Eric Johnson

Key recruiter leaving the Hawkeyes

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A week ahead of its spring game, the Iowa football program has taken a rather significant hit on the recruiting front.

The Hawkeyes announced in a press release Saturday that assistant coach Eric Johnson has decided to leave Kirk Ferentz‘s coaching staff.  The state reason is that Johnson wants to pursue an unnamed career opportunity outside of football.

Johnson was a part of Ferentz’s first Iowa staff as a grad assistant.

“I know Eric and his family have given this decision great attention and thought, and we all wish them the best as they move forward,” said Ferentz in a statement.  “Eric has been a valued staff member since he joined our original staff in 1999 and has made many contributions to our program and team as a coach, recruiter and mentor.  I am very appreciative of Eric’s efforts and his commitment to Iowa and wish him all the best in the future.”

Johnson has served as assistant defensive line coach (2012-13), tight ends coach (2010-11; 2003-07) and assistant linebackers coach (2008-2009) during his decade-plus career with the Hawkeyes, but it was on the recruiting trail where Johnson made his biggest mark and where his departure will hit the program the hardest.  From the release on Johnson, who had spent the past 10 seasons as the Hawkeyes’ recruiting coordinator:

Johnson has been heavily involved in Iowa’s recruiting efforts since joining the Hawkeye staff. Iowa’s 2006 recruiting class was ranked extremely high by all the recruiting experts. Iowa’s 2005 recruiting class was ranked among the top 10 in the nation by all of the top recruiting services, while Iowa’s classes in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2009 were all ranked in the nation’s top 25. Sporting News ranked Iowa’s 2011 recruiting class second best among Big Ten programs and the 2012 class was ranked third among league programs.

Johnson ranked as one of the top ten recruiting coordinators in the country by Tom Lemming in 2001 and was named one of the Top Ten Recruiters in the Big Ten Conference by Rivals.com in 2007.

“My family and I can’t thank everyone enough for our 15 years at Iowa,” said Johnson. “It has been a great time in our lives. From a family standpoint, we had a chance to raise our children in a tremendous community. From a professional standpoint, I have worked for the best person in college football.

“Coach Ferentz is the best teacher, leader, and person I have ever been around; he truly embodies the Iowa way. I have also been mentored by three great coordinators in Norm Parker, Phil Parker and Ken O’Keefe, and had the opportunity to work with one of the best people anyone can ask for in Reese Morgan.”

(Photo credit: Iowa athletics)

NFL calls, Mich. St.’s Malik McDowell answers

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 02:  Malik McDowell #4 of the Michigan State Spartans works against Harrison Monk #71 of the Furman Paladins during the first half of a game at Spartan Stadium on September 2, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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When it comes to college players taking the early cannonball leap into the NFL draft pool, there will be at least a couple of surprises and/or headscratchers.  This one would be neither.

In a statement on his personal Twitter account as well as a press release through Michigan State, Malik McDowell confirmed that he will be foregoing his senior season in East Lansing in order to enter the 2017 NFL draft.  While describing it as “very difficult,” it’s been a decision that has been expected.

Despite missing the last three games this season with an injury, McDowell led all Spartans in tackles for loss with seven. The 6-6, 275-pound defensive lineman was named first-team All-Big Ten by The Associated Press and earned second-team honors from the league’s coaches and media.

In 36 career games (23 starts), McDowell has been credited with 24.5 for losses and 7.5 sacks.

He’s currently projected as a likely first-round pick in the draft.  Back in August, McDowell stated he wouldn’t leave early if he wasn’t projected as a top three selection.

“Malik McDowell is an extremely gifted player who has demonstrated the ability and mindset to succeed at the next level,” said MSU head coach Mark Dantonio in a statement. “His pre-draft numbers project him as a likely first-round selection. We are thankful for his contributions to the program that significantly impacted our recent success, culminating with last year’s Big Ten Championship and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. We wish him the best and are excited for the opportunity in the next chapter of his life as he pursues his dream to play in the NFL.”

Baylor announces hiring of Temple’s Matt Rhule

ANNAPOLIS, MD - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Matt Rhule of the Temple Owls is doused during the closing moments of the Owls 34-10 win over the Navy Midshipmen during the AAC Championship game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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When the college football world settled in for bed Monday night, it was Blake Anderson reportedly negotiating with Baylor to become its next head football coach.  Late the next morning, it’s Temple, not Arkansas State, that will be searching for its own new coach.

Following up on speculation that had been building through the past couple of hours, Matt Rhule has officially been hired by the scandal-plagued to be its permanent replacement for Art Briles.  Rhule will be officially introduced by the university at a Wednesday press conference.

“We could not be more excited to welcome Matt, Julie and their children to the Baylor Family,” a statement from athletic director Mack Rhoades began. “When we set out on our search for a new leader of our football program, we wanted a coach who shared our values, who had demonstrated success, who showed a true commitment to the overall student-athlete and who we believed could lead Baylor to a national championship. We found all of that and more in Matt and I know that he will be a perfect fit with the Baylor Family.”

Rhule just completed his fourth regular season as the head coach at Temple, which ended with the program’s first AAC championship ever and first conference title of any kind in nearly four decades.  The Owls’ 10 wins last season was just the second in school history; the 10 wins this season give them back-to-back double-digit wins for the first time ever.

In a coaching career that began in 1998, Rhule has held just one job west of the Mississippi River — at UCLA in 2001.  He’s never coached in the state of Texas, so he’ll need to fill his staff with assistants familiar with the area, particularly when it comes to recruiting.

“I am truly honored and humbled to join the Baylor Family,” said Rhule, a former Penn State linebacker, “and I can’t thank President [David] Garland and Mack Rhoades enough for this incredible opportunity. Baylor is a tremendous institution with a history of football success and I know the passion that so many have for the Bears will help bring the community together to reach even greater heights. I am excited to get started.”

It’s unclear if Rhule will coach the Owls in the Dec. 27 Military Bowl, although it’s thought he’ll be leaving his current program immediately.

Nebraska officially plucks assistant from Arizona

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 01: The mascot for the Nebraska Cornhuskers waits for the team before the contest against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
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After a handful of days of reports and speculation, Mike Riley has officially made an addition to his Nebraska coaching staff at the expense of Arizona.

In a release, NU confirmed that Donté Williams has been hired to fill the opening on his staff. Williams will fill the void created by the departure of Bruce Read, who was fired as special teams coordinator shortly after the Cornhuskers’ regular-season finale.

“We are confident that Donté Williams will bring great energy and expertise to our defensive coaching staff,” Riley said in a statement. “He has the personality and demeanor that allows him to connect and relate to his players. He will also be a dynamic addition to our staff in terms of recruiting prospective student-athletes to the University of Nebraska.”

Williams’ addition will lead to shifts on the defensive side of Riley’s staff.

It’s expected that Williams will take over as NU’s cornerbacks coach. Corners coach Brian Stewart will shift his focus to safeties, while last year’s safeties coach, defensive coordinator Mark Banker, will focus solely on a defense that was 31st in scoring defense and 21st in total defense in the country this past season.

Adding Williams, though, centers largely on the 34-year-old’s recruiting prowess. In fact, he’s widely considered in the industry to be one of the top five recruiters on the West Coast.

“I am truly blessed that Coach Riley thought highly enough of me to join his staff here at the University of Nebraska,” Williams said. “Everything I have seen in Lincoln has completely raised my expectations of what I know we can accomplish here! I look forward to continuing the success of the Blackshirt defense under Coach Riley and the whole Big Red Family!”

Williams spent the 2016 season as the cornerbacks coach at Arizona. Prior to that, he was a secondary coach at San Jose State from 2013-15, the latter two years spent with the additional title of recruiting coordinator.

His first Power Five job came as a grad assistant at Washington in 2011-12.

Ex-Alabama QB Blake Barnett commits to Arizona State

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Blake Barnett #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide throws before the Advocare Classic against the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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After leaving the FBS level in September, a formerly highly-touted quarterback has confirmed he’ll be back next season.

On Twitter late Monday night, Blake Barnett announced that he has committed to continuing his collegiate playing career at Arizona State. The announcement comes a little over three months after Barnett left Alabama.

Because Barnett enrolled at a junior college almost immediately after transferring from Alabama, it’s thought that he’ll be eligible to play for Arizona State after the first month of the 2017 season. He’d then have two full seasons of eligibility remaining after next year.

In late September, reports began to surface that Barnett had decided to leave Alabama.  A short time later, and after Nick Saban expressed hope Barnett would stay, the program confirmed that Barnett had officially withdrawn from school.

Barnett, who started the opener against USC but held on to the job for just two series, was a five-star 2015 recruit who 247Sports.com rated as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the country.  The California high school product originally committed to Notre Dame in November of 2013 before decommitting from the Irish in June of the following year.

After leaving Alabama, Barnett had drawn the interest of, among others, Cal, Florida, Miami, Michigan State, Oregon, Texas A&M, UCLA and Washington