Posted by: marcmwm | October 1, 2008

Buck stops with Ferentz

September 30. 2008 10:57PM

Buck stops with Ferentz

By Marc Morehouse

Kirk Ferentz Iowa Coach

IOWA CITY — The Hawkeyes had a losing record in 2006. They failed to earn a bowl bid last season. They’re on a two-game losing streak.

This is the 10th season in Iowa City for Kirk Ferentz and the core of his coaching staff. Frustration is percolating with the fan base. That generally comes out as criticism of the staff, specifically offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe and defensive coordinator Norm Parker.

Team loses, fans want change. The first stop is assistant coaches. It’s time-honored tradition in college football fandom. Ferentz touched on the topic Tuesday.

He said his first exposure to a mass firing of assistants came during his first go-round at Iowa in the ’80s. It was a Big Ten school firing an entire defensive staff. He didn’t know all the details for that school, but he didn’t like how it looked.

“It looked to me like a passing the buck,” Ferentz said. “It’s real simple, if someone isn’t doing their job, they should be removed. If they’re not enthusiastic about their job, they should be removed. But I also think people should have the opportunity to demonstrate that they can do it.

“If there are some concerns, you’ve got to see if you can move those things along.”

Ferentz sees the “fire the assistants” reaction as a reflection of society. If it doesn’t work, throw it away and start over.

“That’s the magic pill right now,” Ferentz said. “And I know part of that is a by-product of salaries and all that stuff. I understand the economics behind it.”

He then brought up the example of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who’ve had three coaches since 1969.

“It’s all about having good people,” he said. “If you don’t have the right people, yeah, you have to make changes. But if you have the right people, you try to address circumstances and persevere and correct and improve. That’s kind of how you do it. I’m a believer in that.”

After longtime running backs coach Carl Jackson retired, Ferentz stirred up his staff last winter. Erik Campbell arrived from Michigan to coach receivers and tight ends. Receivers coach Lester Erb switched to running backs. And tight ends coach Eric Johnson is concentrating on recruiting coordinator and working with linebackers.

On defense, Parker gave up inside linebackers to concentrate on game planning. Darrell Wilson added that duty to outside linebackers and special teams.

O’Keefe and Parker are in their 10th seasons at Iowa. Most of the others are ninth or 10th.

Ferentz made it clear he’s the boss. His coaches are doing what he tells them to do. They’re running an offense and plays he signed off on. He has veto power over everything, from blitzes to punt blocks.

If you want to be mad, be mad at him, he said.

But he looks at it differently, of course.

“I look at us having three teams that were top 10 teams (2002-04), which hasn’t been done a lot at Iowa,” he said. “We did it with three different quarterbacks (Brad Banks, Nathan Chandler, Drew Tate). … I think it’s reflective of pretty good coaching. I don’t think that was a fluke.

“I look at our challenges, and I’m not denying we’ve had them, but I understand the reasons for them. I think they’re being addressed and I think we’re going to be fine.”



  1. will be interested to see how Campbell fares as we hopefully get better WRs in (see Keenen Davis).

    I admire coach Ferentz’s loyalty, but when it becomes apparent a change is needed, you can’t be so slow to make the switch. You have to be able to evolve, mix it up, not be SO PREDICTABLE other teams know exactly what you are going to do. We don’t get the athletes the Ohio States, Michigans, Penn States (right now even Wisconsins & Illinois) get. You can’t just say, well this is what we do and keep staying with it even though it is not working.

    there’s no question we had some teams in 2002-04 under this staff’s regime that made everyone proud. However, that is 4 years in the past. Check the record/progress the last three years and it will be a surprise if this team lands above .500 and goes to a bowl. Look at the last four years and take out the wins over Florida International, Maine, etc. and look at the name teams we have beaten.

    I don’t think the answer is get rid of Kirk right now. He’s been a good leader, done some good things, good citizen and has earned a long look. However, in the next 1-2 years that needs to be looked at if our current progression (or lack there of it) continues and he refuses to makes changes, whether via coaching staff or some decision-making.

  2. Marc,
    Ferentz makes a good point about how 4-5 years ago, pulling the right strings and making the right calls.
    You’ve been around college football for a long time now. Do you think it’s a case of coordinators not evolving game plans and adjusting to talent or the players just not grasping the schemes or having the ability to execute plays that should be effective?

  3. Sorry for the typo, I wasn’t pulling strings. I believe I left that up to the Iowa Coaching staff. 🙂

  4. KJ, interested in your viewpoint: Do you think Iowa adjusts its defensive game plan much from team to team? Do they stick with what they do and try to do that well no matter who they are playing? Will wait to hear your view, then comment.

  5. I certainly think the defense has a specific philosophy and sticks to that for every opponent. There might be some slight modifications.

    Offensively, I don’t know. I have yet to really make sense of the game plan. I would say they probably go with what they believe works and have showed a tendency to do well and cart that out against the week’s opponent.

  6. Evolution is a strong word for college football. I think what Iowa does is based on things that should always work at every level of football, blocking and tackling. If Iowa’s offense works, it’s a time suck, keeping spread offenses in the garage. On defense, it’s more CYA and wait out a mistake by the quarterback. Stop the run, make them one-dimensional.

    When Iowa has been great, the coaches have made their system fit personnel, although you could definitely argue that the ’02 team was made for Ferentz’s philosophy. In ’03, the offense worked with QB Nathan Chandler. In ’04, the offense re-made itself on the fly with no RBs. At the heart of ’03 and ’04 was an excellent defense that gave the offense more rope, with takeaways and three-and-outs.

    Have they adjusted to talent the last two or three years? Fair question.

    Of course, execution is the magic bean. They execute, it works. You could also fairly argue that Iowa’s personnel hasn’t executed the coaches’ schemes well enough the past few seasons.

    I think when it comes together, this team has a chance to be a thing of beauty.

    But will it come together? Clock’s ticking.

  7. Has Norm Parker said publically how much longer he is going to coach?

    How old is Norm?

  8. No, he hasn’t.

    He’s 66.

  9. The 2004 offense ranked pretty low in scoring in NCAA…around 92nd if I recall correctly. The running game was not working even before we lost the top3 RBs…Jermelle was only averaging 3.6 ypc or so when he went down.

    I would give most of the credit in 2004 to Drew Tate and him being able to improvise and scramble. The other key was great defense.

    2003 offense with Chandler at QB was not that good either..again it was good defense.

    KOK/KF, they both need to re-examine their success–the good offensive years have been exceptional QB play (Tate, Banks) and not the system and exceptional coaching. JC kind of proved this offense goes nowhere with subpar QB play.

  10. I don’t mind Norm. As long as he adjusts the scheme with the talent. We have some great players coming up right now that can help put an end to the “Bend but Don’t Break” defense we’ve been fretting.

    I think we’ll see more blitzing success in the next few years with our young talent at corner and safety.

    In fact, we need Sash asap.

  11. All that matters is the talent on the field and 2002-2004 make my argument.

    2002- Gallery, Steinbach,Clark and you can name others, who were done playing after 2002, who are in the NFL.

    2003-Kaeding and Bob to name a couple. Bob’s kind of like Budweiser, when you sat Bob you’ve said it all.

    2004- The DL, Abdul, Chad, Considine. Go back and watch that D play(especially the DL), they were ridiculous. Our QB was pretty good that year as well.

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