IOWA CITY, Iowa — Unprompted superlatives run amuck when recruits, families and their high school coaches discuss Iowa assistant Seth Wallace.
The 38-year-old linebackers coach and assistant defensive coordinator has become one of the Hawkeyes’ top contacts on the recruiting trail. In Iowa’s 2017 class, which contained 22 recruits, Wallace recruited six. Two were from Florida, three in Wisconsin and one in the Chicago area.
His approach is both personable and direct. Wallace doesn’t make promises but he remains positive. He generates respect and admiration for those with which he deals.
“He wasn’t like over the top where some of the other guys were,” said Stacy Gersonde, mother of Milwaukee punter Ryan Gersonde, a freshman at Iowa. “Seth was one of those guys that communicated. He was straightforward, very honest and we really respected that out of the program.”
“I had never met Coach Wallace until they started recruiting [Iowa sophomore quarterback Nathan Stanley],” Menomonie football coach Joe LaBuda said. “I was ultra-impressed. They didn’t overdo it.”
Wallace’s recruiting prowess is matched by his coaching acumen. He became Iowa’s recruiting coordinator in 2014 and was elevated to linebackers coach in 2016. This summer, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz added the title assistant defensive coordinator to Wallace this summer to emphasize Wallace’s importance to the staff.
In three seasons Wallace has advanced from entry-level assistant to made-man territory on Iowa’s staff. That’s quite a leap for a Division III player who spent much of his career coaching lower-division football.
Seth Wallace’s background
Wallace was born into the coaching lifestyle. His father, Greg, spent nearly 30 years on the high school and small-college sidelines. Wallace was born in Danville, Ky., when his father was the offensive coordinator at Centre College. Then in 1988, Greg Wallace was hired as head football coach and later men’s golf coach and athletics director at Division III Grinnell (Iowa) College.
Seth Wallace played football at Grinnell High School and was named second-team all-state in 1996. He then opted to play Division III football at Coe College in Cedar Rapids. Wallace moved to wide receiver and twice earned All-Iowa Conference honors, including first team in 2000.
At Coe, Wallace still ranks fifth in receiving yards (1,792), seventh in receiving touchdowns (17), sixth in yards-per-catch (18.1) and 11th in receptions (99). He remains the record holder in career punt return average (16.4) and ranks second in receiving yards in a game with 234 against Buena Vista in 2000.
After graduating with a physical education degree in 2001, Wallace immediately went into coaching at his alma mater. He spent two seasons guiding wide receivers, tight ends and special teams before leaving for Division III Lake Forest (Ill.) College in 2003. He spent three seasons there and moved up to offensive coordinator his final two years.
But he wanted to learn from the best. In his eyes, the best was Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker.
“I had some people that knew Norm at the time that I had worked with so there was a little bit of connection there,” Wallace said. “I did job my job as a young coach of pestering Norm and trying to stay in his hip pocket even when I wasn’t here.”
Wallace hooked up as a graduate assistant in 2006 and stayed three seasons. In his final year, the Hawkeyes finished 9-4 and built the foundation of one of the nation’s best defenses. He received his master’s degree from Iowa in sports management in 2008 and was hired at Valdosta (Ga.) State as defensive backs coach. He became defensive coordinator in 2011 and guided the defense to a Division II national title in 2012. In total, Wallace was there for five years. But his heart always pointed toward Iowa.
“Every chance I had to come back here and watch spring practice and be around, I was here,” Wallace said. “I think one thing led to another and there was a position that opened up, and I had a chance to be here.”
Returning to Iowa
Norm Parker, who died Jan. 13, 2014, had a major impact on Wallace’s coaching development. Parker reciprocated the fondness, telling Ferentz that Wallace was his best graduate assistant. When the Hawkeyes had an opening for a recruiting coordinator, Wallace applied and was hired in 2014.
With a new practice facility to sell recruits, Wallace reshaped the school’s pitch. Ferentz praised Wallace’s efficiency and impact in just a short period of time.
“Seth is a go-getter, an aggressive guy, and I think he’s done a great job of reshaping some of the structure and the ways we’re doing things,” Ferentz said in 2015. “I feel like we’re really probably operating at an all‑time efficiency level from a recruiting standpoint internally. So hopefully that will show as we move forward.”
Wallace worked Wisconsin area and the Chicagoland hard. He established solid ties and earned a sterling reputation in recruiting circles.
“Seth Wallace, who I think the world of, I think he’s the best recruiter that comes through our school,” said Matt Bergan, athletics director at Waukesha (Wis.) Catholic Memorial. “This is probably the most trafficked school in the state besides Kimberly High School because of coach [Bill] Young’s track record. Everyone comes through here.”
Wallace also is known as a talented coach. In his second year as recruiting coordinator, he also worked with the cornerbacks. In 2016, when linebackers coach Jim Reid left to become Boston College’s defensive coordinator, Wallace replaced him.
Preseason All-American linebacker Josey Jewell called the move “an awesome transition” and labeled Wallace as “an amazing coach” because of his attention to detail.
“He exemplifies that and puts it out there for you to understand,” Jewell said. “He puts all these things up on the board and you’re just like, it’s brilliant at the basics and he’ll put up the letters and you’ll have to guess what the words go out as. He’s into that kind of that stuff.”
Wallace’s elevation to assistant defensive coordinator was a way for Ferentz to reward him.
“In his past, you’d see the leadership traits,” Ferentz said. “He’s one of the guys that looks for things to do. I can’t keep up with him. Those are good guys to have on your staff. He’s always throwing stuff on your desk. Not bull crap stuff, but good stuff to look at, contemplate and that type of thing.
“So, you know, there are some guys that are just doing that. They’re always thinking about the next move, they’re staying a step ahead without doing a haphazard job on what it is they’re supposed to be doing. So I just thought we’ve all been really impressed.”
Similar to Kirk Ferentz, Wallace keeps his commentary short when talking about himself. He likes Iowa but doesn’t marvel at the road he’s traveled. He just focuses on the task at hand.
“I’m certainly very appreciative of where I’m at,” Wallace said. “My father certainly was a coach, so it was something I wanted to get into. But I had no plans of being here or being in this position. But certainly I’m thankful that I had the opportunity here eight years ago to be a graduate assistant for Norm Parker and then have the opportunity to come back four years ago.”
With his previous experience as a coordinator and his leadership skills, Wallace has potential to become a Division I defensive coordinator or head coach. Ferentz remained upbeat about Wallace’s prospects.
“As far as the future,” Ferentz said, “he’s an excellent coach, and I’m really pleased he’s on our staff. All of us are.”
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