BCI: Iowa finished as a top 40 defense in 2015 en route to winning their division in the Big Ten. What were the key components about what made them so difficult to play against?
Ross: Since Kirk Ferentz has been at Iowa, they've run a very no-frills defense and the 2015 defense was no different. Iowa doesn't run exotic blitzes, they don't use a lot of unconventional coverage schemes, and their formation is about as basic as it gets: good ol' 4-3. lots of fairly simple zone coverages. It's a classic "bend-don't-break" defense that prevents big plays (unless Christian McCaffrey is on the field) and requires teams to string together multiple plays in order to score points.
The front seven of the 2015 Iowa defense was very good against the run (moreso in the first 2/3 of the year than the final 1/3; fatigue and lack of depth seemed to catch up to the Hawkeyes late in the season), although they struggled at times to generate a pass rush (which was personnel-related; Iowa's top defensive end missed over half the season due to injury and their second-best defensive end was very banged up at the end of year...that's a problem for a team that doesn't like to blitz a lot).
The back seven, and the secondary especially, was strong against the pass, led by Thorpe Award-winning defensive back Desmond King and hard-hitting free safety Jordan Lomax. The linebackers (led by Reid) took a big step forward this season, with Josey Jewell emerging as a star at middle linebacker. The linebackers were a big part of Iowa's stout run defense (although it should be noted that they were better at stopping opposing runners for short gains than they were for stopping them for no gain or a negative gain) and they grew in leaps and bounds in coverage after some rough efforts in that department in 2014. Iowa's defense was also very good at forcing turnovers—they generated 27 takeaways in 2015 (19 interceptions, 8 fumble recoveries)—which was a huge part of their effectiveness this season.
BCI: As the linebackers coach, how did Jim Reid fit into the Iowa defensive gameplan and mindset?
ROSS: I don't know what Reid's own preferences are in terms of defensive tics (blitzing, formations, coverage, etc.), but he was able to develop Iowa's linebackers well to play within the roles that Iowa's defense needed of them. Iowa runs a base 4-3 defense with a lot of zone coverage that emphasizes a "bend-don't-break" approach that gives up yards, but prevents big plays and stiffens in the red zone. Iowa plays some nickel and dime coverages, but they leave their linebackers on the field a lot and asks them to cover running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends in the passing game.
Good coverage skills are a must for Iowa's linebackers and Reid helped Iowa's linebackers improve their coverage abilities. Iowa also needs their linebackers to be strong against the run game and to seal off the edge and, in general, they did just that during Reid's tenure. Iowa's linebacker play struggled in 2014, but that seemed to be more personnel-related than anything else—Iowa was forced to roll out three redshirt freshmen with little experience; some growing pains were inevitable. In general, Reid did a very good job of adapting his coaching to mold Iowa's linebackers into what they needed to be to work in Iowa's defensive scheme.
BCI: How was Jim Reid received as a recruiter for the Iowa team as a whole?
ROSS: Honestly, Reid wasn't a major recruiter for Iowa while he was here. Rivals lists him as the primary recruiter for three Iowa recruits over the last three seasons, although one of them (Toks Akinribade) is Iowa's highest-rated recruit in the 2016 class. I'm sure Iowa also brought Reid in to help seal the deal with linebacker recruits, since he would be their position coach when they got to Iowa, but in general his role on the Iowa staff seemed to be oriented more towards coaching than it was recruiting. Which worked well for Iowa; I don't know what Boston College's needs are in that department and what Reid will need to do in terms of recruiting.
BCI: In his remarks after Reid was announced to BC, Kirk Ferentz talked about the mindset being different when Jim Reid was hired versus the way things are now. What did he mean by that?
ROSS: Reid came to Iowa after the 2012 season, which was Kirk Ferentz's worst year at Iowa since his first two years, which were clear rebuilding years. You don't want to be rebuilding in Year 13, you know? But Iowa went 4-8 and the mood around the program was pretty dour and there was a lot of turmoil. Results had slipped badly (again: 4-8) and the coaching staff had undergone some shake-ups. Longtime offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe left to become the wide receivers coach for the MIami Dolphins. Longtime defensive coordinator (and the heart and soul of the Iowa staff, in many ways) Norm Parker retired and was replaced by Phil Parker (no relation), who had been Iowa's longtime defensive backs coach.
Reid leaves Iowa on the back of a 12-2 season, which is a heck of a turnaround. The season ended in disappointing fashion, with a loss by inches to Michigan State and a loss by, uh, miles to Stanford, but on the whole the season was an incredible success. The Iowa program is in much, much better shape than it was three years ago when Reid joined the staff and while he wasn't the biggest reason behind the turnaround, he was a key factor in Iowa's defense regaining its old footing and he helped bring Iowa back to a point where they can contend for Big Ten titles.
BCI: What's the biggest legacy of Jim Reid going to be with the linebacking corps, and what's the biggest thing BC fans can expect in getting a guy like him as their defensive coordinator?
ROSS: I think Reid's biggest legacy will simply be that he left Iowa's linebackers in better shape than when he arrived. He contributed to the development of two linebackers who got selected in the NFL Draft (Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey) and another who made an NFL camp (James Morris). A few of the linebackers on the current Iowa roster (who Reid has worked with for 2-3 years) will probably get chances in the NFL, too.
In terms of what BC fans can expect from him as a DC, I can't speak to his preferences in terms of formations or his preferred coverage schemes or his tendencies regarding blitzing. But I think they'll be getting a DC who is good at teaching fundamentals and who is good at identifying players' strengths and weaknesses and putting players in positions where those strengths can be highlighted and their weaknesses can be hidden. I think BC fans will see a defense that is well prepared, fundamentally sound, and able to keep a team in the game. Best of luck to Reid and BC. We'll miss him in Iowa City.