Jay Niemann was named assistant defensive line coach and defensive recruiting coordinator in May, 2019. Niemann joined the Hawkeye coaching staff after serving as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Rutgers University for three seasons (2016-18).
The Hawkeyes won 10 games in 2021, winning the Big Ten’s West Division title and advancing to the conference championship game. Iowa concluded the season with an appearance in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl and was ranked 23rd in the nation in the final national rankings. Iowa’s streak of nine straight bowl invitations matches the longest in school history and the Hawkeyes have been in the Top 25 final rankings four straight seasons.
Iowa opened the 2021 season with six straight wins and closed the regular season with four straight victories to earn the West Division title and a berth in the league championship game for the second time since 2015. Iowa has been in the final national rankings in each of the past four seasons and has earned 19 conference wins in the past three seasons, Iowa’s highest three-year conference win total since 2002-04.
Iowa’s defense set a school record and led the nation with 25 interceptions in 2021. The defense ranked among national leaders in takeaways (30, third), defensive touchdowns scored (four, seventh), pass efficiency defense (110.5, sixth), turnover margin (0.8, 11th), rushing defense (114.4, 13th), scoring defense (19.2, 13th), and total defense (328.8, 18th).
Senior end Zach VanValkenburg led the play of Iowa’s defensive front, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors, while junior tackle Noah Shannon earned honorable mention recognition following his first season as a starter. Iowa’s defensive line in 2021 featured three players in their first year as starters.
VanValkenburg signed a free agent contract with the Las Vegas Raiders immediately following the 2022 NFL Draft. In three consecutive years, 2019-21, the Hawkeyes had a defensive lineman selected in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft.
Iowa’s most recent bowl game invitations include the 2022 Citrus Bowl, 2020 Music City Bowl, 2019 Holiday Bowl, 2019 Outback Bowl, 2017 Outback Bowl, 2016 Rose Bowl Game, 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl and 2014 Outback Bowl. The Hawkeyes have ranked in the final top 10 of both major polls five times in the past 20 seasons
Following back-to-back narrow losses to open the 2020 season, Iowa won six straight games, all in Big Ten play, to complete the regular season. Iowa’s defense allowed just seven points in three of the wins. The winning streak included road wins at Minnesota, Penn State and Illinois, and trophy game victories over Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes were ranked 15th in the nation in the final CFP rankings and coaches poll, and 16th by the Associated Press.
Iowa’s defense in 2020 led the nation in allowing opponents just 4.3 yards per play. The Hawkeyes ranked among the national leaders in several additional categories, including scoring (16.0, 7th), pass efficiency defense (110.1, 9th), rushing defense (107.6, 11th), total defense (313.8, 12th), red zone defense (.727, 12th), and interceptions (11, 19th).
Junior tackle Daviyon Nixon earned unanimous consensus All-America honors. He was named the Big Ten’s defensive lineman and defensive player of the year while earned first-team All-Big Ten honors. He was a finalist for both the Outland Trophy and Nagurski Award. Senior end Chauncey Golston also earned first-team All-Big Ten honors, while VanValkenburg earned second-team honors. Golston was selected by Dallas in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, while Nixon was selected in the fifth round by Carolina. DT Jack Heflin signed a free agent contract (Green Bay) immediately following the draft and was with the Packers throughout the 2021 season.
The Hawkeyes concluded the 2019 campaign with a 10-3 record following a 49-24 win over No. 22 Southern California in the Holiday Bowl. The three losses were all to ranked opponents by a combined 14 points. Iowa posted a 4-1 record in trophy games for the third straight season.
The 2019 Hawkeye defense ranked among the top 17 in the nation in scoring defense (5th, 14.0), first downs allowed (9th, 16.6), total defense (12th, 308.2), rushing defense (14th, 112.5), turnover margin (14th, 0.7), and pass efficiency defense (17th, 116.0). The Hawkeyes ranked in the top five nationally in fewest penalties and fewest penalty yards. Iowa opponents have averaged less than 20 points per game in each of the last five seasons.
Junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa earned first and second-team All-America honors while leading Iowa in sacks for the second straight season in 2019. Epenesa earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and was the defensive MVP in Iowa’s Holiday Bowl win over Southern California. Epenesa, who declared for the 2020 NFL Draft, had 2.5 sacks vs. Southern California as Iowa allowed the Trojans just 22 net rushing yards. Golston and senior tackle Cedrick Lattimore earned honorable mention All-Big Ten recognition.
Along with his three seasons at Rutgers, Niemann was the defensive coordinator at Northern Illinois from 2011-15. He coached linebackers at Rutgers and safeties at Northern Illinois and was the co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Hardin-Simmons from 2008-10.
Niemann’s 2018 defense at Rutgers ranked 19th in the nation and fourth in the Big Ten in pass defense, allowing opponents 186.7 yards per game. The Scarlet Knights ranked 45th in the nation in pass defense efficiency, with a rating of 123.29, and 46th in the nation in red-zone defense (.814).
Three Rutgers defenders earned postseason honors from the Big Ten. Senior safety Saquan Hampton and senior linebacker Trevor Morris earned honorable mention recognition, and senior cornerback Isaiah Wharton received the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award. Two Scarlet Knights ranked among Big Ten leaders in tackles in 2018. Morris ranked No. 3, averaging 9.1 tackles per game, and senior linebacker Deonte Roberts ranked No. 11, averaging 7.9 tackles.
Niemann’s Scarlet Knight defense in 2017 was key in victories over Purdue (14-12), Illinois (35-24) and Maryland (31-24). Rutgers’ defense ranked No. 48 in the nation in fewest opponent first downs allowed (243) and No. 55 in fewest passing yards allowed (216.8). In Niemann’s first season at Rutgers the Scarlet Knights ranked No. 6 in the nation in red zone defense (.727) and 18th in passing yards allowed per game (186.5).
Niemann’s top defensive player at NIU was safety Jimmie Ward, who was selected by San Francisco in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The 30th overall pick, Ward led the Huskies in tackles in each of his final two seasons. In all, Niemann’s Huskie defense produced seven players who signed with NFL teams
In 2015, NIU ranked eighth in the nation in turnovers gained (29) and fourth in interceptions (22). Sophomore cornerback Shawun Lurry led the FBS with nine interceptions and earned multiple All-America honors. The defensive unit posted 26 sacks with 15 different players involved in at least a half sack.
Six NIU defensive players earned All-MAC honors in 2014 as six opponents were held to 17 points or less. In 2012, the NIU defense held five opponents to nine points or less en route to a second straight MAC title and a historic berth in the Orange Bowl at the conclusion of the season. In the 2011 MAC Championship game, the NIU defense shut out Ohio in the second half en route to a 23-20 victory, the school’s first MAC football title in 28 years.
Northern Illinois won the Mid-American Conference West Division all five seasons (2011-15) Niemann was on the staff, capturing the MAC Championship three times (2011, ’12 and ’14). The Huskies played in a bowl game each of those five seasons. Northern Illinois won the 2011 GoDaddy Bowl and played in the Orange Bowl following the 2012 season.
During his tenure at Hardin-Simmons, Niemann helped turn a defense that ranked last in the nation prior to his arrival into the No. 2 unit in the American Southwest Conference in 2009. He helped guide Hardin-Simmons to the first round of the 2008 NCAA Division III playoffs.
Niemann served as the head coach at Simpson College from 2002-07. Niemann compiled a 32-29 record in his six seasons (2002-07) as head coach at Simpson. He led the Storm to the 2003 NCAA Division III Playoffs while also serving as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. He was named the 2003 Iowa Conference Coach of the Year.
Niemann was on the Northern Iowa coaching staff from 1997-2001. He was defensive coordinator in 1999 and 2000, and coached the secondary (1997, 2001), and linebackers (1998-2000). The Panthers advanced to the semifinals of the 2001 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Prior to his arrival at UNI, Niemann spent eight seasons at Drake University (1989-96), where he was the defensive coordinator and secondary coach. He was promoted to assistant head coach in 1995. In his final three seasons, the Bulldog defense ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense, pass efficiency defense and total defense.
Niemann coached linebackers and special teams in 1985 at Western Washington while pursuing his master’s degree. Niemann accepted a graduate assistant position at Washington in 1986, working with the Husky linebackers and defensive backs while coaching under Washington legends Don James and Jim Lambright.
Niemann completed his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Iowa State in 1983, and received his master’s degree in educational administration from Western Washington in 1989. He played linebacker at Iowa State from 1979-82 after earning all-state honors as a prep at Avo-Ha Community High School in Avoca, Iowa.
Jay and his wife, Lou Ann, have two sons, Ben and Nick. Both Ben and Nick were involved in the Iowa football program. Ben was a letterman from 2014-17 and has been a key defensive contributor for the Kansas City Chiefs for four seasons. The Chiefs won the Super Bowl following the 2019 season and returned to the Super Bowl in 2020. Nick completed his senior season as a Hawkeye linebacker in 2020. Nick was selected by the Los Angeles Chargers in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft and played his rookie season with the Chargers in 2021.
Niemann’s Coaching Career
Team – Position, Years
Iowa – Assistant Defensive Line/Defensive Recruiting Coordinator, 2019-present
Rutgers – Defensive Coordinator, LB, 2016-18
Northern Illinois – Defensive Coordinator/Safeties, 2011-15
Hardin-Simmons – Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs, 2008-10
Simpson College – Head Coach, 2002-07
Northern Iowa – Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers, 1999-00
Northern Iowa – Linebackers, 1998
Northern Iowa – Secondary, 1997, 2001
Drake – Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs, 1995-96
Drake – Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs, 1989-94
Washington – Graduate Assistant/Defensive Backs/Linebackers, 1986-88
Western Washington – Special Teams Coordinator/Linebackers, 1985