the $19 million neighborhood. That’s a nice neighborhood.
Then, came Greene. He sprung it on Ferentz that he was leaving for the league shortly after he told reporters on the field of the Outback Bowl last January. The New Jersey native struggled with the decision for a while.
And, as Ferentz said, it was a difficult read when it came to the pro scouts and Greene The running back group from last year - Knowshon Moreno, LeSean McCoy, Beanie Wells, Donald Brown - was a difficult one to evaluate. Greene rushed for more yards than any of them in ‘08 and won the Doak Walker Award, but he had a bit of an injury history, needed prep school and left for junior college to work on grades during his time in Iowa.
The league loves to label guys and steer clear of risks whenever possible. While we in Iowa learned that Greene was a Class A individual and team player, the pro scouts only were given a short time to draw that conclusion.
While it’s a small sample size, it seems the Iowa staff knows of what it speaks when it comes to the NFL. Ferentz coached in the league and has many intelligent friends there that will be straight with him.
“The only guys that are going to decide where (the players are) selected are going to be the (NFL) teams,” Parker said. “It has nothing to do with what Mel Kiper (Jr.) says or the New York Times says or anything else. It’s what does that (NFL) football team say.
“I think before any of those guys think about turning pro, they better get together with the (NFL) teams; the people that know and find out exactly where (they) would be drafted; find out exactly, not what some guy says or what some agent tells you because he’s trying to get a dollar out of your pocket. They tell these (players) all kinds of things, “Don’t worry. I can get you drafted.” You can’t do a damn thing for them. There’s no way.”
Sounds like the agents might be flocking around the Old Capitol this year. Or, more likely, they’re hitting up the parents or friends of the three most talked about prospects - Bryan Bulaga (OT), Adrian Clayborn (DE) and Amari Spievey (CB).
The Bulaga case is an interesting one because it parallels Gallery’s path in some ways. Both guys have been projected by draftniks as first-rounders following their junior campaigns. Ferentz wasn’t willing to make that leap a few weeks ago in the case of Bulaga.
One difference between Gallery and Bulaga is that the latter missed three games earlier this season with a thyroid condition (he‘s been told it‘s behind him). Like Greene, you wonder if that might affect his draft status. Maybe.
But Bulaga has been a strong student and came into Iowa as a offensive lineman, not converted like Gallery, Bruce Nelson and Eric Steinbach. He’s got a pedigree, if you will. Stay tuned.
“There are very few (non-skill) guys that can come out as juniors and make it,” Parker said. “And the guys that can do it are usually the skill guys, Percy Harvin or somebody like that. But those guys where it takes strength and power and learned things. It’s hard to do.”
You might be saying, how does this old man know what’s best for a 21 or 22-year-old kid and his parents?
I’m not sure if this will reach all the appropriate generations, but Norm Parker coached at the University of Minnesota when Tony Dungy played quarterback there. Dungy has since retired after winning a Super Bowl with the Colts.
“There’s a great deal of difference between high school football and college football,” the veteran Parker said. “And there’s a great deal of difference between college football and pro football. And if you get there too early, you’re going to get eaten alive. I think that too many guys listen to too many agents and guys that think, “Oh, you’re going to be this and you’re going to be that.””
Norm could have stopped there and rested on point. He acted very passionate about this topic, however.
“When we recruit, we’re going to talk to the high school coach. We’re going to talk to this guy. We’re going to talk to that guy. But we’re going to recruit the guy that we want,” Parker said. “We’re not going to get talked into it because so-and-so said this. We want to see it on film. Those (NFL) guys do the same thing. There are a lot of (players) out there that try to do it too early and they get lost in the shuffle.
“I think they better find out exactly where they’re going to be drafted before they start venturing out into that deep water. That water is not only deep, it’s cold.”
With that, Norm was heading to lunch. With his diabetes, let’s hope he consumed something healthy. He did mentioned that he planned to be back next season,. I’ve posted that quote on our premium message board.
O’Keefe took his turn catching questions. He handled them well and seemed real at ease, something he’s gotten better in his time at Iowa. He’s been an intense individual at times (aren’t we all?).
Later on in his portion of the press conference, O’Keefe was asked if he shared Norm’s opinion on players leaving early for the NFL.
“Can we review that?” O’Keefe joked. “ What was he saying?”
O’Keefe was sitting in the audience when Norm jumped up on his soapbox.
O’Keefe continued: “I know this, Kirk does a great job handling that. There’s probably less than a handful coaches in the country that have the ability to get the correct information for people and to give them good guidance.
“Kirk’s not selfish. He’s proven that in the past. He’s got a lot of friends that are GMs (in the NFL) and head coaches. He can give our guys a lot of good advice. I would just suggest they would listen.”
Like Parker, O’Keefe admitted that shutting out the static isn’t always easy.
“There are a lot of people talking to you, as Norm said,” O‘Keefe continued. “But these guys have the best resource, as far as I’m concerned, in all of college football, a guy that has all of the information, has professional knowledge of the league and has you (the player), first and foremost, in mind.”
O’Keefe said that after Ferentz has supplied the information, it’s up to the players to decide.
“I don’t know how you could go wrong listening to what Kirk has to tell them and lay it out there for them,” O‘Keefe said. “Ultimately, everybody has to make their decisions. Life is all about recruiting, right?
“We recruit. They’re recruiting. We don’t like it when the agents are recruiting. I don’t know how much the high school (coaches) like it when we’re recruiting their guys, disrupting their lives, too. My mother-in-law didn’t like it when I was recruiting my wife. Her father probably liked it less.”