Iowa football announced that Brian Ferentz would replace the retiring Greg Davis as offensive coordinator next year. Here's what we learned.
Handing Over the Reins
The biggest question for most fans was just how much control of the offense would be given to the younger Ferentz, who has remade Iowa's running game as Run Game Coordinator.
Some of the good stuff I heard Monday included him acknowledging big goals and the offensive coordinator's willingness to adjust to attain them.
“Our stated program goal is to win a Big Ten championship,” Brian said. “And we understand in order to do that — in order to compete at that level in this conference — we’re going to need to have some flexibility and have the ability to change on a weekly basis — and do what’s best to win football games.”
He acknowledged the bedrock of Iowa football will always be the offensive line while also recognizing that the 2016 offense — 121st out of 128 teams in total yards, with Davis' deficient passing game being the anchor — isn’t the standard.
“What we need to do is go back and re-evaluate everything we’ve done and start there,” Brian said. “When we evaluate that — whether it’s personnel, schemes, how we’re doing things … what’s our best chance moving forward to be more productively offensively?”
I tend to agree. The elder Ferentz was quick to say that Iowa would not become a "spread or run-and-shoot" team under his watch -- the run-and-shoot has been essentially dead as an offensive philosophy for 20 years, but whatever -- but that was never going to happen under any coach. Ferentz has allowed for spread-like formations under Davis; if Brian can make Iowa's formational options effective, then Iowa should not be a "spread" team. Who cares whether you classify four-wide as "spread" offense so long as you can go four-wide when needed?
With that said, I don't think there's a significant difference in philosophy between the Ferentzes. Both are schooled in pro-style philosophy. The main difference: Kirk's methodology is derived from the 1990s West Coast/zone running scheme, while Brian's comes from the spread-infused offenses of the last decade. That one Brian quote -- "we’re going to need to have some flexibility and have the ability to change on a weekly basis" -- is textbook Belichick, that ability to nullify the value of previous game film by changing scheme from week to week. That's hard to do at the college level, where practice time is limited. It's going to take effective coaching, which leads to the next question.
The Right Stuff
There was not any word Monday of how Ferentz's promotion will effect the rest of the staff, but it looks an awful lot like Brian will remain offensive line coach while coordinating the offense as a whole.
I've heard it from a very good authority, someone close to the situation, that Iowa is going to hire a QBs coach.— Tyler Devine (@devine_tyler) January 10, 2017
In summary, I think BF ends up as OC and OL coach. They need a QB coach. 10th coach, in April, has to be a defensive hire.— marcmorehouse (@marcmorehouse) January 10, 2017
That's a break from the past 18 years, when Ferentz's coordinators have coached quarterbacks, but there is no need to shoehorn a first-time coordinator into a position coaching role where he doesn't fit.
Between Davis's departure and Ferentz's promotion, the likely departure of Bobby Kennedy as wide receivers coach, and the addition of a tenth assistant due to a change in NCAA regulations, Iowa's position coaching is in flux. Here's where we sit at the moment, if the press' assumptions are correct:
OC/OL: Brian Ferentz
RB/ST: Chris White
WR: Bobby Kennedy
TE: LeVar Woods
DC/Secondary: Phil Parker
DL: Reese Morgan
LB: Seth Wallace
Def./Recruiting: Kelvin Bell
Besides Kennedy, Reese Morgan is now in his late 60s and could be considering retirement. If he were to leave, Kelvin Bell would be a natural fit for the defensive line position. I would expect Iowa to use the tenth assistant spot on a full-time secondary coach, working in tandem with Parker and focused on recruiting (much like LeVar Woods's role has been).
The quarterbacks hire could be the most important of the last half-decade, for the message it will send. If Kirk goes to his circle of trust -- Ken O'Keefe, Mike Sherman, etc. -- there will be immediate concern that he's hiring a minder for his first-time coordinator. Obviously, former player and assistant David Raih is getting mentioned everywhere, but he has a pretty good job in Green Bay and may not be interested in a move that is lateral at best. I'd look for someone with ties to the New England staff (like longtime receivers coach Chad O'Shea) or Bill O'Brien (like former Penn State assistant and current Texans receivers coach Stan Hixon) if it's truly Brian's offense.
Jimmys and Joes
Both Kirk and Brian addressed the debacle that was Iowa's passing offense in 2016 and focused on recruiting for next year and beyond.
KF said he believes the passing game debacle of 2016 (we can officially call it that now) was mostly a personnel thing. (I think he's right)— marcmorehouse (@marcmorehouse) January 10, 2017
KF and BF mentioned recruiting a lot. Like a lot a lot. Sounds like as many as eight schollies left. They all can't be WRs, you guys. Right?— marcmorehouse (@marcmorehouse) January 9, 2017
Brian's quote was spot-on.
Q. You mentioned recruiting a minute ago. How do you get recruits excited about the passing game and want to come here? Throwing the football wasn’t that easy this year.
BRIAN FERENTZ: I’d say they have a tremendous opportunity, I’d start there — I think it’s not going — to get anybody excited about coming here and playing at the University of Iowa — it’s pretty simple. Do you want to get a college degree? Yes. Okay, good, we can help you with that. Do you want to play football at a championship level; do you want to compete for Big Ten Championships? Okay. Well, we can help you with that. And do you want to play in the National Football League; because we can help with you that. We have a pretty good track record; do you want to play in front of 70,000 fans every week.
There’s a lot of good things we can sell here. Certainly offensively we didn’t execute to the standard we hoped to this year at all times. There was some good mixed in with the bad. I think it’s hard to win eight games with all bad. But as far as getting guys excited to play, I think you sell them on opportunity and what we intend to do moving forward.
I would expect Iowa to play a lot more true freshmen at the skill positions going forward -- at this point, out of necessity at receiver -- and upgrade quickly on the perimeter. This staff admirably responded to the Penn State debacle and salvaged something out of a broken offense with a November winning streak, but there are far more fundamental issues to address in the offense that can only be resolved through better recruiting. And if you thought Iowa had become more aggressive in the last five years on the recruiting trail, you haven't seen anything yet.
Kirk Ferentz has not usually exposed his coordinators to the press -- Phil Parker in particular seems to despise the few moments he spends with reporters every year -- but that might change.
Brian and Kirk Ferentz discuss Brian's promotion to offensive coordinator. Brian seems to enjoy talking to the media more than his dad. pic.twitter.com/vAbEngJiY3— SoundOFF (@SoundOFF13) January 9, 2017
The initial PR is certainly good, as it should be.
Are you happy that Iowa named Brian Ferentz offensive coordinator.— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) January 9, 2017
Brian Ferentz isn't going to fix everything, but he certainly allows for some optimism in a program that felt stuck in a rut just weeks ago. At least in the short term, with Signing Day approaching and the eternal optimism of spring football just around the corner, that might be the most important aspect of Monday's announcement.