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.”