Brown: Greg Davis has reasons to worry about job security
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Quarterbacks dominated the 20-minute conversation Greg Davis had with reporters Tuesday.
Jake Rudock or C.J. Beathard? We'll play both, Iowa's offensive coordinator said. The starter? Davis said he'd let head coach Kirk Ferentz answer that.
But to be honest, it doesn't matter who answers the question. If the offense doesn't show significant improvement in the weeks ahead, you can throw away any hopes of winning the Big Ten's West Division.
Davis, 63, is in his fifth decade as a football coach. He's done something right over the years. He's also felt the sting of criticism many times. Back in 1975 as an assistant at Port Neches-Groves High School in Texas, he picked the head coach's son over his own brother as the starting quarterback.
"My daddy still doesn't talk to me about my decision there," Davis.
This season, Davis might be facing his biggest challenge in the final chapter of his coaching career. He knows what it feels like to be fired. He was let go by Mack Brown at Texas after the 2010 season, five years after being named the nation's top assistant coach.
Ferentz brought Davis back into the game, and gave him the keys to the offense after Ken O'Keefe left for the Miami Dolphins. But the engine isn't exactly humming.
A rocky 2012 was expected, a transition year. The offense seemed to gain some traction last season. But now it's taken a step back. Iowa's average yards per rush, yards per pass and yards per catch are all down from last season. With most of the offense back, that's a surprising and mystifying trend.
"I'm excited that we're 4-1," Davis said, when asked if he was disappointed or frustrated that the offense hadn't moved forward.
Davis acknowledged that the running game has gotten off to a slow start. Forget the century mark. Iowa hasn't had a 90-yard rusher in any game this season. Iowa hasn't rushed for more than 175 yards as a team.
Iowa ranks 98th nationally in scoring at 22.6 points a game. The Hawkeyes are 92nd in total offense at 372.4 yards. That mysterious running game? Try 86th nationally at 140.2 yards a game. Iowa is also 70th in passing at 232.2 yards a game.
So, coach, are you puzzled or mystified that you haven't improved statistically?
"I'm happy we're 4-1," Davis repeated. "I'm disappointed we haven't scored more points. I think we're trying to do what our players are best suited for. I don't know if that answers your question or not."
No one has accused the Big Ten of being an offense first, caution-to-the-wind league. And yet there's Iowa, 13th in scoring offense out of 14 teams; 10th in rushing offense and total offense; and eighth in passing offense.
Numbers like that don't translate into job security.
Davis said the talent level at wide receiver is a significant upgrade from his first group in 2012. Bobby Kennedy, who coached with Davis at Texas, was brought in as wide receivers coach least season. In theory, two coaches with the same philosophy and terminology would pay dividends. In fact, we're still waiting to see the results statistically.
There have been a few positive trends of late. Instead of relying on a short passing game, Iowa has gone more vertical in the last two games. Of the 88 snaps at Purdue, 12 of them were "explosive" in Davis terminology — a run of 12 yards or more or a pass of 16 yards or more.
Iowa gave speedy redshirt freshman Jonathan Parker a bigger role in the offense at Purdue. He returned a kickoff for 47 yards, and had two receptions for 43 yards. And three times Iowa faked the jet sweep to Parker, opening the door for big gains on the ground. That's the kind of innovation Iowa has needed.
There was some tension in the room as Davis answered questions Tuesday. He knows he's got a target on his back as the critic's choice.
"I don't really worry about it," Davis said. "I really don't. If you write me a letter and put your name on it, I will respond. If you don't put your name on it, I throw it away."
Davis will pass his way into retirement sooner than later, no matter how this season plays out at Iowa. But for now, he's going to try and get this engine running. He knows fans are grumbling as he works under the hood.
But if you snark without a stamp, forget it. Davis won't hear you.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.