The Short List: Brian Ferentz

By Patrick Vint on January 9, 2017 at 11:00a
The crown prince

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Two weeks before Kirk Ferentz hired Greg Davis as offensive coordinator in February 2012, he hired who many thought would be the next offensive coordinator: His son, Brian Ferentz.  Many believed that Davis was a caretaker hired to teach the younger Ferentz how to call plays and exit stage left after a couple of years.

The Davis era lasted longer than most expected, but Brian Ferentz is still the offensive line coach at Iowa.  The fact that he is still here only reinforces him as the overwhelming favorite to be Kirk Ferentz's third offensive coordinator in 18 years.  We will talk about other names because it's fun, but it would be an upset on par with the Hawkeyes' win over Michigan in November if Brian Ferentz isn't running the offense next season.

Ferentz is 33 years old, but has built a fairly impressive body of work at that young age.  He played five seasons at Iowa for his dad as a capable interior offensive lineman, and bounced around the NFL for a couple of years afterward.  In 2008, with his playing career effectively over, Ferentz joined Bill Belichick's staff at New England as a scouting assistant and worked his way up over the next four years, being named tight ends coach of the Patriots in 2011.  Yes, that means he spent two seasons coaching Gronk and Aaron Hernandez.

In 2012, he joined the Iowa staff as offensive line coach.  Before the 2015 season, he added "Run Game Coordinator" to his title, and took the position bump to heart.  Iowa showed unusual variety in its usual zone-heavy running attack during the next two years, and players regularly showed their appreciation for a coach who focused on the play as a whole above a single player's role.  Iowa averaged more than 180 yards on the ground per game in 2015, the most the Hawkeyes have produced in the running game since 2008.  Ferentz's running game also showed an ability to spring big plays that had been missing for years.  Most impressively, he was setting records with an offensive line that featured two walk-on tackles, a true freshman and a converted tight end.

In 2016, Iowa's line wasn't as solid.  Injuries forced near-constant reshuffling through September and October, and the Hawkeyes' running game (and quarterback) suffered as a result.  Iowa's offense was never great last season for a number of reasons, but the line was eventually good enough to win the Joe Moore Award as the nation's best unit and ushered two halfbacks to 1,000 yards for the first time in program history.  For the most part, the aspects of the offense left to Ferentz weren't the reason for Iowa's misfire.

As a recruiter, Ferentz has focused on rebuilding Iowa's base in Illinois and the St. Louis metro.  Results have been solid.  It would remain to be seen whether Ferentz would continue to be actively involved in recruiting as coordinator; Kirk Ferentz has said in the past that he would prefer not to use his offensive coordinator as an active recruiter, but Brian as a young coordinator might be one of Iowa's best assets in combating the perception that the program is behind the times.

The resume is sufficient for a job on this level (it really is, people).  The ties to the program and loyalty aren't in dispute.  And Brian may well have something that Iowa hasn't had since Joe Philbin was coaching the offensive line: Someone in Kirk Ferentz's inner circle with the trust and the cache to propose legitimate changes to the foundational blocks of Iowa's offensive system.  He has already proven he can bring change to the running game, which has always been Kirk Ferentz's baby.  A move toward the Patriots' version of the spread has been a philosophical and personnel match with this program for more than half a decade.  Thoughts of Noah Fant as an evolutionary collegiate Gronk should keep you warm through this cold winter.

While the nepotism charges that came with Ferentz's original hire are largely moot now, there are some logistical issues with Brian Ferentz moving up which could cause implementation problems similar to 2012.  First, Brian Ferentz would be the first offensive coordinator under his dad who was not coaching quarterbacks.  Maintaining his position as offensive line coach makes some sense, especially given that Kirk Ferentz is a de facto offensive line coach in most seasons anyway.  But having an intermediary between coordinator and quarterback will inevitably lead to communication issues, and a quarterback coach who is dedicated to the elder Ferentz's elderly offensive style -- say, a former assistant who might want to come back -- could stymie any attempts at true change.  If Ferentz is indeed the offensive coordinator, that second hire will tell us a lot about what is to come.

There is also the question of playcalling which, to the best of our knowledge, Ferentz has never done.  He's obviously seen the process first-hand for over a decade, but watching and doing are two separate things.  Iowa will need to work on the basic process of getting a play to the field, particularly if Bobby Kennedy makes his expected departure; Kennedy was charged with signaling plays from Davis the last few seasons.  He likely won't be here next season to reprise that role.

All of these are small issues, but the bigger goal -- a functioning offense that allows Iowa to win some damn football games -- is further toward its completion today than it was last week.  From all indications, Brian Ferentz would be another step in the right direction.

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