You have to believe Kirk Ferentz knew his offensive coordinator was headed out the door before Friday’s announcement.
Look at the principles involved: Former Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe began his college coaching career as a baseball manager and football head coach at Worcester (Mass.) Academy, a postgraduate prep school. It was there, back in 1979, that he hired a dormitory R.A. named Kirk Ferentz to be his O-line coach.
Joe Philbin played baseball and football for O’Keefe at Worcester in ’80. O’Keefe hired Philbin at Alleghany College. When Ferentz assembled his first staff at Iowa, O’Keefe was the first hire as offensive coordinator. Philbin was brought in as O-line coach soon thereafter.
Philbin went to the Packers and won a Super Bowl ring last season as offensive coordinator. Ferentz and O’Keefe stayed in Iowa City for the last 13 seasons and helped guide the Hawkeyes to a pair of Big Ten co-championships.
The men have been friends for 25-plus years. No one is sneaking up on anyone here.
So, when Ferentz met the press last Wednesday to announce Iowa’s 2012 class — which O’Keefe actively recruited through early this week, securing a commitment from quarterback C.J. Beathard — you have to think he knew what was coming down.
Why is this significant?
The clock is ticking. Spring practice is just more than a month out (March 24). Seems insignificant? New coordinators need to be in place to install their offense, defense and concepts (if there are new concepts, which you should expect, Ferentz isn’t dictatorial). Also, they will have to familiarize themselves with personnel, so they know what they can install, what will work and, simply, who can do what.
You get 15 spring practices and then it goes dark until fall camp in August. This is not a lot of time for what you can assume to be Nos. 2 and 3 in command to get to know the lay of the land.
You can completely delete and forget the above statement if the coordinators come from within the program.
Phil Parker, going into his 14th season as Iowa’s defensive backs coach, is a logical candidate for defensive coordinator. Iowa would stick with 4-3 with a lot of Cover 4 behind it, but Parker would have his own input.
That is but one hypothetical for the defensive coordinator. Ferentz said Wednesday he felt he knew where that was headed with that position. But did that statement include the Friday’s fresh news on offensive coordinator?
Do we get into salary at this point?
Iowa hasn’t been in the market for coordinators for 13 seasons. O’Keefe leaves Iowa with a salary of $313,200. He was Iowa’s highest-paid assistant, with wide receivers coach Erik Campbell next at $250,560.
Michigan hired Greg Mattison away from the Ravens last year for $775,000. On the other end of the scale, Kansas is paying newly hired defensive coordinator Dave Campo $500,000.
The ante has gone up considerably since Ferentz last shopped for coordinators.
This is the part where we speculate. We’ll stick with the newest news, who’s Iowa’s next offensive coordinator?
Ferentz considered it a coup when he offered Campbell a place to land after Lloyd Carr’s final Michigan staff broke up in 2008. The Iowa wide receivers coach was front and center in this recruiting class. He has the utmost respect of his receivers.
“When he came to Iowa, he told me, ‘I was going to recruit you no matter where I was.’ He was one of the biggest reasons I finally made the decision,” senior receiver Keenan Davis said. “He told me exactly how it was going to be and he hasn’t lied to me once. Everything he’s told me since high school, it’s happened.”
If Ferentz promoted Campbell, Iowa would need someone to monitor quarterback coaching. Quarterback mechanics need constant maintenance.
He’s been the journeyman of Ferentz’s staff, starting with receivers in 2000, adding co-special teams and then moving to running backs and co-special teams.
If the hire comes from within, it’s hard to say where he’d rank. Campbell has been offered a job nearly every year he’s been at Iowa (Michigan came knocking when Brady Hoke took over). Moving Erb around the staff shows Ferentz trusts his teaching skills, a high-value trait in a program that Ferentz constantly calls developmental.
He has an Iowa tie, playing defensive back from 1973-76. He was the Indianapolis Colts head coach before he was fired after 2-14 season. He was recently hired as the Baltimore Ravens quarterbacks coach.
O’Keefe coached Iowa’s quarterbacks and was offensive coordinator. Few college programs have dedicated quarterback coaches, but O’Keefe covered that base for Iowa. Keeping that base covered might factor into this hire.
Hill coached with Ferentz when the two were with the Baltimore Ravens in 1996. Hill was head coach at Fresno State for 15 seasons before being fired after a 4-9 record last year. He’s the O-line coach with the Atlanta Falcons. If Iowa is interested in recruiting California (a stretch), Hill could do that.
He was an all-Big Ten defensive back for the Hawkeyes in 1985. He had a few stops in the NFL, then to Nebraska and is now co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, where he doesn’t have playcalling duties. He would have that at Iowa. Ferentz had veto, but O’Keefe called the plays.
Now, Norvell is a practitioner of the spread offense. You saw it against the Hawkeyes in the Insight Bowl. Norvell interviewed at Wisconsin for offensive coordinator, but stayed at OU because Wisconsin isn’t interested in going to a full spread.
Ferentz isn’t interested in going to a full spread (but Iowa does run an empty backfield more than a few times a game, so it’s not a completely ill-informed thought).
This is the long shot, if you just go off resumes.
Of course, Brian is Kirk Ferentz’s son. He played O-line for the Hawkeyes from 2003-05. After a season on the Falcons’ practice squad, Brian Ferentz was hired as a “go-fer” with the New England Patriots, where he’s been the tight ends coach the last two seasons. Four seasons since having his desk in the hallway, he’s being interviewed during crazy media days at the Super Bowl.
So many questions here. Is it too soon to make the leap to coordinator? Would Kirk want Brian on his staff? Would Brian want to work with his dad? Is Brian’s ambition in college or the NFL?
Oh, and he happens to work for Bill Belichick, arguably the greatest NFL coach of this generation.
Iowa and coach Kirk Ferentz have trumpeted continuity on the coaching staff. In 13 years, Ferentz has had just 15 coaches on staff.
Right now, unless there’s a plan in place — there certainly could be — he has no coordinators and is officially looking for a defensive line coach.
In Iowa City, this classifies as upheaval.