Ch-ch-ch-changes are a-comin' to the Iowa football staff, as one longtime fixture within the Iowa program is hanging up his whistle.
NEWS: Ken O'Keefe is stepping down as Iowa quarterbacks coach.— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) February 16, 2022
Gotta admit: of all the coaches I thought might depart the Iowa staff this offseason, Ken O'Keefe was not high on that list. Although I was mainly considering coaches who might leave for jobs elsewhere, not coaches who might decide to retire -- or at least pare down responsibilities. O'Keefe isn't fully separating from the Iowa program -- he's still going to have an unspecified off-the-field role at Iowa, perhaps in some sort of analyst position. But he'll no longer be an official member of the staff or the on-field QB coach.
O'Keefe has a long history with Kirk Ferentz; longer than anyone else on the Iowa staff, in fact. O'Keefe hired Ferentz to be on his staff at Worcester Academy back in 1978; 20 years later, Ferentz repaid the favor by hiring O'Keefe to be his offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach when he took over the Iowa job in the long ago days of 1999. O'Keefe remained Iowa's offensive coordinator until 2011 and assumed quarterback coaching duties from 2000-2011 as well. O'Keefe departed Iowa after the 2011 season for a stint in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins as a wide receivers coach, but he returned for a second stint as quarterback coach in 2017. In all, O'Keefe served as quarterback coach at Iowa for 17 of the last 23 seasons.
In a statement, Ferentz paid tribute to his longtime friend and colleague:
“Ken has been an important part of our football program for almost two decades,” said Ferentz. “He was one of the key components of building our program’s foundation 23 years ago and has been a friend for far longer than that. Ken hired me to be on his staff at Worcester Academy in 1978, and it has been a professional and personal honor to work alongside him all of these years.”
O'Keefe's track record as quarterbacks coach at Iowa is a mixed bag overall. Under his tutelage, Iowa quarterbacks as varied as Brad Banks, Drew Tate, Ricky Stanzi, and Nate Stanley produced some of the greatest passing seasons in Iowa history. Yet you would rarely say Iowa has been a great passing team over the last 23 seasons (and a few of those seasons featured absolute stinkers from the passing game). The developmental progress for Iowa quarterbacks has rarely been linear, either, with more than a few Iowa quarterbacks not seeming to get significantly better in their second or third years as starter.
The biggest issues with the Iowa offense stem from the men whose names being with F and end with Z, but O'Keefe has also been one of the main cooks contributing to Iowa's offensive stew for the last two decades. His absence will certainly represent a notable change to the Iowa staff. So who might replace him? TBD, and that decision may not arrive for a while -- Iowa didn't announce Ladell Betts as the new running backs coach last season until mid-March. The Des Moines Register's Chad Leistikow did float one interesting possibility, though:
A strong candidate for Iowa as QBs coach is New Jersey-based Tony Racioppi. QB guru who works with Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett & also has strong ties to the UI staff + Spencer Petras + 2023 4-star dual-threat commit Marco Lainez. Would open up East Coast recruiting too.— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) February 17, 2022
Racioppi has history with Iowa quarterbacks past (Stanley), present (Peteras), and future (Lainez). Both Stanley and Petras have raved about his ability to teach and refine fundamentals. His ties to the East Coast would be useful for recruiting purposes, especially as a replacement for O'Keefe, who was one of Iowa's primary recruiters out that way. But we'll have to wait and see if Racioppi is the guy at QB coach, or if Kirk Ferentz opts to go in a different direction.
In the meantime... farewell, Ken O'Keefe. It will be a little weird to think of Iowa football without his presence; even with that NFL absence in the early '10s, it still sort of feels like O'Keefe has been at Iowa as long as Kirk Ferentz and Phil Parker. KOK also inspired some of our more lunatic bits of batshit insanity, too, for which we can't help but be grateful. Enjoy your (quasi) retirement, Ken.