Iowa Football: Ken O'Keefe to Dolphins; Be Careful What You Wish For

Stix Symmonds@@stixsymmondsCorrespondent IFebruary 5, 2012

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Kirk Ferentz (C) of the Iowa Hawkeyes celebrates with teammates after defeating the Missouri Tigers in the Insight Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28, 2010 in Tempe, Arizona.  The Hawkeyes defeated the Tigers 27-24.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

On Friday, the University of Iowa announced that offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe was leaving the program after 13 years. Though they didn't specifically mention where O'Keefe was going next, rumors swirled that he was taking a job with the Miami Dolphins, possibly as receivers coach.

Saturday, that news became official. O'Keefe is off to sunny Miami and the lucrative pastures of the NFL.

The reaction I've gotten to this news has been a resounding "finally" amongst Iowa faithful. An old high school friend of mine replied to my Facebook post on the matter with "It's Christmas in February." An army buddy added, "maybe the Hawkeyes can come kicking & screaming into the offensive 21st century with a good OC."

Those are just two examples of the type of response I've seen amongst Iowa fans since the news broke Friday.

I don't know if Ken O'Keefe reads any of the comments that litter message boards across the Internet. I'm sure, though, that he's heard some of the criticism and has felt some of the pressure. Is that why he chose to leave after 13 years of largely successful football at Iowa?

It's debatable. Maybe he saw what the fans don't want to see. Maybe the well is about to run dry the same way it did near the end of Hayden Fry's storied career, and O'Keefe hit the road knowing that the best years were behind him.

Maybe he realized that he's not getting any younger and took a prime opportunity to try his wares at the next level while he still can.

Only Ken knows why he decided to make this move. Whatever the reason, he's gone and those calling for his removal are rejoicing.

As the old saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it."

It Never Started and Ended with Ken O'Keefe.

For all of the moaning and whining about Iowa's last-century style of play, O'Keefe has taken a little undeserved heat. As fellow FC David Fidler aptly pointed out (as he has done on numerous occasions):

The question is: What if another OC comes in, and he produces results that make O'Keefe seem downright competent?

It will then become obvious that the problem lies and has [lain] with the head coach the whole timeβ€”you know, the guy that has the final say over all play calls on offense or defense.

The fact of the matter is, Iowa's vanilla offense, which refuses to join the hoards rushing toward the next fad offense, has very little to do with Ken O'Keefe.

Certainly, Ken could have done a much better job of mixing up the play calls. Iowa didn't have to consistently come out with play-action, followed by a run up the middle, followed by a pass roughly 10 yards out. Rinse and repeat. And again.

Certainly, the Hawkeyes' two-minute drill was atrocious and O'Keefe was the largest lever-puller in that broken machine.

However, the OC only follows the lead of the HC.

Iowa under Kirk Ferentz is a conservative team. They don't do anything fancy on either side of the ball. They stress strong fundamentals and flawless execution of individual assignments.

If you block well up front, a power runner will gain yards. If you protect the quarterback long enough, receivers will get open. If you read your progressions without telegraphing your pattern, you'll find the open man.

None of that requires, or even asks for, gimmicky formations or elaborate plays. It's straightforward, honest and intimidating when done correctly.

It's a great system when you think about how well it prepares players for the NFL. After all, most pro teams run the exact same system Iowa does and look for players that are athletic, strong and can fit into their systems quickly.

However, that's virtually all Kirk Ferentz. Ken O'Keefe put together the best offense he could within the guidelines established by the head man. He attempted to put together a tough, balanced attack that wore defenses down, controlled the clock and steadily moved the ball forward.

In other words, he put together a Kirk Ferentz offense.

Fans expecting a sudden switch to a high-octane spread attack will be sorely disappointed when they learn that the Hawkeyes are no closer to that end than they were with O'Keefe. That's not Ferentz's style. It doesn't fit his vision and his hopes of training football players that can succeed at the next level.

And Kirk Ferentz is nothing if not a man stubbornly committed to what he believes.

Fans Could Now Be Faced with the "What if" They Didn't Think Would Come.

The entire system at Iowa is designed to work together. If it's centered around anything, it's centered around the defense more than the offense.

The defense is meant to shut scoring down. It can give up yards and allow first downs, but it's meant to clamp down with a short field behind it and eliminate (or at least reduce) touchdowns.

Contrary to logic, the offense isn't really meant to score as many points as it possibly can. It's meant to take a lot of time off the clock, keep the opponent's offense off the field and finish drives with points on the board.

Under this system, 21 to 28 points is plenty enough to win, as long as the defense does its job. With the exception of 2009, Iowa has averaged no fewer than 27.5 points per game since 2008.

Oddly enough, in 2009, the Hawkeyes only averaged 23.2, yet finished the year with an 11-2 record and an Orange Bowl victory.

The system worked that year.

Still, in light of the offensive shift in college football that routinely sees teams putting 30-plus points on the board nearly every game, Iowa seems downright old-fashioned. Ken O'Keefe has taken an awful lot of heat for that.

But now comes the real test.

What if the next offensive coordinator can't do any better? What if he does worse?

Again, this is Kirk Ferentz's team. It's his system. He's not about to adopt the spread or triple option or any other style of ball. It will continue to be a pro-style system, regardless of who the next OC is. Count on that.

Don't forget that Ken O'Keefe was once a successful head coach. While his foray into the head position may have been at Div III Allegheny (with a one-year stint at Fordham in 1998), he did lead the Gators to a NCAA Div III National Championship in 1990.

He also led them to six North Coast Athletic Conference titles in eight years, with runner-up positions in the other two years. His record at Allegheny was 70-10-1 and 59-3 in conference.

Does that happen for a guy who can't coach? I don't think so.

So, what if it turns out that nothing changes? What if the offense doesn't become any more exciting or explosive than it has been the last 13 years under O'Keefe?

Will "Fire Kirk" websites start popping up like dandelions in spring? Or will the next OC feel the heat and take the next train out of Iowa City?

It's entirely possible that the next man will provide enough new ideas to improve the Hawkeye attack. Iowa fans certainly hope that is the case. They're obviously tired of rating near the bottom of the conference pile in terms of offensive production.

Just don't forget that Ken O'Keefe was not the whole reason behind that and his replacement will only have so much say in changing it.

You got what you wished for, Hawk fans. Let's hope we can live with it.


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