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Harty: Can’t criticize Ferentz for being too stubborn

[ 0 ] February 15, 2013 |

Kirk Ferentz might not succeed in rebuilding the Iowa football program for a third time, but it won’t be from a lack of trying.

It won’t be from a lack of urgency or from an unwillingness to make changes in the face of adversity and hardship.

The fact that six assistant coaches have left the Iowa football program since late in the 2011 season could be seen as proactive, a response to Iowa having finished 4-8 this past season and having lost 17 of its last 29 games.

Look closely, though, at the reasons for each of the six departures and it seems more like a case of unique circumstances or Ferentz calling the shots.

Two of the assistant coaches to leave — receivers coach Erik Campbell and running backs coach Lester Erb — did so, it appears, without having another job lined up.

Thursday’s press release announcing Erb’s departure, along with the hiring of new assistants Bobby Kennedy and Jim Reid, said Erb was leaving to pursue other opportunities. And while that might be case, it just seems odd that somebody who is married with four children would choose to uproot his family after 13 years to pursue other opportunities.

It’s been more than a month since Campbell acknowledged well-wishers on Twitter after news broke that he no longer was on the Iowa staff. There have been no published reports of Campbell being hired to coach anywhere else.

So like Erb, why would Campbell leave a cozy coaching gig without another job waiting if he wasn’t told to leave?

Signs point to Campbell and Erb first being encouraged to leave before ultimately being told by Ferentz to leave.

Darrell Wilson’s situation is different because he left Iowa for a similar position at soon-to-be Big Ten member Rutgers. Wilson’s move was lateral at best from a job standpoint, but it takes him back to the state of New Jersey where he grew up, where he coached high school football for nearly a decade and where he is considered an ace recruiter.

You also have to wonder if the 54-year-old Wilson believes he has a better chance of becoming a coordinator at Rutgers compared with Iowa where two new coordinators were hired barely a year ago.

The other three coaching changes are much easier to explain.

Defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski resigned in the days leading up to the 2011 Insight Bowl to take the same job at Nebraska. Iowa fans don’t want to hear this, but it’s hard to argue against Nebraska being a step up from Iowa in terms of prestige.

Ken O’Keefe resigned last February after 13 seasons as the Iowa offensive coordinator to coach the receivers for the Miami Dolphins. There was speculation that O’Keefe left because of a rift with Ferentz, but it’s more likely O’Keefe left because he wanted to try something different after 13 seasons working under his close friend.

O’Keefe’s two children also were finished with high school, so it’s not like he disrupted their lives at a crucial time. It’s also hard to complain about the weather in South Florida, with exception to the humidity.

And it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to work with another friend, with O’Keefe being reunited with Miami coach Joe Philbin. They’ve been friends for years and also were members of Ferentz’s original staff at Iowa.

The sixth coaching change saw Norm Parker retire as defensive coordinator after the 2011 season. Parker also was a member of Ferentz’s original staff at Iowa in 1999. Parker stayed on board for 13 seasons until the debilitating effects of diabetes became too much of a burden.

Parker is still visible around the Iowa football complex, including having his own small office on the ground floor.

What these changes show more than anything is Ferentz’s willingness to shake things up in order to right the course. Ferentz has been criticized for being too predictable, too conservative, too loyal and too naive in this age of social media and glitz and glamour.

In some cases, it might be true.

But you can’t criticize Ferentz for being too stubborn to change or for doing nothing in the face of adversity. He tried to give his program a reboot heading into last season by changing some things, but the situation only got worse, especially on offense under new coordinator Greg Davis.

Part of Ferentz’s legacy already has been written, the part about him twice rebuilding the program, winning two Big Ten titles and winning the first BCS bowl game in school history. Ferentz would be the first to say that he accomplished those things with help from a lot of people.

But he also knows that big-time college football is a business and that it’s important for Iowa to start having success again ASAP.

Ferentz now has his oldest son, Brian Ferentz, coaching at his side. So it’s not just a case of protecting a legacy anymore. The challenge to rebuild the Iowa program has become a family affair.

It also has reached the critical point where Ferentz is taking aggressive steps to fix things. Just ask Campbell and Erb.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or pharty@press-citizen.com.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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