IOWA CITY — It feels a little like a presidential campaign with Iowa football.
The word “change” was used maybe a dozen times. It made sense in the fact that Wednesday was the introductory news conferences for linebackers coach LeVar Woods and offensive line Brian Ferentz.
They are living, breathing changes on an Iowa coaching staff that saw just 15 total coaches in Kirk Ferentz’s first 13 seasons in Iowa City. Going into spring practice, only three of the nine coaches on Iowa’s staff will be in the same positions they held in 2011.
Beyond the physical changes, which also includes a $53 million indoor football practice area and football facilities, how Iowa plays football is up in the air.
Kirk Ferentz acknowledged he looked under the hood and gave the program a thorough examination, including playbook.
“We’ll look a little different defensively next year. It’s not going to be wholesale different,” Ferentz said. “I think we will be different offensively, too.
“Regardless, had Norm [Parker, retired defensive coordinator] and Ken [O'Keefe, former offensive coordinator now with the Miami Dolphins] stayed, we were at that point where we really wanted to go back and look — we do this every year — but I thought in all regards to our program, we really needed to really look at things as thoroughly as possible.”
The inspection also went beyond schemes. For example, Iowa’s recruiting territory is changing. Florida and the northeast will be “spot” territories that the Iowa staff will smartbomb through existing relationships. Brian Ferentz will recruit Ohio, while Woods will recruit the Kansas City/Dallas corridor.
The transition on staff happened naturally. Kirk Ferentz said if no one would’ve departed, he wouldn’t have fired anyone.
“Like anything else, you have to go back and look at things and what can we do better,” Kirk Ferentz said. “If there are things we can do offensively, defensively, special teams, recruiting, those are the main things. The way we present and teach to our players currently on campus, obviously retention is a big thing in college athletics, all sports.
“Those are the things we’re really focused on.”
The playbook specifics weren’t given up, obviously. With two new coordinators going into 2012, Iowa is as new of a preparation for Big Ten opponents as it’s going to get, so there was no motivation to spill any of the maneuvers new defensive coordinator Phil Parker and offensive coordinator Greg Davis might have in mind.
The overarching theme Wednesday was physical. The Hawkeyes want to remain a team that opposing coaches call “physical” pre- and post-game.
“I know as someone who is very interested in running the football, the identity of this football team and this program has been built on being tough, being physical, being smart, doing all those things,” said Brian Ferentz, who comes to the Hawkeyes after four seasons with the New England Patriots. “That’s not going to change.
“But are we going to go out there and be the same? No, no. I don’t think that’s the answer right now. We’re going to run coach Davis’ version of the Iowa offense. That’s not going to be coach O’Keefe’s version of the Iowa offense, which, of course, was something I was very partial to, but I’m excited about where we’re going right now.”
For Iowa’s offense, this is the idea stage, comparable to 1999, when Kirk Ferentz hired his first staff and crafted his first offensive scheme. There are discussions that border arguments, Brian Ferentz said. Good, constructive arguments, so we’ll call them debates. Or we could call it brainstorming. Maybe that’s the word for it.
Whatever you want to call it, ideas are flowing. Kirk Ferentz compared it to a divorce and suddenly having to date after 13 seasons with the same coordinators.
“I think that’s the beauty of having a fresh start. It’s truly a fresh start,” Brian Ferentz said. “Coach Davis addressed some of our players this morning and told them that. He said, ‘Hey, guys, I don’t have a preconceived notion of everyone and everybody is an open book. We start writing it now.’ To me, that’s the beauty of it.”
Last week, Parker said the defense would stay with the 4-3 alignment, but that’s about all he said on specifics. Iowa’s four defensive coaches are in new positions and two of them (Woods and Reese Morgan) are new to the defense. The face of the defensive staff has changed and it is having the same meetings.
“It is going to be different around here, a lot of unknown things,” Woods said, “and this is — when I had these meetings [with players] — it was before we hired an offensive coordinator.
“What we do defensively may be called differently, maybe tweaked differently, I may ask you to read something differently or look at it a different way, which, you know, can sort of lead to discomfort, but it keeps people on their toes which makes for a competitive environment.”
Now, it is Iowa football and Kirk Ferentz, so there will be skeptics who wonder if this is “change” change or a costume change.
Time will tell. Spring practice starts in 2 1/2 weeks.