Kirk Ferentz coached his first game at Iowa in 1999. That was five years before Facebook was launched and seven years before Twitter.
In today’s information age where everything is disseminated in seconds from one handheld device to the world, Ferentz has remained old school.
“Things that are Tweeted are just so insightful, so interesting,” Ferentz said. “I can see why they would want to see what I had to say.”
But even Ferentz, who turned 57 on Aug. 1, understands the need to adapt to a new age.
With a contract that runs to 2020, Ferentz could eclipse the 20 years Hayden Fry spent as Iowa’s head coach.
Ferentz kicks off his 14th season as the coach at Iowa a week from today against Northern Illinois. It’ll be the first year, however, without coordinators Ken O’Keefe and Norm Parker.
“We haven’t had a lot of staff changes,” Ferentz said. “Coordinators … that’s much more significant and important. We knew we had a change to make. There was no need to rush into any decisions, and I’m glad we didn’t.”
Since Ferentz put two rebuilding years behind him in 1999 and 2000, he has taken the Hawkeyes to a bowl game in 10 of the next 11 seasons — including two BCS bowls — and won two Big Ten titles.
But Iowa is is 15-11 over the past two seasons, including 8-8 in the Big Ten. Iowa split a pair of games in the Insight Bowl at the end of the past two seasons.
Things change. That bowl now is called the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. And although Hawkeye fans love chicken wings in 16 different sauces, chances are they are hoping for a different destination this winter.
But that depends on whether the rebuild coaching staff can get a young Hawkeye team to be Blazin’ instead of Mild.
The first shoe to drop was defensive coordinator Norm Parker announcing his retirement. Next Rick Kaczenski left Iowa after seven seasons to take the same job with Nebraska.
The sweep came when O’Keefe took a job with the Miami Dolphins, now under the direction of former Iowa offensive line coach Joe Philbin.
Iowa had only turned over a handful of positions coaches over the first 13 years under Ferentz. This was a shake-up.
“We were at the point that we probably needed to go back and look at some things again,” Ferentz said. “We’ve had some success. There’s always things you need to consider and look at. I think we’ve done that.
“We’ve added some things, thrown some things out, and kept some things the same.”
In rebuilding his staff, Ferentz kept things mostly in the family, both figuratively and literally.
Ferentz hired formed player and administrative assistant LeVar Woods to take over the linebackers. He brought former player Brian Ferentz, his son, back to Iowa City from the NFL’s New England Patriots. Brian Ferentz was slotted as the new O-Line coach.
“Both played in the program; they’ve seen it from a players’ perspective,” Kirk Ferentz said. “Both are young enough to have that real connection to what it’s like to be in the program.”
The hire that went a outside of the box was former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis.
Davis resigned after the 2010 season at Texas after the Longhorns went 5-7. It came after Davis helped the Longhorns win at least 10 games every season from 2001 to 2009.
“Several people I have a lot of respect for and faith in said nothing but great things about Greg,” Ferentz said. “It was pretty easy to see what those people were telling me were pretty consistent.
“We felt good about it when we hired him, we feel even better now that he’s been with us half a year.”
Defensive backs coach Phil Parker was promoted from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator.
The shuffling continued as Reese Morgan was moved to defensive line, Darrell Wilson took over defensive backs, and graduate assistant David Raih was given the tight ends.
What the new mix produces is anyone’s guess. Many people are intrigued to see what a new offensive coordinator will do under Ferentz and his conservative approach.
Although there have been some great highlights, overall the Hawkeye offense hasn’t exactly been a fireworks display over the past five season.
Iowa ranked 76th in total offense last season. They were 57th in 2010, 89th in 2009, 53rd in 2008 and 109th in 2007.
The fan base is hoping for a little more pizazz.
“I think the fans will like what we do,” Davis said. “We’ll have the ability to play no-huddle every snap. … We won’t do that, but we have the ability to change no-huddle tempos real fast to just kind of normal.
“We’ll play with a bunch of personnel groupings, … so hopefully somewhere in there we’ll be scoring points.”
Ferentz knows that Davis won’t have the same success at Iowa he did at Texas, where the Longhorns had a Top 10 offense almost every year.
Davis has said that senior quarterback James Vandenberg compares very favorably to Colt McCoy and has high expectations for him this fall.
“I think he has the ability to play at the next level,” Davis said.
Vandenberg, who threw for 3,022 yards and had 25 touchdowns to seven interceptions as a junior, has made it his full-time job to learn the new offense.
“The pass game is structurally different,” Vandenberg said. “Some of the concepts are the same, some are new. There’s not anything you can’t imagine or aren’t used to. You’ve seen it on ‘Madden’ or ‘NCAA Football’ for the last 10 years.
“But maybe it’s stuff we didn’t do in the past. Coach Davis does a nice job of teaching it.”
Season of renewal?
Ferentz has a lot to look back on. He is now the longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten.
He also is just one of four BCS conference coaches hired before 2000. (Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech, 1987; Bob Stoops, Oklahoma, 1999; and Mack Brown, Texas, 1998).
It is a long ways from his first head coaching job at the University of Maine.
“Bill Belichick was the only guy in captivity that would’ve hired me from the University of Maine,” Ferentz said. “I was like the ninth choice. They ran out of names.
“He gave me an opportunity, and I studied how both of those guys went about putting a staff together and hiring people.”
Ferentz understands the history at Iowa. He coached under Hayden Fry in the ’80s before returning as head coach more than a decade later.
“What happened during that time meant a lot to me,” Ferentz said. “It was important to come back here and try to continue something.”
Ferentz saw Fry had to move on after offensive coordinator Bill Snyder left to work miracles at Kansas State after the 1988 season. That first year Iowa went 5-6 but hit the Rose Bowl the next season and went 10-1-1 in 1991.
But over his final seven seasons, Fry was 43-38-1. Second acts are tricky at Iowa, where there is a thin line between success and failure.
“College football is a tough terrain,” Ferentz said. “You try to maximize each season. You try to learn from it and go down the road to the next one.
“That’s about as far down the road as I’ll look.”
Ferentz doesn’t get too emotional either way. He usually is proven right over time. Iowa ranks second in the Big Ten in league wins since 2002 (50) behind only Ohio State.
“My expectations have been pretty similar,” Ferentz said. “Going in the 2001 season and since, we’ve had the opportunity to put a good team out there. Some teams have progressed better than others.
“There are certain things you can control, certain things you can’t. The things you can control, how well you do with those, that determines what the season is going to be.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football