Finally, there is a hole in the bubble of the Iowa football complex. Some birds have poked through it and have left the nest.
The retirement of defensive coordinator Norm Parker was no shock. But then defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski not only left the Hawkeyes, but for Nebraska. That wasn’t an every-year occurrence for Iowa, let alone an every-decade event.
Friday, Ken O’Keefe apparently informed his co-workers that he was departing to become an assistant coach with the Miami Dolphins, whose head coach is former Iowa offensive line coach Joe Philbin.
Philbin left a decade ago, which makes him one of the more-recent Iowa assistants to depart. He spent nine seasons on the Green Bay Packers’ staff, the last five as offensive coordinator.
If Philbin wanted O’Keefe on his Miami staff, I would suggest that says “good coach” about O’Keefe with a lot more weight than armchair coordinators in Iowa have saying “bad coach” about him. The good-old-boy network in the NFL isn’t what it used to be. You have to win, and win fast, or you’re out of work. You don’t win and you don’t keep getting paid by surrounding yourself with incompetence or freeloaders.
Iowa, by the way, did quite a bit of winning over 13 years with O’Keefe as the OC.
And also remember this: The person ultimately responsible for Iowa’s offense has been and will continue to be head coach Kirk Ferentz.
I know the Ferentz way is to keep assistant coaches out of the path of sportswriters and broadcasters. I get that. The assistants aren’t paid to be the faces and voices of the program to the outer world, just to players, parents and recruits. Which is a lot in itself.
But my feeling was always that the more Hawkeye fans would have been exposed to O’Keefe, the more they would have liked him. He is very intelligent and well-read, has a good sense of humor, and strikes me as being plenty humble.
Iowa’s offense did an abundance of good and even great things in O’Keefe’s 13 years as the OC. It could also be maddening to many with what was considered its predictability and lack of creativity. Familiarity, in all walks of life, breeds contempt. I certainly found Iowa’s offense to be confounding from time to time over the years, maybe no more so than in its loss at Nebraska to end the 2011 regular-season.
I wondered if O’Keefe (and Ferentz) lost Drew Tate as the quarterback’s career got longer at Iowa, or if Tate lost them.
From what I understand, it was O’Keefe who lobbied for Ricky Stanzi to replace Jake Christensen as Iowa’s starting QB during the 2008 season, with Ferentz not quite as warm to the idea. The change was made, though, and it turned out to be a season-saver for the Hawkeyes.
“Real good coach,” is how New York Giants linebackers coach Jim Herrmann described O’Keefe to me here on Thursday. Herrmann was the defensive coordinator at Michigan during O’Keefe’s first seven years at Iowa.
Sitting in the Super Bowl media workroom Friday, I found myself next to a reporter I met at the Outback Bowl three seasons ago. Joe Person now covers the Carolina Panthers for the Charlotte Observer, but was the South Carolina Gamecocks football beat writer for The State in Columbia (S.C.) when Iowa played South Carolina in Tampa.
I told Person I’d heard O’Keefe was leaving Iowa for Miami. He was interested.
“They sure put a thumping (31-10) on the Gamecocks,” he said.
That they did. There were a lot of thumpings over 13 years, and there were some thumps.
Bigger picture, that’s three coaching changes over nine staff positions and we don’t know if this the last of it. I believe in coincidences, but I also believe some things happened because they’re nudged along.
Isn’t it entirely possible Ferentz has decided to make another big run in the Big Ten (rather than going 4-4 in the league and playing in bowl games considered irrelevant to the masses), and he needed to do something with this staff?
That’s just theorizing. Also know this: O’Keefe’s daughter, Meghan O’Keefe, is the social media coordinator at Ironman World Headquarters in Tampa.
And O’Keefe was the head coach at Worcester Academy, a preparatory school, from 1978 to 1984. Mike Sherman, now the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator, was on the Worcester Academy staff in 1979 and 1980. Philbin attended Worcester Academy in that time period. O’Keefe coached Philbin in football and baseball.
Ferentz, by the way, was the defensive coordinator and an English literature teacher at Worcester Academy in 1978 and 1979.
Looks like they’re getting the Worcester band back together in Miami. Except for Ferentz. He’ll be assembling a new band of his own this winter.