Ferentz promotes his son, Brian, to offensive coordinator
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Brian Ferentz will get a prime chance to shape his father’s final years — and possibly even his legacy — as Iowa’s football coach.
Kirk Ferentz announced Monday that he is handing the reins of his offense to his oldest son, filling the crucial coordinator vacancy just five days after Greg Davis told him of his plans to retire.
Kirk Ferentz, 61, who has a contract that takes him through the 2025 season, said he never hesitated to give such an important and publicly scrutinized job to his son.
“Everything you do as a head coach, you tie yourself to the people around you — whether it's your coaches, your players, the support staff, people that work here,” Kirk Ferentz told reporters at his season-ending news conference. “That's why the fabric here is so unique — and that's everywhere on campus. I think we have something that's special. The point being — is it's not just a job to them. It's part of their lives. It's important to them — meaningful — and when we win this year... to me, that's kind of the culture that we're striving for.”
Brian Ferentz, 33, played center and guard for his father from 2002-05 and spent four years on the staff of Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots, coaching the team’s tight ends in 2010 and '11. He was hired to coach Iowa’s offensive line in 2012 and has spent the past five seasons in that role, adding the title of run game coordinator in 2015.
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The offensive line that Brian Ferentz coached this year won the Joe Moore Award as the best in the nation and produced two 1,000-yard rushers in Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels Jr. But the Hawkeye offense too often ground to a halt during an 8-5 season in which the team ranked 121st in FBS in yards per game. Iowa was throttled 30-3 by Florida in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2.
Two days later, Kirk Ferentz said, Davis told him of his intentions to retire at age 65 after five years on the Iowa staff. There was little question about who would be Davis’s replacement.
“I’ve been thinking about that for a while — as in years, not months or weeks. You have to think about that all the time,” Kirk Ferentz said when asked if he considered anyone other than his son. “You always have a list ready — always people you’d consider — and there are a handful of people out there today that I think I’d be very comfortable with.
“I think Brian’s the best candidate for this job at this point.”
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Brian Ferentz, who was born at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and graduated from City High, said he’s eager to help his father forge a more productive offense.
“I’ve never been shy about giving him my opinion. I’m in a unique position. I’d be silly to sit here and tell you that I’m not. I’m taking on a job that certainly has challenges, expectations and an increased amount of scrutiny that comes with it. And you add my last name and my relationship with the head coach to the mix — there’s going to be added scrutiny,” Brian Ferentz said.
“I don’t shy away from that, and I understand it.”
Kirk Ferentz has been Iowa’s head coach since 1999. His initial offensive coordinator, Ken O’Keefe, left in 2012 for a position with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. Davis, who had been out of work for a year after resigning his offensive coordinator job at Texas, took over.
Both O’Keefe and Davis were frequently criticized by Hawkeye fans — even in winning seasons. Now it will be Brian Ferentz’s turn to feel the heat when things go wrong.
“I did suggest he get another layer of armor to wear,” Kirk Ferentz joked. “Everybody has an opinion about offense.”
Under the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to athletic director Gary Barta — not his father. That will remain the case, Kirk Ferentz said Monday.
Brian Ferentz’s initial hiring in 2012 was not without controversy. Barta initially said that he handled the hiring in order to comply with university policy. Brian Ferentz later indicated that his father had initiated discussions to lure him back home from the Patriots.
Iowa’s nepotism policy requires a neutral supervisor to develop a management plan for overseeing the performance evaluation and salary decisions of employees who would otherwise be under the direction of relatives. The policy applies at the time of hire, but also when considering promotions. Barta also technically supervises Kirk Ferentz's son-in-law, Tyler Barnes, who is director of recruiting for the football program.
Barta was not present at Monday’s news conference, but was quoted in a university news release:
"During the course of the past year and a half, Kirk and I have had discussions in regards to a succession plan for whenever Greg Davis elected to retire. One possibility has always been moving Brian into that role. I've had good conversations with Brian and Kirk the past few days. I'm pleased and excited for Brian to take this next step in his career. He's prepared and ready, and I'm confident he'll be successful."
Kirk Ferentz said he didn’t get the sense that the nepotism issue was a big hurdle in promoting his son.
“But, certainly, we wanted to clear that, because it's obvious — and that was obvious five years ago,” he said.
“I don't think it's a huge deal and, probably, if anything, it works against him in this position. … It's just one more thing that's going to be wrong (the) first time we're three-and-out (or the) first time we throw an incomplete pass. It's one more thing, one more log for the fire.”
Brian Ferentz’s new contract hasn’t yet been signed, but Kirk Ferentz said his salary will be commensurate with other coaches on his staff. Davis, 65, was making $625,000 annually in his fifth year at Iowa. Coordinator contracts are typically for two-year terms, with the option of renewal.
It’s also unclear whether Brian Ferentz will assume the quarterback coaching duties that Davis had, or if he will retain responsibility for the offensive line in addition to being the offensive coordinator. Brian Ferentz admitted Monday that he would not be comfortable coaching quarterbacks at this time, seeing as how he has never before done so. Those duties will be outlined later, Kirk Ferentz said.
Brian Ferentz acknowledged the complaints that Iowa’s offense has been stale and predictable.
“We need to be balanced. With balance, that probably takes care of some of those criticisms. We had to lean heavily on the running game this year and that was apparent down the stretch,” Brian Ferentz said.
“When you’re stopped, it becomes very predictable and that’s just how it works. And I think that’s a fair criticism when you do the same thing over and over again. So what we need to try to strive for and regain is that balance offensively. And that’s a process that will begin immediately.”
Brian Ferentz said he will lean on what he has learned from a variety of mentors over the years – including his father and Bill Belichick and Bill O’Brien when he was with the Patriots. But he will have his own style as well.
“I learned two major things. No. 1, players win football games and coaches tend to lose them. So I’ve gained a healthy appreciation for that. The second thing is just the determination and the relentless effort that it takes to play winning football,” Brian Ferentz said.
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“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.”
Kirk Ferentz has at least one spot on his staff to fill now that he promoted his son, with the possibility of major-college programs getting a 10th coaching position on the verge of being approved.
Kirk Ferentz said those staff decisions will be made later, with recruiting being the first priority. National Signing Day is Feb. 1, and Ferentz said he anticipates 20-22 incoming freshmen pledging to join the Hawkeye program then.
In the meantime, father expects son to elevate the play of his offense without straying too far from Iowa’s run-first identity.
“We will not be a spread team or a run-and-shoot team. We're not going to do that. It doesn't suit us. It doesn't suit our geography. That would be a good way to ensure I won't be around here a couple years from now, or maybe a couple months from now,” Kirk Ferentz said.
“It's not going to look dramatically different, but there will be tweaks and there will be adjustments and certainly I'll defer to Brian just like I deferred to Greg or Ken previous to that.”