The new Hawkeye quarterbacks coach, 63, discusses working under Brian Ferentz, 33. Chad Leistikow / The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Ken O’Keefe re-introduced himself to the Iowa media Sunday with a blend of humor and humility.
He uncorked one-liners about his wife’s delight in learning that Iowa City, five years after they left it for south Florida, now has a Dunkin’ Donuts; about his need to re-familiarize himself with the latest NCAA recruiting rules and about being a newly hired college quarterbacks coach at age 63.
“I’m in the de-evolution of my career. I’ve been the head coach, coordinator and now I’m going to be position coach,” O’Keefe said. “Pretty soon, I’ll be a GA.”
But between the wisecracks, one thing was made clear from the former Iowa offensive coordinator: Whatever Brian Ferentz says, goes.
“I’ve known Brian since he was that high,” O’Keefe said, his left hand motioning to his hip. “I look forward to getting told what to do by him now.”
Ferentz, 33, was recently named Iowa’s offensive coordinator — the position O’Keefe held for 13 years, including when Ferentz was a starting offensive lineman in the early 2000s.
But there’s no doubt coming from the top or O'Keefe that the transition will be seamless. In fact, he's already been hard at work here.
O’Keefe’s tone was deferential. Having been in the NFL himself the past five years, O’Keefe has an appreciation for what Ferentz learned in his four years under Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots before spending the past five seasons as the Hawkeyes’ offensive line coach.
“I wish I had that base when I was his age to jump in and start going,” O’Keefe said. “He’s absolutely ready to do whatever he needs to do as position of offensive coordinator. I just need to be concerned about making sure the guys that I’m coaching are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And whatever Brian wants me to do, obviously, has to get done as well. And obviously, whatever Kirk (Ferentz) wants done.”
If you’re a Hawkeye fan, that’s exactly what you want to hear.
Iowa needs a new vision for its offense, even if it’s mostly the old stuff. That was painfully obvious in the 30-3 loss in the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl that wound up being Greg Davis’ final game as Iowa’s offensive coordinator.
And, with O’Keefe’s announcement being made official Friday afternoon, there were plenty of emails that flowed into my inbox about Iowa — and head coach Kirk Ferentz — making a tired hire that showed the program was stuck in the past.
Kirk Ferentz trumpeted the O’Keefe (re)addition in a quick statement with media members Sunday.
The Iowa head football coach introduces his "new" quarterbacks coach. Chad Leistikow / The Register
“He’s just going to be an outstanding resource for everybody on our staff,” the head coach said. “Myself, he was the guy I leaned the hardest on 18 years ago. He had extensive head-coaching experience (at Division III Allegheny College in Pennsylvania) when he came here.
“You look back historically with what he did with our first-year players at the position, and it speaks for itself.”
There’s no disputing at.
O’Keefe was coaching quarterbacks here when Iowa took three straight teams into the final national top-10 with three first-year starting quarterbacks: Brad Banks in 2002, Nathan Chandler in 2003 and Drew Tate in 2004.
This year, he’ll get that same task with sophomore-to-be Nathan Stanley listed as the No. 1 quarterback entering spring drills. Asked about his familiarity with the 6-foot-5 Stanley and Iowa’s other quarterbacks, O’Keefe turned again to a little humor.
HawkCentral.com's Chad Leistikow reacts to the news that O'Keefe will return to Iowa as quarterbacks coach. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral
“I’ve looked at all 12 of Stanley’s throws (actually, it was only nine) if that’s what you mean,” he said. “Still looking for some of the other ones, from some of the other guys.”
(There were none.)
O’Keefe was a four-year receivers coach with the NFL’s Dolphins and then spent this last year there in a strategic role — producing game plans for the coaching staff.
No doubt, this was a nice career life raft for him. And now he gets to work with an old friend in Kirk Ferentz. O'Keefe was Ferentz's coaching boss in the late 1970s at the Worcester (Mass.) Academy.
“It’s a unique opportunity at this stage in my career,” O’Keefe said. “It’s awesome for me to be able to get back on the field and work with the quarterbacks.”
Iowa had three coaching openings to fill with Davis’ retirement and the release of Bobby Kennedy (receivers) and Chris White (running backs). Now there are two, which could be filled as early as this week. I'd say the Hawkeyes are 1-for-1 so far.
Regardless of the coaching names that come next, the 2017 Hawkeye offense is going to be a Brian Ferentz offense.
O'Keefe made that quite clear.
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.