Iowa Hawkeye Football: Ken O'Keefe Departure Is an Opportunity for Kirk Ferentz
Last week, we found out that long-time Iowa offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Ken O'Keefe decided to leave the Hawkeye program to pursue opportunities in the NFL. This, in turn, left head coach Kirk Ferentz with a key staff opening that needed and needs to be filled.
I stressed the words "we found out" because the timing of the announcement—three days after National Signing Day—made it fairly obvious that Ferentz and O'Keefe have known about this for a while, and the relationship and mutual respect between the two caused O'Keefe to delay the announcement until all of the 2012 recruits had been signed.
Odds are, O'Keefe at least knew about the job offer, if not that he was going to accept it, only days after Jan. 20, the day Joe Philbin was hired as the Miami Dolphins coach.
Therefore, it is safe to assume that Ferentz has been involved in a job search for an offensive coordinator for much of that time.
Many Hawkeye fans have wondered why Ferentz hasn't made any announcements concerning a new defensive coordinator as well as a defensive line coach. After all, these jobs have been available since before Iowa's bowl game, almost two months ago.
In all probability, the reason is because Ferentz wanted to make all his announcements at one time.
Currently, Ferentz has a press conference scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 8, at which time he is expected to announce his new DC and new defensive line coach.
It is entirely possible that he will also announce a new OC at that same press conference.
And it is here that Ferentz has a unique opportunity.
Although Iowa fans have had their occasional complaints about former DC Norm Parker—he was too rigid, he gave his cornerbacks too much cushioning, he refused to blitz, he left linebackers in on obvious passing downs—it is near impossible to argue with his results.
Since 2001, the Hawkeye scoring defense has only twice been ranked lower than fourth in the conference—2006 and 2011.
It has twice been ranked No. 1—2003 and 2008. This is no small feat in a conference that includes Ohio State and Penn State.
On top of that, the Hawkeye D has been a national top-10 scoring D four times—2003, 2008, 2009 and 2010—plus a top-20 scoring D in 2004 and 2007.
In short, the Hawkeye defense produced and held up its end of the bargain in terms of winning games.
Therefore, if the Hawkeye defense and new defensive coordinator make no changes and remain status quo—and I'm not saying that will or should be the case—that should be enough to keep Iowa winning.
On the other hand, the offense under Ken O'Keefe has not been as impressive.
In 2001, it was the No. 22 scoring offense in the country. In 2002, it was No. 7.
In the nine years since 2002, it has averaged 59th in the country. It has only once—2008—been ranked higher than No. 6 in conference scoring O.
That is even more unimpressive when one considers Iowa's defenses over those years and how proficient they have been at forcing turnovers and giving the offense a short field.
In fact, Iowa's total offense over those nine years has averaged an even uglier 69th in the country.
In short, while the Iowa team dynamic stresses defense before offense, there is no way to get around the reality that the Hawkeye O under Ken O'Keefe just hasn't been cutting it.
One may then question whether that has been due to Kirk Ferentz—the head coach and guy that has veto power over all plays called on offense or defense—or O'Keefe.
That is moot at this point, as O'Keefe is gone and Ferentz is in a position to decide where he will go with his program.
His choices are to find an OC that is safe and will fall in line with his stoic and conservative offensive philosophies, or find an OC that is more daring and will be a strong counterpoint to Ferentz's views.
I am not in any way advocating for Iowa to switch to a high-octane, no-huddle, spread O, as is en vogue right now.
If Stanford over the last two years has proven anything, it is that a pro-style offense can score a lot of points in college football.
In fact, three of the last five national championship teams have run some variety of a pro-style offense.
Nevertheless, the Hawkeye offense is in need of a makeover—that much is certain.
College football is not what it was in 2002.
What was statistically the greatest Iowa offense ever—37.23 PPG—and was the No. 7 scoring offense in the country in 2002, would have been No. 14 this season. It would have been No. 15 in 2010.
Still pretty good, but it gives an indication of how the college football offensive paradigm has shifted to the so-called left.
Oklahoma State, Oregon and Stanford are increasingly becoming the norm; not the exception.
Moreover, that norm will be coming to the Big Ten in 2012 in the form of Urban Meyer and his new-look Buckeyes. Before long, it will be the majority in the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust conference.
This is not to diminish defense-first teams. After all, it is no coincidence that the two teams in last season's National Championship Game were also ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in national scoring defense.
However, those teams also were No. 17 and 20, respectively, in scoring offense.
Moreover, it is also no coincidence that the previous season's national champs, the Auburn Tigers, were the first BCS National Champion that didn't have a top-20 scoring defense. In fact, Auburn was No. 53, which, typically, one would figure wouldn't even win the SEC.
Kirk Ferentz has done some amazing things since coming to Iowa City. Many Hawkeye fans don't realize how difficult it is to win consistently at Iowa. Ferentz has managed to do that.
Still, it is hard to deny that, at least in terms of on-the-field results, the program has grown static since 2004.
Over the last seven years, Iowa has gone 7-5 or worse five times. Most of that mediocrity falls at the feet of the Hawkeye offense.
Contrary to some opinions, it is possible for Ferentz to run a dangerous, pro-style, "slow," execution-dependent offense while remaining true to his core beliefs.
After all, look at the New England Patriots.
They run a pro-style offense that focuses on versatile tight ends (and that quarterback of theirs is also pretty good), and they are the second-best scoring offense in the NFL.
That is right up Ferentz's alley, and, Tom Brady aside, Iowa already has the personnel in place to run a striped-down version of the Pats offense.
By the way, the New England Patriots tight end coach is somebody Hawkeye fans know well.
The Hawks are at a crossroads.
Ferentz's choice of an OC may be the most important decision the program has faced since athletic director Bob Bowlsby hired Ferentz in 1999.
He can do what many tend to do when faced with things failing to work as envisioned—he can become more compulsively tied to that with which he is comfortable.
On the other hand, he can also step outside his comfort zone a bit and move his offense into the new millennium.
After all, can you imagine what the Hawkeyes could have done over the last 10 years if they had an offense that was even half as good as their defense?
If Kirk Ferentz decides to take a calculated risk, that could just be where the Hawks head in the near future.
If not, well, 7-5 isn't that bad.
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