Posted by: marcmwm | October 25, 2008

O’Keefe: Players playing better

Could it be this? Could it be that Kirk Ferentz wants his program to have one voice in the media, postgame and during the week? I know he’s said his assistants have plenty to do — I’m not doubting that. But could it really be that Ferentz, who coached under media-unfriendly Bill Belichick, doesn’t want the message muddled? Belichick doesn’t allow his assistants to speak to the media. The idea is that there won’t be contradiction. Everyone will appear to be on the same page.

I can’t fault that. If I were a head coach — I’d be Gundy times 10 with a Bobby Knight-like temper — this is how I’d probably do it.

I don’t fault it. I don’t like it, but the thinking is sound. I’d love to have Ken and Norm talk once a week for five minutes. I’d love to hear what they think about opposing offenses and defenses. I’d love to have more voices in the mix. I hear my Big Ten colleagues grouse about access and I laugh in their faces. I used to lobby for more access. In the last three or so years, I’ve given up. Ferentz wants it to be football and school for his players, not media training. I can’t fault that thinking. I don’t like it, but I can’t fault it.

You know all that stuff out there on the internet and call-in radio shows? I wouldn’t waste your energy. O’Keefe: “I’m not concerned about it. I don’t deal with it.” Plus, you do know he’s doing everything Kirk Ferentz wants, right? Every play, every formation, every idea has been vetted by the head coach. That not to say O’Keefe is an automaton, but Ferentz’s fingerprints are all over this.

Anyway, I think I buried the lede here. I think the most interesting thing that came out of O’Keefe’s interview was the basic reason for Ricky over Jake, the fact that Ricky throws with more accuracy while on the run, something that’s a pretty big deal for an Iowa offense that calls a lot of play-action fakes.

O’Keefe: Players playing better

O’Keefe: Players playing better

Photo

Ken O’Keefe Iowa offensive coordinator

Sometimes embattled Iowa assistant says not much has changed

By Marc Morehouse

The Gazette

IOWA CITY — It’s been a nutty year for Ken O’Keefe.

In August, Iowa’s offensive coordinator looked at the prospect of a true freshman running back. He had a quarterback who struggled in his first season as a starter. And the offensive line was a work-in-progress.

Now, everyone knows running back Shonn Greene. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi is managing games and making the occasional play. And Iowa’s O-line is being talked about as one of the best in head coach Kirk Ferentz’s 10-year run at Iowa.

In a five-week span, O’Keefe, in his 10th year at Iowa, has gone from target on the Internet and for postgame call-in shows to the genius behind one of the Big Ten’s most dynamic offenses.

O’Keefe said the offense hasn’t changed.

The players are playing better.

Simple as that.

“From where I’m sitting, it’s moving forward and making first downs and we’re getting the ball in the end zone, if that’s a change,” he said during a Friday news conference. “But we’re running the same plays, we’re doing the same stuff that we’ve done in the past. So it really hasn’t changed in a lot of ways.

“But it’s not just Shonn. We’re better in a lot of places right now, upfront. At every position, we’re playing better than we did a year ago at this stage, and we need to continue to do that.”

O’Keefe called Greene a “catalyst” for Iowa’s offense. The 5-foot-11, 235-pounder’s physical style lights up the collective demeanor of the offense. Offensive linemen can’t help but be fired up after seeing Greene finish runs the way he did last week against Wisconsin, rushing for 217 yards and four touchdowns.

Greene returned to Iowa this summer after missing 2007 because of academics. O’Keefe had no idea what Iowa had in the 23-year-old New Jersey native.

“The guy hadn’t played football. He hadn’t run, he hadn’t conditioned,” O’Keefe said. “. . . You can imagine what it was like for him being away from the building, being away from school, being away from some of his buddies, you know, the motivating factors in your life a lot of times. And he stayed out here the whole time, you know, away from family and friends.”

O’Keefe credited strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle and running backs coach Lester Erb for Greene’s blistering start, the only back in FBS with eight straight 100-yard games.

“He’s pretty darn good. He’s a combination of — he’s big, strong, powerful, and he’s faster than you think,” O’Keefe said. “. . . But he’s getting into game shape where I think you can see his speed emerge a little bit more than maybe it did early on in the season.”

O’Keefe is also Iowa’s quarterbacks coach, so you know where this is going.

Iowa came into this season with junior Jake Christensen the incumbent starter. Sophomore Ricky Stanzi, who threw passes in ’07, pulled even during spring practice and eventually won out. He earned his first start in week 2 against Florida International and has played every significant snap during the last four games.

O’Keefe said Christensen has remained a positive force on the team.

“When we make a decision to go a different direction, it’s not easy on you. It’s not easy on any of us,” said O’Keefe, 55. “We know how much (Christensen) has invested and we care about him. We have great respect for what he’s done. We still have that respect. He’s continued to really help us as a team.

“His attitude has really been a lift to us in a difficult situation for him personally. He has done nothing but good things and has looked for ways to contribute.”

Stanzi has been a steady hand. He’s third in the Big Ten with a 145.3 pass efficiency. He had five turnovers in Iowa’s first two Big Ten losses, but hasn’t had any the last two weeks.

At Pittsburgh, Stanzi completed 7 of 10 in the first half including his first six passes, while Christensen was 2-for-6. Christensen played the entire second half and the Hawkeyes lost 21-20.

That’s when the offense became Stanzi’s.

“Rick was moving the ballclub, making some of the plays that we needed,” O’Keefe said. “Really, the difference came down to Rick throws the ball pretty well on the run. That’s something that we needed to have done.”

O’Keefe is Iowa’s unofficial director of slogans. His office window will have a motivational thought or two taped to it on a given week.

What’s the slogan for the Hawkeyes’ last four games?

“The overriding theme is focus, we need to find ways to focus on getting better,” O’Keefe said.

“You guys hate that stuff when it comes out of peoples’ mouths, I know, but it’s a process. . . . There isn’t a magic answer.”

n Contact the writer: (319) 398-8256 or marc.morehouse@gazcomm.com

Photo

Iowa Offensive Coordinator Ken O’Keefe (left) talks with Head Coach Kirk Ferentz on the sideline during the first quarter of their home opener against Maine Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

 

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