Marcus Coker decided Tuesday afternoon to have his name etched alongside the five other talented running backs who have left the Iowa football program in the past two years.
After a violation of the student-athlete code of conduct left the bruising back at home for the Insight Bowl versus Oklahoma, slapped with a suspension, the University of Iowa announced today that Coker was granted a release from his scholarship and would be leaving Iowa City.
Coker was Iowa’s leading rusher in 2011 by a wide margin, garnering 1,384 yards and 15 touchdowns on 281 carries. The next closest rusher on Iowa’s depth chart did not even rush for 100 yards for the entire season. Those numbers stood out among his conference peers as well; he finished first in carries, and in the top two for yards and touchdowns.
Coker ironically rose to prominence because of a suspension to starter Adam Robinson in the 2010 Insight Bowl. The bruising scholar —Coker received almost unanimous praise from his teammates and the coaching staff — took advantage of his opportunity and ran for over 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
In 2011, Coker was perhaps the most valuable offensive Hawkeye, the sole recipient of the carries and lone soldier in the backfield. He bore the entire weight of the Iowa running game on his shoulders for the whole season, as Kirk Ferentz never found him a suitable back-up. The responsibility and physical wear of literally carrying the Iowa offense on his back began to take a visible toll on the weary, battered Coker as the season wore on, and culminated in dejected, punished body language after the season finale at Nebraska.
To say the attrition at running back under Ferentz is disturbing would be an understatement. At this point, one has to wonder if Ferentz even attempts to convince these kids to stay or, if upon first hint of discontent, he happily opens his office door and directs the troubled player out of town. It is difficult to decipher a magic bullet, a solution or even reason why six high profile running backs have left the program in two years, but Coker is by far the most damaging loss because his character was so highly valued.
Coker was an astrophysics major with aspirations of space, and he seemed like a perfect antithesis to 2010′s postseason character problems. Now, he will see his name put in the same faceless, poisonous pot with the others who have left before him.
You could say the Iowa running back position is cursed, and nobody would even laugh at the absurdity. If a few troubled, homesick lads transfer from the program at the end of the year, coaches can justifiably chalk it up to “the game of football.” But when three depth charts worth of running backs have transferred in the span of two years, fans have a right to be concerned. The fans who continue to sellout Kinnick Stadium despite subpar game management and refusal to adapt, who consistently elevate the Hawkeyes to bowl games they haven’t earned, deserve an explanation from the never transparent Ferentz.
He shouldn’t be allowed to chalk up the loss of Coker, often lauded as a golden child by the head man himself, as “just football.” A trend like this isn’t just football. It’s a cancer that needs to be addressed either with public clarity or a serious philosophical look at the coaches responsible.