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Harty: Please pillage Penn St. politely

[ 3 ] July 26, 2012 |

CHICAGO Don’t let any of the Big Ten football coaches fool you. If Penn State star running back Silas Redd wanted to transfer to their school, they’d take him in a heartbeat and probably some of his teammates.

That includes Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. He’d be foolish not to take a talent like Redd, even under these most unfortunate and bizarre circumstances.

It’s not a question whether it’s right or wrong to recruit the Penn State players in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, it’s how you go about doing it.

Having eight of your assistant coaches descend on Happy Valley like vultures just hours after the NCAA put the hammer down on Penn State probably isn’t the best way to proceed.

First-year Illinois head coach Tim Beckman confirmed at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday that eight members of his staff were in Happy Valley this week recruiting Penn State players.

His staff’s aggressiveness did not sit well with new Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, who abruptly answered with the word “no” when asked Thursday if he had spoken to Beckman about the situation.

Beckman gave his side of the story and offered no apology for his approach.

Beckman said Illinois contacted Penn State with a list of players it planned on recruiting before arriving in State College on Wednesday. He said the Penn State players were notified that the Illinois coaches would be at two off-campus locations if they wanted to speak to them about transferring.

“We’re just following rules,” Beckman said. “We’re compliant in everything the Big Ten has asked us to do. It wasn’t a sneak attack because it was all up-front prior to us even being there.”

Beckman also said Illinois had been contacted by Penn State players who expressed interest in transferring to Illinois prior to his staff’s arrival to State College.

“It wasn’t where we were just going in blind calling players up and doing that sort of thing,” said Beckman, who was the head coach at Toledo for the previous three seasons before taking over at Illinois.

Like so many controversies, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

The problem is that perception often becomes reality. And right now, Beckman isn’t being perceived very well because you could argue that sending eight coaches to recruit the Penn State players is not only overkill, but also insensitive under these very sensitive circumstances.

As for Ferentz, he acknowledged Thursday that Iowa had been in contact with at least one undisclosed Penn State player, but only after the player had reached out to them first. Ferentz also called O’Brien to let him know about the player contacting Iowa.

O’Brien was interviewed on the “Mike & Mike” ESPN radio show Wednesday morning and he mentioned Ferentz as one of the coaches who had the courtesy to call him before discussing transfer options with any Penn State players.

“First of all, what’s going on in that regard is extremely complex and confusing, quite frankly,” Ferentz said. “So probably the best path for anybody is to make sure they’re in compliance. And I’m still fuzzy with a lot of things there.

“And I think the other thing is just handle it in whatever way that you feel is appropriate. I think a lot of people are taking a lot of different approaches to it. I’m really comfortable with the approach that we’re taking right now and we’ll continue to do so.”

Ferentz should be comfortable with his approach because it’s the right approach. His team could benefit from adding some Penn State players to the 2012 roster, but not at the expense of his reputation or at the risk of alienating somebody he respects like O’Brien.

Ferentz’s oldest son, Brian Ferentz, worked with O’Brien for four seasons from 2008-11 as members of the New England Patriots coaching staff. Brian Ferentz is now the Iowa offensive line coach.

“There are a lot of different ways to look at it and I think just the things I’m reading nationally I think a lot of different people are looking at it in a lot of different ways,” Ferentz said. “But we live in the conference. We work in this conference. And I’ve got great respect for Bill O’Brien and his staff. And that’s important to us as well.”

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said Thursday that he made a decision not to actively pursue any Penn State players out of respect for a Big Ten brother. Bielema could’ve been laying it on thick, but he sure came out smelling like a rose.

Beckman was asked if he could see that side of it.

“Yeah, but I also feel that there is respect for those individuals if they want to transfer,” Beckman said.

It’s easier for Bielema to take the high road in this case because Wisconsin has been on a roll under his watch and because the Leaders Division has been reduced to a four-team race with the Badgers playing the role of Secretariat.

Beckman, on the other hand, is trying to get Illinois over the hump. He needs to get better players, but he also needs to show more restraint because right now his reputation is being questioned.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or pharty@press-citizen.com.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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