IOWA CITY – There will be no divided loyalties this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
The Niemanns, father and son, will share the same sideline when Iowa hosts Rutgers in an 11 a.m. Big Ten opener.
“It’s been pretty cool, getting a chance to play on a team that has my dad on the coaching staff,’’ Hawkeye linebacker Nick Niemann said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve spent this much time around each other. It’s something I’ve always thought about, and now it’s reality.’’
Jay Niemann joined the Iowa coaching staff in May after spending the past three seasons as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Rutgers.
For the Hawkeyes, Jay Niemann is working as the assistant defensive line coach and serves as Iowa’s defensive recruiting coordinator.
He took the job after working this spring coaching linebackers at Wyoming, a move which is giving him a chance to have a close-up view of the second of his two sons play for Iowa.
“The last time he was really able to go any of my games on a regular basis was back when I was in high school at Sycamore (Illinois) and he was coaching at Northern,’’ Nick Niemann said. “Even then, it was just when he had a home game that he was able to be there.’’
He suspects his mother, Lou Ann, may be benefitting the most from the move to Iowa City.
“She’s been the one running all over the place, from Rutgers to my games with Iowa and then last year on Sundays to watch Ben play for Kansas City,’’ Nick Niemann said. “She’ll still be on the move, but everything is a little closer now.’’
With Nick Niemann now in his junior season at Iowa and former Hawkeye linebacker Ben Niemann beginning his second season in the NFL with the Chiefs, Jay Niemann appreciates that well.
“We’re blessed to be in this situation and the opportunity we have to be on the staff here at Iowa, things couldn’t have worked out better for our family,’’ he said.
While his duties do not include coaching his son’s position, just the chance to be around is welcomed.
Jay Niemman grew up in Avoca, Iowa, played linebacker for Iowa State in college and the nine stops on his coaching resume includes time at Drake, Northern Iowa and Simpson in the state before his most recent stays at Hardin-Simmons, Northern Illinois and Rutgers.
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“I can’t put a value on how much it means to have a chance to get to be around my youngest son every day,’’ he said. “In this business, that can be a challenge. Even just a couple of minutes to talk at training table or in the office or locker room, it means a great deal.’’
That sentiment is shared.
“It’s pretty special,’’ said Nick Niemann, who recorded three tackles in the Hawkeyes’ season-opening win over Miami (Ohio).
While Jay Niemann helps prepare the Hawkeyes’ defense for the Rutgers offense this week, he knows even more about the Scarlet Knights’ defenders who will attempt to slow an Iowa offense which piled up 465 yards of offense in its season opener.
Rutgers coach Chris Ash said that while Jay Niemann will be able to provide the Hawkeye staff with some insight about Scarlet Knights personnel, he downplays the significance of any potential impact that may have on the game.
“It’s about the players. The players have to go out and play the game and execute the calls. Whether a coach has been in the program and may know a little bit about what you do, the players have to go out and execute and that is what it’s about,’’ Ash said at his news conference earlier this week.
“It’s not about coach against coach. It’s about a staff that can prepare their players.’’
Nick Niemann isn’t getting caught up in any of that, simply working to become the best linebacker he can be.
Iowa linebackers coach Seth Wallace mixed and matched lineup combinations within his position group throughout spring drills and fall camp.
Nick Niemann currently shares the top line at outside linebacker with Barrington Wade whenever the Hawkeyes use a 4-3 alignment but feels comfortable lining up at multiple positions.
“I feel good with where I’m at and with where things are headed,’’ Nick Niemann said. “We got a lot of good hits in on each other during camp and we’re ready to move into the season and build on that.’’
Each step of the way, Nick Niemann knows there will be another set of eyes on him.
“I’m looking forward to that, just having my dad around. It’s something I didn’t really think would ever happen, but I’m excited about it and I’m excited for him,’’ he said. “We’re both on the same team now, working to make the most of it.’’