Q & A With Darrell Wilson

Shoe companies often estimate a star basketball player's endorsement worth by measuring his popularity with city youth. This tool also is known as "Street Cred," the "Cred" being short for credibility. While Darrell Wilson does not possess the "ups" to make anyone forget Michael Jordan, he certainly has gained some "Street Cred" in New Jersey. The Iowa assistant coach landed two of the biggest recruits that the Garden State had to offer last year. And the kids were talking.

Whispers of "He got Albert. How did he get Albert?" could be heard up and down the exits of the New Jersey Turnpike. Wilson added to his haul by landing super wideout James Townsend.

Running back Albert Young (TheInsiders.com's No. 17 overall prospect in the Atlantic) wiped out his verbal commitment to Wisconsin and joined the Hawkeyes. Townsend (No. 49) followed his friend.

Townsend won the state's 100-meter dash state title in the spring in a blistering 10.3 seconds. Young left home as South Jersey's all-time leading rusher, moving ahead of such names as Franco Harris and Ron Dayne.

The recruiter relied on relationships formed during his eight years of coaching at Woodrow Wilson in Camden, NJ. His team knocked off a highly rated, Dayne-led Overbrook squad in the Mid-1990s.

The Camden Rotary Club named Wilson as the city's Citizen of the Year in '92. He has always related well to people.

"He made a great impact on my parents," Townsend said. "My parents had a big part in my decision. He did his thing. He came in and did a good job."

Wilson played his freshman season at the University of Connecticut. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was a senior on that team. The two reunited in '02 when the latter added the former to his staff. Wisconsin Coach Barry Alvarez had let go of Wilson.

New Jersey is stocked with talented recruits again this season. Wilson remains hot the trails of players like Millville defensive end Dwayne Hendricks, a TheInsiders.com 4-star recruit. He also is challenged to teach a talented group of young Hawkeye outside linebackers like Ed Miles and Chad Greenway.

Here is a closer look at an integral part of the Iowa coaching staff:

Hawkeye Nation: How did you end up at Iowa?

Darrell Wilson: I was on the Wisconsin staff, things transpired and a position opened up here. Coach Ferentz contacted me. I had a chance to visit with him and with the staff. Things obviously worked out well. I think I really landed on a gold mine.

HN: Did you and Coach Ferentz stay in contact since your days at UConn?

DW: We didn't have a lot of verbal communication. But I had followed his career. He had mentioned that he had kind of followed mine. We kind of lost each other for a second. I think I lost him when he left college ball and went in the professional ranks. When he popped up here at Iowa, I was ecstatic for him. When I got on the Wisconsin staff (in '00), that's when we really started talking.

HN: What caused your departure from the Badger program?

DW: Coach (Alvarez) had to make a change. That's just business. He had to make a couple of changes. You just learn. Really, it's something you hope never happens. But before you go into it, you have to understand it. You have to have a very strong family. I have that. But the one door closed and another opened up for me.

HN: How long did it take for you to connect with the Iowa staff?

DW: I felt comfortable right away because of the makeup of the people. The staff here is truly outstanding. It didn't take long for me to really feel comfortable and confident that I could work with these men. They're all great people. And then, somewhere down the line, we all had connections. When (Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe) was the head coach at Allegheny (College), I was the head coach at Woodrow Wilson High. He recruited some of our players. I also played with his brother at UConn. Lester (Erb) and I had a connection.

HN: How did you find the cultural change from New Jersey to Wisconsin and now Iowa?

DW: I adjusted to the Midwest real easy. Even though I grew up around that hustle and bustle, I've always liked to be laid back. I worked in the city of Camden, but I lived outside of it. I just liked to get away. So, when we moved out here, it was slow. But again, it was what we wanted for our family, the (four) children especially. My wife (Monica) and I are pretty much laid back people. We fit right in.

HN: How often do you get back East?

DW: During the summer when we get time off, we pack up the car and go. I have some family that hasn't been out here. But our mothers and all the grandparents think it's great. The extended family is like "What are you doing out there?"

HN: Do you have a special connection with the prep coaches in N.J.?

DW: It's pleasing to go back and see a lot of the men that I had an opportunity to coach against. Again, that was a fraternity. We knew each other. They're really good men. They're actually happy and excited for the career path that I've taken. When you know each other, they feel comfortable around you. When you're coming in and recruiting their players, it helps.

HN: How do you approach recruiting the prospects?

DW: You get in and try to get to know the young men within the constraints of the NCAA. You get to meet the families. When I meet the families, and you're around the young men, they're decent young men. Not only that, they can really be successful in this type of environment. You're asking a young man to come from Point A that is 1,000 miles an hour to Point B where it's a lot slower. But they like it. I think they like the fact that it's very receiving, very warm. It's slow, but they really want to focus in on their academics and play football.

The real selling point for these young men is getting them out here. Once they get out here to meet the people and the staff and the players and the community, they see how people care.

HN: Why does N.J. produce so many good players?

DW: It's tough to say. I know the coaches are really dedicated. And the kids work hard. And they're not afraid to go. They'll migrate. It's been unfortunate for some East Coast programs, but they can adapt to the Midwest.

HN: How long have you been recruiting the N.J. area?

DW: When I left high school coaching and went to Rhode Island (in '96), I started recruiting that area. Everywhere I have been, that's been my area. We've been able to maintain those strong contacts. And then again, the program sells itself. The year we had the season before last, the Alamo Bowl year, started putting Iowa on the map. Then you start talking to the young men about the New Jersey athletes that are from here in the past and the success they've had. It's really not hard to sell. Once you get them out here, basically you're 90 percent there.

The older coaches that either coached those young men that were out here at one time or coached against them know. They tell how great things are out at Iowa. I just try to tell them to come out. Come see what we have to offer. Once you get them out here, it's hard for them to change their minds.

HN: How does this year's N.J. recruiting class measure up?

DW: It's another good, solid year in New Jersey. Like always, you have to continue to work and battle, but we're just trying to get these young men to think about Iowa and think about setting visits. We're doing really well.

HN: Will Albert and James help bring more Jersey players out here?

DW: No question. You're talking about two young men that had great high school careers. They're "high profile" guys. They're very pleased with the choice that they made and they tell people about it. The other players really respect those young men. We as a staff have to do our job. Long before I got here, Coach Ferentz and his staff have done a great job grabbing talent.

HN: What is the relationship like between you and Kirk?

DW: I've always admired Kirk. I was a young, green-behind-the-ears guy when we met at UConn. As any young freshman coming in, you always look to your leader. I really admired those qualities that he had and the way he led. He's very professional. When he has to be stern, he's stern. And that's all you can ask for. As a coach, they say your players and staff are a reflection of you. The way we coach as a staff is really a reflection of Coach Ferentz. We're teaching and not screaming. That's a difference. When you teach, you're shown respect. That's what I've seen. He really respects everyone involved.

HN: How much does Coach Ferentz listen to the ideas of his staff?

DW: He really does respect everybody's input. And that's all that you ask for. It's his final say. If he doesn't want to put a stamp of approval on it, so be it. But having an opportunity to even express it means a lot. Some places don't allow that. He really does a good job of that.

HN: How involved is he with recruiting?

DW: He's in there. He's extremely involved. He's all over the country. He's flying here and there. That's probably been the most important element that has gotten us over the hump. His involvement as a head coach and being visible sells.

HN: What was Kirk like in college?

DW: He was similar. Very workmanlike, blue collar. He played like he coaches. That's OK. That's a good football player. One of the things that influenced James and Albert when they came (on their official visits), and I'm sure a lot of the other young men, was just coach's personable nature. He wasn't the kind of guy that you couldn't get out there and touch. He was right there. When I took them to a hotel that night, they looked at me and said, "Coach, is this for real? Is it really like this?" I told them that it was. That was the major sell, just how he was with them.

This story first appeared in the October 2003 Issue of Hawkeye Nation magazine and is an example of the 'feature' based content and writing that appears in our monthly publication.

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