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Hansen: In wake of Coker departure ‘next man in’ becoming ‘any men left?’

[ 28 ] January 10, 2012 |

I don’t know much about Greg Garmon, other than he’s a highly regarded prep running back from Pennsylvania who recently committed to Iowa. But Greg Garmon had better be good.

Given the news on Marcus Coker, who won’t be coming back for his junior season, and Iowa’s incredible shrinking backfield, the Hawkeyes are probably going to need him.

On Tuesday, the university issued a statement saying Coker, the Hawkeyes’ leading rusher this season asked for his release and got it. Which makes the fifth starting-caliber tailback to leave the Hawkeyes since 2010.

Brandon Wegher was first, citing personal problems. Then Jewel Hampton transferred to Southern Illinois. Then Adam Robinson left for Minnesota State after running into academic problems and being arrested for marijuana possession. A few weeks ago it was Mika’il McCall announcing his decision to leave.

Here we go again, and again. An incident report filed by the Iowa City police department says Coker was investigated for assault the day before the Minnesota game. No charges were filed. No charges are expected to be filed. He continued to play during the investigation, which is another matter for debate.

Still, it doesn’t take a huge leap to link the investigation and the suspension with Tuesday’s release agreement. If indeed they’re related, it doesn’t jibe with Coker’s good guy image.

Bill McGregor was Coker’s coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland. He heard about Coker’s transfer release Tuesday on his way home from work.

“He’s a great young man,” McGregor said. “All my dealings with him have been absolutely tremendous.”

Coker made the Principal’s List in high school. He was named a state “Gentleman of the Year” in 2009 and 2010 after putting in 1,000 hours of community service.

Rick Wegher, Brandon’s father, was surprised and sorry to hear Coker was leaving. “Marcus was a good kid,” he said. “I liked him a lot. I don’t know what happened.”

Nobody does. What’s going on here? Is it the system?

“I don’t think it’s an organization problem at all,” Wegher said. “The Iowa coaches are first class. Great coaches, great people. Brandon had to work through some personal issues. It wouldn’t have mattered where he was going to school. It kind of seems more like a string of bad luck.”

Even if it isn’t the system, it’s getting old. When Coker was left home from the Insight Bowl, the explanation was “disciplinary reasons” that involved university policy and resulted in athlete-code-of-conduct violations.

“It is unfortunate that Marcus Coker will not be with the team for our bowl game,” Kirk Ferentz said in a statement. “During the next 10 days, we will focus and continue to prepare the players that are able to participate.”

The statement said nothing about leaving the team. To the contrary, before kick-off, Ferentz indicated he was expecting both Coker and McCall to be back next season. For one reason or another, it never happened.

Whatever the problem, it’s another blow for the Hawkeyes. For the program’s image. For the winning percentage. Coaches whose teams have lined up against Coker say he was a perfect fit for Iowa’s offense and invariably use the words “downhill runner” when describing him.

Hawkeye running backs are taught to hug that huge line and blast straight ahead. Coker isn’t a scary back like LaMichael James of Oregon, but he’s a physical workhorse with enough speed to blow through an arm tackle.

No Shonn Greene? When I posed that question to an opposing coach who’d seen Coker up close, the coach said: “You never know what he might have been in another year or two. For Iowa, he’s pretty much what the doctor ordered.”

The same coach also said the Hawkeyes do a good job of plugging their tailbacks, one after another, into the system and watching them go.

Which brings us back to young Greg Garmon. The recruiting services like him a lot. Maxpreps.com ranks him the nation’s No. 5 tailback and the No. 26 overall recruit.

He’s 6-2, weighs 200 pounds and, according to Maxpreps, chose Iowa over Miami, Arkansas and “a host of others.” You never know how these things will turn out, but if Garmon honors his commitment, he’ll likely compete with Jordan Canzeri, De’Andre Johnson and Damon Bullock for playing time.

Assuming they’re all still around.



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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Marc Hansen: Marc Hansen is a sports columnist for The Des Moines Register. View author profile.

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