Leistikow: How good is Iowa's offense? Davis holds the key
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Greg Davis could look around the Iowa football practice field as Saturday’s media day and see:
- A running-back tandem of LeShun Daniels Jr. and Akrum Wadley that has everyone excited.
- An offensive line that ESPN’s Ed Cunningham calls the No. 1 unit in the country.
- George Kittle, who his position coach thinks be as good as any tight end to wear a Hawkeye jersey.
- And the signal-calling centerpiece, C.J. Beathard. All Davis said about Beathard is that he could be his best quarterback in his 43 years of coaching.
What runs through the Hawkeye offensive coordinator’s mind?
“I think we have a chance to be pretty good. I do,” Davis, 65, says. “I’m not backing away from that.”
Davis and Beathard agree: This offense should be even better than last year’s, which averaged 30.9 points and set a school record by scoring 30-plus points in five consecutive Big Ten Conference games.
“The offense can be great,” Beathard says, a moment after raving about how good wide receiver Jay Scheel has looked in practice. “We’ve got a lot of weapons here: running backs, receivers, tight ends, a great offensive line. It’s just a matter of how we stack plays together, how we stack drives together.”
More media day coverage:
- Media day takeaways: Ekakitie, cops and freshmen to watch
- Kittle plays mentor for unproven tight ends
- Photos: Behind-the-scenes from Iowa football's media day
- Roster analysis: Examining Iowa's positional strengths and weaknesses
So, yeah, inside and outside the program, expectations are soaring for Hawkeye football this year.
As a 13-year offensive coordinator at Texas, Davis has been there, and done that.
“Every year,” he cracked.
He doesn’t need a reminder that the last time expectations were this high for one of his offenses, things came crashing down. Going into the 2010 season, Texas was ranked No. 4 nationally. The Longhorns, a year after competing in the BCS Championship Game, would go 5-7 — sending Davis into sudden unemployment.
Davis jokes that Bum Phillips once told him there are two kinds of coaches: “Those that have been fired, and those that are going to be fired.”
After a year off (“I redshirted,” he says), he landed at Iowa behind the recommendation of then-Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, a former Kirk Ferentz assistant.
To say Davis got off on the wrong foot in Iowa City would be an understatement: He presided over a 4-8 season in 2012, Ferentz’s worst as Iowa’s head coach since 2000. But every year’s gotten incrementally better.
Still, after the 12-2 season of 2015, Davis will never win a popularity contest. That’s just the nature of coaching’s lightning-rod role.
“It’s a real phenomenon to me,” Ferentz says, who saw the same unpopularity occur in 13 years with Ken O’Keefe despite some terrific offensive seasons. “Somewhere in the last decade, it’s occurred to me that that’s the worst seat in the house to sit in. Jeez.”
Truth be told, Davis deserves a lot of credit for what happened last year.
A good reflection of a coordinator is how often his unit screws up. Iowa’s offense a year ago was among the nation’s best in fewest penalties and fewest turnovers.
With so much perceived firepower on offense, that’s good advice for Davis: Don’t screw it up.
If you’re worried about Texas 2010 repeating with Iowa 2016, there’s something you should know: Those Longhorns were breaking in a new quarterback after four years of Colt McCoy.
That's not an issue with these Hawkeyes.
After winning his first 13 collegiate starts and taking Iowa to within inches of last year’s College Football Playoff, Beathard has Davis’ full trust. Beathard has been given carte blanche to make decisions at the line of scrimmage.
Bearthard: Iowa's offense 'can be great'
Look for a more confident Beathard, one that will take more shots downfield.
“His leadership and his command of the offense right now,” Davis says, “is at an all-time high.”
Davis feels it, but not from the outside. Pressure, for him, comes from within.
(It'd help if Beathard stays healthy.)
“I feel pressure that I want to do a good job,” Davis says, “and I want our players to get better and give our team a chance to win every ballgame.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.