Iowa City, Ia. – They attended meetings and traveled together – Bill O’Brien, the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and Brian Ferentz, his tight ends coach.
They plotted strategy for ways Tom Brady to get Rob Gronkowski the football, and they did it during a 2011 National Football League season that would end in a Super Bowl loss against the New York Giants .
They’re in the same area code again Saturday, but this time, trying to beat each other up one side and down the other at Kinnick Stadium.
“You never want to get too comfortable in one place in this game,” O’Brien said back in July.
That was during the Big Ten Conference’s annual media gathering with reporters – after he replaced Joe Paterno as Penn State’s coach, and after Ferentz became his father’s Iowa offensive line coach.
It was just more than two months before either NFL assistant could even imagine Saturday’s impact:
Penn State and Iowa meet at 7 p.m. in a game critical to the Hawkeyes’ postseason destination, and the Nittany Lions’ recovery from sanctions imposed in the fallout after the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
“We were a game away from being written off by everybody,” Iowa linebacker James Morris said after Saturday’s double-overtime upset win at Michigan State.
Now the team for which he plays shares first place in the Legends Division with Michigan. The Hawkeyes are 2-0 and 4-2 overall, identical to Penn State after the Nittany Lions answered two losses with a four-game winning streak — and if you’re into reunions and one of the 70,585 fans with tickets, arrive early.
Watch the coaches converse on the field as players from both teams warm up – that’s when O’Brien and Ferentz will be together again.
“Brian is one of the best young minds in the game,” O’Brien said in July. “Young minds? He’s got one of the best minds in the game regardless of age.”
Brian said he has many coaching mentors – including O’Brien.
“Coach (Bill) Belichick had a profound impact on the way I think,” Brian said, referring to the Patriots’ coach, “but during my time in New England, nobody had a more profound effect on my coaching ability than Billy O’Brien.
“Billy O’Brien is a phenomenal football coach and a phenomenal human being, and I don’t think you have to look any farther than what he’s doing now to get a pretty good insight into what he’s all about.”
The Ferentz family respects O’Brien so much that Kirk Ferentz invited O’Brien to speak to his team three seasons ago.
“Coach O’Brien talked about Tom Brady and the mentality that he brings to the practice field,” Iowa center James Ferentz recalled. “Coach O’Brien said (Brady) brought a Super Bowl mentality to the practice field every day. Our family has a lot of respect for coach O’Brien.”
There even was a point when James wondered if his brother would accompany O’Brien to Penn State, considering he got the Nittany Lions job a month before Iowa announced Brian’s hiring.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t creep through my head,” James said. “I think (Brian’s) loyalty is to the family. I don’t think he would put that stress on my mom.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football