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Schwartz Sunday Notes: Diaco’s ‘Rehab,’ Football Returns & Live Sports

March 18, 2018

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

If you’re a Hawkeye fan, the best parts of college sports’ winter season ended Saturday. We hit the highest of highs when freshman Spencer Lee became the first true freshman Iowa wrestler to win a national title in a quarter-century. And we groaned when Creighton’s women’s basketball team upset the Hawkeyes in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

So here we are with a few days to kill until spring football practice begins and the weather warms up enough to make Iowa baseball and softball viable options.

Let’s unpack a few notable Iowa tidbits, enjoy the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments, and catch our breath.

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Former Hawkeye linebacker Bobby Diaco will get a chance to “rehab his image,” according to CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli. Oklahoma hired Diaco on Thursday as a defensive analyst – a coaching position in college football I didn’t know existed until I read Fornelli’s story.

That’s great for Diaco, but let’s clarify something: As far as I’m aware, he hasn’t been arrested, smuggled illegal goods into the country, or drowned any animals. By “rehab his image,” Fornelli meant that Diaco can prove he’s still an effective college coach.

Diaco was a rising star in college coaching in 2012 when, as defensive coordinator for Notre Dame, he was named the nation’s top assistant and helped lead the Fighting Irish to the national title game.

From there, he earned the head-coaching job at UConn, which he held for three seasons. The Huskies went to one bowl game, which they lost, never finished with a winning record, and Diaco was ousted after his teams collectively went 11-26.

Nevertheless, in 2017 he landed on his feet as the new defensive coordinator at Nebraska and, whooooboy, it did not go well. The Huskers coughed up one of their worst defensive seasons in … well, ever. Their rushing defensive ranked 114th out of 130 FBS teams. (The players he recruited to UConn? Under their new/old head coach, Randy Edsall, their passing defense ranked dead last: 130th.)

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That stench is what Fornelli says Diaco needs to “rehab.” It’s never fun to see a Hawkeye struggle. Let’s see if Diaco can regain his mojo with the Sooners.

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And just like that, it’s spring football to the rescue. The Hawkeyes begin their spring-practice season Tuesday. You can prepare for its arrival by reading Rob Howe here, and here.

As always, it’ll be interesting which storylines emerge. Last year at this time, it was Tyler Wiegers vs. Nathan Stanley for the starting QB job.

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Now, Wiegers plays for Eastern Michigan, while Stanley is firmly cemented as Iowa’s starter through the 2019 season.

I’m curious what you all think is the biggest question mark off-season. Me? It’s how quickly Stanley can adjust to playing under a new center. That’s followed closely by how rapidly A.J. Epenesa is developing technique to go along with his work ethic and athleticism.

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No matter how good our TVs get and no matter how plugged in Twitter allows us to be, watching major sporting events in public places beats watching it at home.

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It was that way a couple of years ago, when Adam Woodbury’s basket sent the Hawkeyes past Temple in the NCAA Tournament. I can still remember our then 9-year-old crying with joy. And it was that way Saturday at The Vine Tavern in Coralville watching on TV, as Lee beat Rutgers’ Nick Suriano, 5-1, for the national title at 125 pounds.

Because of the University of Iowa’s spring break, the bar wasn’t as crowded as usual. However, when Lee went up 2-0 on the timid-looking Suriano, shouts rang out. The cheers and high fives flew when the match ended.

Strangers became friends, if only for a few minutes.

Live crowds are the best.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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