March 7, 2012
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- LeVar Woods relocated to Iowa five years ago because of family, not work. He landed a decent job, nevertheless. On Wednesday, Woods met the media for the first time as University of Iowa linebacker's coach.
After a seven-year career in the NFL, Woods and his wife Meghann looked for a promising location to raise their children, Sydney and Mason. They decided on Iowa City, and Woods became administrative assistant for the Hawkeye football program in 2008. The departures of Norm Parker, Ken O'Keefe and Rick Kaczenski from the coaching staff at the end of the 2011 season left voids. UI head coach Kirk Ferentz tabbed Woods, who lettered as an outside linebacker for the Hawkeyes from 1998-2000.
"My wife and I wanted to raise our kids here," Woods said Wednesday during a press conference in the Hayden Fry Football Complex. "We're from the state of Iowa and I played high school football here (at West Lyon High School in Inwood). It was great for me to be able to start all of the opportunities right here in a place that I love."
Woods shared the stage Wednesday with Brian Ferentz, a UI letterwinner at center from 2003-05. Ferentz will coach the Hawkeye offensive line. Woods and Ferentz are the first two UI graduates to coach football at their alma mater since current Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema worked with linebackers from 1996-2001.
"With two former players, we know what (the current players) are going through, and when things are hard, we can say, `Look, it was the same way 10 years ago,'" Woods said. "This program has not changed a whole lot, but it has been successful because it has not changed a whole lot. The true core values and things that make this program successful will always remain."
Woods was recruited by Hayden Fry and was an integral part of Ferentz's rebuilding project when the current head coach arrived in 1999. Ferentz remains grateful to players like Woods that he inherited during those early years.
"I even had LeVar possibly filling a couple of spots. It was good getting the best people, but the best people for us in the right spots. We could have gone ahead and kept LeVar with the defensive line. There were a couple spots on offense he could have fit in. LeVar is one of the guys that I've felt would always be a great fit here."
UI head football coach
Woods turns 34 on March 15; Brian Ferentz turns 29 on March 28. Both are home-grown Iowans, and both have experience in the NFL. Woods played for the Arizona Cardinals (2001-04), Detroit Lions (2005-06) and Arizona Cardinals (2006-07).
Woods had an opportunity to get his feet wet in collegiate coaching when former defensive coordinator Norm Parker took a medical hiatus in 2010. Woods stepped in to assist with the defense then, and he also coached the Hawkeye defensive line in the days leading up to the 2011 Insight Bowl after Kaczenski left following the final regular-season game.
"Those are unique experiences," Woods said. "I was thrust into action in different roles, different areas, but I feel good about that."
The versatility of Woods also makes him an appealing hire.
"I even had LeVar possibly filling a couple of spots," Ferentz said. "It was good getting the best people, but the best people for us in the right spots. We could have gone ahead and kept LeVar with the defensive line. There were a couple spots on offense he could have fit in. LeVar is one of the guys that I've felt would always be a great fit here."
"I have been able to fulfill different roles from the time that I left as a player," Woods said. "That plays into it a lot, from knowing this area, knowing what this program is built on, and then in the NFL, I go back to seven different head coaches and six coordinators, and that's in the span of seven years. So you pick up a lot of football knowledge, and also how programs are run, ways programs that are run successfully and others that were not so successful."
The top two returning tacklers for the Hawkeyes are linebackers: juniors-to-be James Morris and Christian Kirksey. Both players finished with 110 tackles -- Kirksey led the team in solo stops (62) and Morris was the leader in assists (58). Junior Anthony Hitchens made 25 tackles.
"You can see that the guys are well-coached," Woods said. "The thing I've mentioned to them is that it's going to be different than it has been for the majority. They are all young guys, they really don't know any different. What we do defensively may be called different, maybe tweaked different; I may ask you to read something different or look at it a different way, which can be uncomfortable. But it keeps people on their toes, which makes for a competitive environment. When things are competitive, it brings the best out of people. The people that are competitive -- that are true competitors -- will rise to the top, and those guys will help lead the defense and help our team improve."
Woods, who has aspirations of becoming a head coach, is expected to recruit from Kansas City to Dallas.
Iowa begins spring practice Saturday, March 24, with the open practice scheduled for Saturday, April 14.