Leistikow: Hawkeyes' offense has a chance at change under Brian Ferentz
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Kirk Ferentz’s mentor, Joe Moore, had a saying that’s stuck with him throughout his coaching career.
“Don’t tell me what you do,” Moore, a renowned offensive-line coach in his day, would say. “Just show me your film.”
As I thought about what to write after Monday’s announcement that Ferentz, Iowa’s head football coach, had named his son Iowa’s offensive coordinator, Moore’s mantra popped into my mind.
It resonated, because every time I hear Brian Ferentz talk, I get a window into the passion and knowledge he brings to his profession. He talks a great game.
And he did again Monday. As a press release announcing his new role was circulated, he gave 15 engaging minutes to reporters assembled at the Iowa Football Performance Center.
But his body of work — not the words that come out of his mouth or his last name — is why he was named offensive coordinator at Iowa just four days after Greg Davis retired after five years in that role.
Kirk Ferentz, 61, operates like his mentor did.
He wouldn’t have acted so swiftly to promote Brian, 33, if he had not seen enough evidence over the past five years that his son was the best man for the job.
It was interesting to hear Kirk say that he had been thinking about possible Davis successors "for a while — as in years, not months and weeks."
No wonder that once Davis came into Ferentz's office Wednesday and led off with the news he was retiring, the next step was a formality.
“He’s more than ready,” Ferentz said of Brian. “He’s had opportunity at other places. I’m pretty confident he would’ve had more opportunity other places, too. Selfishly, whether he’s my kid or not, I don’t want to lose good coaches off our staff.”
There is bound to be a vocal minority wondering about nepotism with this move.
As a response, I’d challenge those folks to take away the candidate’s last name and look at this resume:
A former player and captain; someone who spent four formative years working for the NFL’s best franchise (the New England Patriots) and coach (Bill Belichick); someone who has spent five years on the Hawkeyes' staff and presided over an offensive line that was named the most outstanding in college football; the program's existing run-game coordinator as Iowa produced two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time in school history; and a young, up-and-coming coach that other programs would love to have, too.
“This made a lot of sense to me,” Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s, like, 50 times smarter than I am — that’s a good thing. You’ll all be glad to know that.”
If you understand the dynamic of Kirk and Brian, you know they approach coaching with two different styles.
One's reserved; one's fiery.
“I’ve never been shy about giving him my opinion,” Brian said. “I think he’d tell you that.”
(Brian takes after his mom, Mary, in that way.)
So, Son won’t be quick to back down to Dad, and that’s a reassuring start to this coach/coordinator relationship, because Iowa’s offense does need to be different than it was in 2016.
And that gets us back to the words and film thing.
Yes, Brian Ferentz has a lot of strong opinions. And those around him have seen him back them up.
Some of the good stuff I heard Monday included him acknowledging big goals and the offensive coordinator's willingness to adjust to attain them.
“Our stated program goal is to win a Big Ten championship,” Brian said. “And we understand in order to do that — in order to compete at that level in this conference — we’re going to need to have some flexibility and have the ability to change on a weekly basis — and do what’s best to win football games.”
He acknowledged the bedrock of Iowa football will always be the offensive line while also recognizing that the 2016 offense — 121st out of 128 teams in total yards, with Davis' deficient passing game being the anchor — isn’t the standard.
“What we need to do is go back and re-evaluate everything we’ve done and start there,” Brian said. “When we evaluate that — whether it’s personnel, schemes, how we’re doing things … what’s our best chance moving forward to be more productively offensively?”
He's aware of the “predictable” label for an offense that saw Penn State defenders correctly pointing to the spots where Iowa was running plays on short-yardage situations.
“I think that’s a fair criticism when you do the same thing over and over again. What we need to try to strive for and regain is that balance, offensively,” Brian said. “That’s what process will begin immediately.”
He even delighted fans who were paying attention with a subtle swipe at the Big 12 program in Ames by saying he felt a great responsibility in his new role, in part, “to the people of this great state, being that we are the flagship institution and football program.”
Brian Ferentz feels responsibility as Iowa offensive coordinator
It all sounds good for the Hawkeyes.
But in the spirit of Moore, I'm going to reserve judgment until more evidence is available.
And it will start rolling in soon enough, beginning with the 2017 opener on Sept. 2 vs. Wyoming.
The head coach knows that with Monday's news, Ferentz scrutiny just doubled. Excitement (88 percent on my instant Twitter poll, with nearly 2,000 respondents, were happy with the move) will wear off as soon as the first three-and-out of 2017 hits.
“That’s just one more log for the fire,” Kirk quipped. “That’s coaching.”
But the head coach, in a bold and confident move, showed that he doesn't think his new offensive coordinator will sink.
After all, he’s already seen the film.
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.