Dec. 25, 2010
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Former University of Iowa defensive line coach Ron Aiken visited some friends at practice Friday at Corona del Sol High School, the day before his current team -- the NFL Arizona Cardinals -- played host to the Dallas Cowboys.
Aiken coached for the Hawkeyes from 1999-2006.
"The key thing is (UI head coach) Kirk (Ferentz) had been in the NFL and Kirk runs his practices and everything like NFL clubs do," Aiken said. "Being with Kirk and understanding what he does on the offensive line with his players and (UI offensive line coach) Reese Morgan's players allowed me to work the defensive line and compete against good players in practice every day."
Aiken is a member of Ken Whisenhunt's staff with the Cardinals. Arizona is 4-10 this season, but the Cardinals won NFC West Division championships in 2008 and '09, advancing to the Super Bowl after the 2008 season, before they lost to Pittsburgh, 27-23.
"The last four years have been good," Aiken said. "We're struggling this year. We came in and had three winning seasons and played well, but we're having some issues as far as the quarterback position and we can't get off the field on defense and that's not good being a defensive coach."
Arizona has used three quarterbacks this season and its defense is 27th in the NFL, averaging 373.8 yards per game. The Cardinals were 8-8 in 2007, 12-8 in 2008 and 11-7 in 2009.
Defensive end Kenny Iwebema, a Hawkeye letterwinner from 2004-07, is a member of the Cardinals and is coached by Aiken, but he suffered a knee injury Nov. 11 during a 27-24 loss at Minnesota.
"He's been doing well," Aiken said of the Iwebema. "He will be back next year for us."
Aiken was a charter member of Ferentz's staff in 1999, coming to the Hawkeyes from San Diego State, where all three of the linebackers he coached earned all-conference honors. While Aiken was at Iowa, the Hawkeyes competed in the Alamo (2001 and 2006), Orange (2003), Outback (2004 and 2006) and Capitol One (2005) bowls.
When time permits, Aiken watches the Hawkeyes perform on television, including a couple times this season. He keeps a close eye surveying Iowa's defensive front.
"I've seen them play a couple times and (UI defensive line coach) Rick (Kaczenski) is doing a great job with them," Aiken said. "The guys have played hard."
Arizona plays its final home game on Christmas Day; for Aiken, it felt like home for a few hours Friday at Iowa's practice.
"Just seeing the Hawkeyes, the helmet, the guys, some of the coaches, the equipment people and everybody brings back real good memories," Aiken said.
Iowa (7-5 overall) plays No. 14 Missouri (10-2) on Dec. 28, with a 9 p.m. start (CT) in the Insight Bowl. The game will be played in Sun Devil Stadium (56,000) on the Arizona State campus and televised nationally by ESPN (HD).