IOWA CITY — Iowa’s football program is built around development attained through commitment, hard work and sacrifice.
The two newest members of the Hawkeye coaching staff share those traits with the athletes they now lead.
New offensive line coach Tim Polasek once sold a little-used prized driver to pay for gas to get from Wisconsin to North Dakota to start work as a graduate assistant at North Dakota State. The job paid him $6,000 a year and occasionally left him sleeping on a floor in the football offices when late-night film studies turned into early-morning film studies as he soaked up as much knowledge as he could.
Kelton Copeland, the Hawkeyes’ new receivers coach, spent four years coaching junior college football in Kansas. In addition to coaching a position, his duties included running the strength and conditioning program, teaching physical education classes, operating an indoor facility and serving as the team equipment manager.
“The experiences and lessons I learned in Coffeyville, I wouldn’t trade them for the anything in the world,’’ Copeland said Thursday. “I learned the value of hard work. I learned the value of trusting other people because when you have many hats, you have to trust somebody to help you out. That in itself taught me life lessons I’ll never forget.’’
Those values were at the core of what coach Kirk Ferentz sought as he looked to fill the two vacancies on the Hawkeyes’ offensive staff.
Ferentz leaned on his own values as he reached decisions while interviewing six candidates for the jobs, recalling advice from his longtime mentor Joe Moore that proved every bit as valuable over the past six weeks as it was when he assembled his first Hawkeye staff prior to the 1999 season.
“Joe Moore really demonstrated the importance of hiring a good coach as opposed to filling a position or hiring for a position,’’ Ferentz said. “That was the mindset we had going into this whole process. Certainly knowledge and experience are important, I’m not minimizing that, but it’s important to get the right person, a person who is going to be a great teacher and a great mentor.’’
Ferentz believes he found that in Polasek and Copeland.
Neither traveled an easy road to the sidelines of an upper-tier Big Ten program.
Both quarterbacked football teams at small colleges, Polasek at NCAA Division III Concordia (Wis.) and Copeland at Division II Emporia State, where he was coached by former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill.
Polasek began his career as an assistant at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, recruiting football players three days a week and working as logger in central Wisconsin three days each week when then-North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl called.
“Three days a week I was logging, cutting timber down and doing it all,’’ Polasek said. “But that’s something that’s really helped me in my career, just the work ethic of those men and women who are out there working and don’t get to coach football.’’
He interviewed for a job, returned to Wisconsin and after he was offered the graduate assistant’s job he realized he didn’t have enough money in his bank account to return to Fargo, North Dakota to start work.
“I did have the means to get a really good driver the summer before, so I sold (the golf club) to get enough gas money to get there,’’ said Polasek, who spent the past three years as the offensive coordinator and coaching running backs at North Dakota State.
He’s never worked before as an offensive line coach but has coached tight ends, fullbacks, receivers, running backs and quarterbacks during his career.
The chance to teach the game in a program known for its offensive line play was among the reasons Polasek was attracted to the Iowa job.
Copeland, who coached receivers and special teams at Northern Illinois last season after working with running backs the previous three years there, welcomes the chance to work in the environment he now finds himself in.
“The core values here, they run parallel to what I believe in,’’ Copeland said. “Winning is important, but developing young men, being honest, loyal, treating people right, that’s what matters.’’
Both coaches are just beginning the process of getting to know the players they will be working with, studying film, talking with them and letting them know they are starting with a clean slate.
They’ll be looking for technically-sound students who are willing to learn and grow, in many ways sharing the traits which led Iowa’s new assistants to their roles.
“I think it speaks a lot when people start at the beginning and just work up the ladder,’’ Ferentz said. “Networking is important, but it’s so overstated. You see too many people worried about networking instead of just worrying about getting better. That’s what we ask our players to do. Focus on what’s in front of them. Same with coaches.’’