Posted by: marcmwm | September 30, 2008

The answer for the “fire the assistants” crowd . . .

This is a story from last year, Oct. 24, 2007, to be exact.

I asked Kirk Ferentz about Ken O’Keefe and the conversation evolved.

Here’s the story:

IOWA CITY – The criticism of Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe has stepped up in
the face of the Hawkeyes’ struggles this season.

Iowa goes into Saturday’s game ranked last or next-to-last in every Big Ten offensive
statistic that matters. It’s also nearing some national lows, in scoring offense (117th
out of 119 FBS teams), sacks allowed (116th) and total offense (109th).

Fans are grumbling for O’Keefe’s job. Head coach Kirk Ferentz understands
fans’ frustration, but he’ll keep his offensive coordinator.

“First of all, I think he’s a quality coach, an outstanding coach and I can’t
imagine us having someone better in that position,” Ferentz said. “That’s the
major problem on that request.”

In five Big Ten games, the Hawkeyes have scored just six touchdowns, averaging 11.2 points a
game. The Hawkeyes also are last in the conference in red-zone offense. Iowa has scored just
eight times in 12 (66.7 percent) trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

Ferentz referenced a Big Ten school that fired a few assistants in the early 1980s, during
Ferentz’s first run as offensive line coach at Iowa. That left a bad taste in his mouth
and has colored his beliefs on staff continuity, even in times of struggle.

“That was the first time I really saw bodies coming out, coordinators or assistants
coming out, trying to stay a step ahead of the posse, divert the attention,” Ferentz said.

Instead of firing coaches, Ferentz said his focus will be on “working through

“I’m not of the school that you fire four people and assume everything is going to
be fine, just to take the heat off yourself,” Ferentz said. “I think that’s a
cop-out. If there’s a legitimate reason to do it, that’s fine, but we certainly
don’t have any of those, in my mind. Other people are entitled to their opinions.”

Ferentz and O’Keefe began working together in 1978 at Worcester (Mass.) Academy. But
Ferentz was quick to point out that personal relationships have nothing to do with what’s
going on in the Iowa football offices.

“Business is business. Coaches get fired all of the time,” Ferentz said.
“(But) I think he does an excellent job.”

Ferentz was asked what he’d do if Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta told him to
restructure his staff.

“That’s a hypothetical. It’s a good question, though,” he said.



  1. No one wanted them gone from 2001-2004.

    It’s all about the players folks so please get off KF’s butt.

    He isn’t perfect but he’s a darn good coach and an exemplary representative of our state.

    My only complaint is I wish they would take some chances from time to time as opposed to always playing the odds.

  2. It seems to me that type of football Kirk Ferentz employs tends to put Iowa in close games most of the time. This leaves little or no room for the margin of error. All teams will commit turnovers over the course of a season, which reduces the margin of error even more. The pattern that is developing the last 3 seasons and now this one is that Iowa is predictable and the philosophy of the coaching style is no longer working the way it was when Iowa won a lot of close games. Being the 10th season of Kirk’s tenure, the state of his programs is at best puzzling, given the mediocrity that is now obvious to more and more fans and observers.

  3. There’s really only one way to win at Iowa. 1) develop players 2) the best/quickest way to that is through consistency in the teaching

    This doesn’t mean the coaching staff can never change. Or that nothing new is introduced. In fact, this is ‘year 1’ of a re-configured staff.

    What happens in the 10year of a coaching staff, more than anything else, for the fans of a program is everything is so well-known to us, so closely watched – it’s impossible to surprise us. Anything less than all wins fails to delight some of us. Ask John Cooper or Lloyd Carr (or Joe Paterno.)

    This collides with another reality which is for Iowa to compete (and win) takes time. The recruiting classes from 04, 05 were collections of attrition. Attrition slows the development of a championship competitive football program. Changing philosophies or coordinators doesn’t speed things up.

    Iowa was 4-4 in the B10 last year (not quite the bottom.)

    This year has yet to play out. At this point I don’t know any Iowa followers who don’t see more promise from the QB, big production from the RB and an, overall, improved OL.

    Last year we watched a team that was, maybe, 15 players deep (in terms of all conference potential.) This year it’s probably 20 something deep with guys who will or could earn that sort of playing recognition.

    We can always find ways to win that went wrong in defeat. Sometimes it’s no more complicated than missing field goals and dropping punts.

    I’m hoping for better but I’m going to trust in Kirk.

  4. Nice post, Eric.

  5. Jim Walden told Zabel Sunday night that he checked the tape, and neither Ferentz not OKeefe nor Parker dressed for the game, and not one of them committed a turnover vs. Northwestern. The kids did, however.

    You design your scheme according to 1) what your people are able to do, and 2) what you are competing against. On defense, we have never had backs that can go stride for stride in man coverage with James Hardy of Indiana. So we stuff the run, give them the stuff to the flat, and double cover in a 2 deep zone to contain the ‘big play.’ Result is Iowa does not give up many points.

    I took a look at last year’s game with the Spartans. Our offense had 13 possessions in regulation, 9 of them were 3 and out. We scored 20 pts on the remaining 4 possessions. Our QB went 2/11 in regulation. Finally, we are seeing the potential of Rick Stanzi to throw the long ball, and connect on the crossing routes, which in combination with a good running game, will let KOK open up the offense as Rick can do more things.

    We’re currently 8 points short of being 5/0.

    I think we need execution, including minimizing turnovers, a lot more than new coaches.

    Marc, one question. Many teams have a coach in the press box, like Pitt had Matt Cavanaugh. Do the Hawks have a guy in the press box, and does he suggest plays, or what does he do?

  6. Both Iowa coordinators are on the field, Ken O’Keefe and Norm Parker.

    Coaches in the box include Lester Erb (RB and special teams), quality control assistant Scott Southmayd and graduate assistants Seth Wallace and Dan Clark (Dallas’ older brother).

    Erb is the only full-time assistant in the press box. Everyone else is on the field. O’Keefe has never been upstairs. Norm did it the few times during the 2004 season when he had leg problems.

    Erb is probably a reconnaissance voice for offense and defense, but may be making some special teams calls from the booth. I believe everything is pretty much being called on the field.

  7. And to think Evy used to call plays from a card table and chair on the sideline.

    The other thing about schemes and ‘changing coordinators’ is that, at Iowa, at least there’s a relationship between the style of offense and the style of defense. Steve Spurrier learned this or sought this balance with the hiring of Bob Stoops. Previously, he (Spurrier) didn’t give much regard to the defense reckoning he’d outscore everyone.

    Iowa’s built to play the game a certain way. Let’s see if the Hawks can’t get it going.

  8. In response to the comment

    “No one wanted them gone from 2001-2004”

    You’re talking about 3 of 10 years. Also, the players on those teams were extraordinary. Given, some of years besides the 3 mentioned above, were OK. However, the state of Iowa is paying top tier money to get those results ? I guess it wouldn’t be so frustrating if KF weren’t making superstar coach money.

    Why don’t we go ahead a get someone for a third of what they’re paying KF to have the same results ?

    There’s also alot of mention that it’s the players failing to perform. Who do you think brought those players to the field ? KF has full control of who he brings in and how they are being used.

    This tells me that the coaching staff either has poor judgement of players abilities or they simply do not know how to use them in a game.

    I remain a huge supporter of Hawkeyes Football, however, I can no longer support the coaches that fail to evolve.

  9. Anyone that is blaming the players has not watched them play the last 3 years or knows very little about football. I will admit that O’Keefe has been better this year then the previous two years (because he is not calling a play action pass 65% of the time) but he is still not even worthy of being a Pee-Wee coach. If you haven’t noticed, there is lack of quality play calling in the end zone. We have lost 4 games by a total of 12 points. I can put the blame on the players for the Northwestern but the rest werethe coaches fault. We enjoy storming down the field with maybe the greatest Iowa football player (Shonn Greene) and then throw 3 incomplete passes at the 10-yard line and kick a field goal. It’s simple math. Shonn Greene averages 6.5 yards a carry and we have 3 plays to go 10 yards. We have the most talented team that we have had since 2002 and we are 5-4 in the weakest Big Ten conference every year. We need a new offensive coordinator, any argument against this is wrong.

  10. PH, What you’re going to hear with that argument is that O’Keefe is the same OC in 2002, ’03 and ’04, when Iowa’s offense was terrific (it was pretty darn good in ’05, too, but that year was like this year).

    You’re also going to hear two Big Ten co-championships and two first-team all-Big Ten quarterbacks.

    This offense is Ferentz’s as much, maybe more, as it is O’Keefe’s. This is the offense Ferentz wants, conservative, percentage, power football.

    That last series against NU wasn’t going on anyone’s coaching resume or highlight reel. Iowa didn’t execute well, though. It was Stanzi’s first Big Ten start.

    I don’t believe Ferentz will ever fire an assistant unless that assistant is grossly incompetent. Also, if he brought in a new offensive coordinator, I’m not sure Iowa’s offense would look any different than it does now.

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