Iowa has little trouble producing quality running backs. Keeping them on the team is an entirely different story.
Marcus Coker on Tuesday became the latest promising Iowa ball-carrier to depart the program. The team announced Coker asked for a release from his scholarship, which was granted. The sophomore also didn't enroll for the spring semester at Iowa.
Of all the Hawkeyes' running back departures -- Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher, Jewel Hampton, Mika'il McCall -- Coker's is the most mysterious and potentially the most damaging. Head coach Kirk Ferentz still hasn't specified why Coker was suspended for the Insight Bowl -- the team called it a violation of university policy and the student-athlete code of conduct. While McCall seemed likely to return after his suspension, Coker's situation seemed different. Athletic director Gary Barta said last month that Coker had an invitation to return to the team.
But it didn't pan out and Iowa once again will be scrambling at running back heading into the 2012 season.
Coker isn't just good -- he finished second in the Big Ten and 15th nationally in rushing average (115.3 ypg) -- but he's also durable and productive, logging 23.4 carries per game, tops among Big Ten backs. As a big back with two more years to mature, Coker could have been a special player at Iowa.
The Hawkeyes will tun to Jordan Canzeri, who provided a nice spark at times in the Insight Bowl, and others at running back in the 2012 season. But Ferentz and his staff need to address what has become a revolving-door position. Why are so many promising running backs on the field struggling so much off of it? The team now has had five running backs depart in the past year and a half.
Not good at all.
"I wish I could explain it," Ferentz told me last month. "There's no conspiracy theory or anything like that. We've just had some situations. You have to evaluate each one on an individual basis. We have had our share of transactions and transition. We'll get it settled down again."
They had better.