Leistikow: Should Brian Ferentz be Iowa's next offensive coordinator? Depends
Greg Davis is a good man, a classy man. He has had a remarkable coaching career — 43 years, including a national championship at Texas. An amazing run.
And what happened to Iowa’s offense this season, particularly the passing game, shouldn’t be put squarely on Davis’ shoulders.
But after a five-year marriage, it was time for Davis and Hawkeye football to break it off.
Davis’ retirement from coaching and thus, the end of his reign as offensive coordinator, was announced in a Friday-afternoon press release from the University of Iowa.
I have little doubt that if the Hawkeye offense had hummed along all year, as was the expectation with all-Big Ten Conference quarterback C.J. Beathard returning, Davis, 65, wouldn’t be so quick to move on with his career.
But four days after the 30-3 loss to Florida, in which Iowa set several offensive-futility records in the 31-year-old Outback Bowl, Davis was officially gone.
Step 1 is acknowledging the problem: Iowa ranked 121st out of 128 FBS teams in yards per game despite operating behind an award-winning offensive line.
Step 2 now becomes how head coach Kirk Ferentz plans to fix it.
The post-Davis solution has to be as much about how as it is about who.
How does the Hawkeye offense need to look going forward? That's a big difference than asking how Ferentz wants it to look.
Scheme-wise, Ferentz needs to use Davis’ retirement as a chance to consider an offensive reboot.
There’s no chance we'll see an “air raid” attack for Iowa in 2017 that throws the football 60 to 70 times a game. The bedrock of Iowa football under Ferentz is, and always will be, about the offensive line.
Even if he sticks with the pro-style scheme (as I'm sure he will), Ferentz needs to land on whatever solution provides more variety in formations and play-calling, whatever style can build on an already-productive running game by crafting ways to get wide receivers open more often. (Maybe "Pro-Style Plus?" Has a nice buzz to it.)
Personnel-wise, let’s today examine the first name everyone thought about as Davis’ successor Friday when they heard the news: Brian Ferentz.
Iowa’s offensive line coach and run-game coordinator will turn 34 about the time spring practice starts in late March. He’s viewed as a bright coaching mind, who brings a more in-your-face brand to the profession than his less-fiery father.
Before endorsing another Ferentz at a lightning-rod position at Iowa, I would have two reservations.
One, how would it play with the Hawkeye fan base?
It’d be a tricky PR move to promote your son, who already is on the staff of an offense that didn’t top 14 points in six of 13 games this past fall.
But I think most fans are so happy that Davis is gone that they’ll welcome any change. Most wouldn’t see it as a nepotism hire, because Brian has developed a reputation as a rising coaching star.
In a Twitter poll I posted for 90 minutes after the Davis news was announced, only 10 percent of 996 respondents said "no way" to a Brian Ferentz promotion, while 44 percent said "absolutely" and 46 percent elected "depends on candidates."
Two, and more importantly, would Brian be willing to push the envelope, to branch out from his father's offensive schemes and play-calling that has often been predictable for the last 18 years?
The argument that Davis and Ken O’Keefe (for 13 years before him) were running the offense Ferentz wanted is valid. The head coach wants to play a ball-control style of football, to keep scores close until the fourth quarter and try to win the game from there.
But as has been obvious in the last four bowl appearances (averaging five points through three quarters when the game mattered, all losses) that if Iowa wants to win big games, its offense must evolve.
If Brian is willing to do that — and if Kirk is willing to let him — then I’d be all for it.
The probability of college football adding a 10th full-time assistant coach this spring could open up the head coach’s options even more.
Maybe Ferentz hires a known-name offensive coordinator from the outside — paying coaches handsomely isn’t a problem at Iowa — and keeps Brian where he is, focused on the program's most important position group.
Maybe Ferentz adds a pass-game coordinator — somebody that can complement Brian’s run-game and offensive-line credentials and, more importantly, develop Nathan Stanley and the rest of Iowa’s future quarterbacks.
Maybe the coaching departures aren’t done yet, shaking things up even more. Davis and receivers coach Bobby Kennedy were a tandem of ex-Texas coaches here. So it wouldn’t be a shock if, after the woeful year Iowa’s receivers had, Kennedy follows Davis out the door.
Whatever happens, it’ll probably be wrapped up before National Signing Day on Feb. 1. Making a smart hire or two is important for the Hawkeyes' January recruiting push.
Ferentz has always been calculated and thorough as a head coach. You can bet he’s got at least the direction of his plan in place.
He’s got a press conference Monday to answer some of these questions.
Good timing, after positive developments for the Iowa offense broke within 24 hours of each other: Akrum Wadley’s coming back to Iowa, and Davis is leaving.
Now it’s Ferentz’s turn to make the next, very important move.
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.