Davis' offense in 2015 averaged 30.9 points as Iowa won the Big Ten West and played in the Rose Bowl. The Hawkeyes ranked 121st (out of 128) nationally in total offense in 2016.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Greg Davis is retiring after five seasons as Iowa's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, the university announced in a news release Friday.
The decision came four days after the Hawkeyes were swamped 30-3 by Florida in the Outback Bowl to complete an 8-5 season that was marked by offensive futility. Iowa ranked 121st out of 128 FBS teams with an average of 325 yards per game. The Hawkeyes scored 30 or more points in five games, but also had six games in which they were held to 14 or fewer.
Things bottomed out in Tampa, Fla., as Iowa mustered a mere 55 passing yards, the fewest ever in the 31-year history of the Outback Bowl.
“This is my decision, but not a decision that was reached lightly," Davis said in a university news release. "I remain passionate about the game of football, and enjoyed teaching football to our players every day."
The 65-year-old Davis gave no indication that he was considering retiring from a position that paid him a base salary of $625,000 when he met with reporters in the lead-up to the bowl game.
“I think everybody would like to win the national championship and be 85 years old and get your cane and walk off the field," he said when asked how he would like to see his 43-year coaching career end. "It doesn’t work that way. I haven’t thought about it too much.”
A segment of Iowa fans had given it a great deal of thought, however. Calls for Davis to be replaced were frequent, picking up in volume after Iowa's ineffective showing against the Gators left the team with five consecutive bowl losses. Davis was calling the plays in the last four of those.
Davis came to Iowa in 2012, replacing Ken O'Keefe, who took a job as wide receivers coach for the Miami Dolphins. O'Keefe had been on Kirk Ferentz's staff since his first year as the Hawkeyes' leader in 1999. That means the famously loyal Ferentz will be seeking only his third offensive coordinator in 18 seasons. There was no immediate word on a replacement for Davis, but Ferentz's son, Brian, is the Hawkeyes' offensive line coach and run game coordinator and could be tapped for a promotion.
Ferentz will hold a season-ending news conference at 1:30 p.m. Monday, and the offensive coordinator topic will certainly consume the line of questioning.
On Friday, Ferentz praised Davis in the university news release.
“I cannot thank Greg Davis enough for what he has meant to Iowa football these past five seasons. Greg possesses a great football mind, and he brought a perspective and expertise to our program that made every one of our coaches and players better,” he said. “Greg’s coaching career spanned five decades, from high school to the biggest stage in college football — and each day he exemplified passion for the game while instilling character in his players. That is ‘love for the game’ and without Greg, there’s a little less of that in football today.
Ferentz also defended Davis during Iowa's bye week in late October, saying the problems the Hawkeyes were having moving the football didn't fall on one person alone.
“What we do offensively, defensively and special teams-wise is a staff effort, and I’m involved in that, too. The head coach has the most responsibility,” Ferentz said. “Through good times and bad times, we all work together and try to find solutions.”
Davis, a Texas native, began his college coaching career as the quarterbacks coach at Texas A&M in 1978. He was the head coach at Tulane for four seasons, going 14-31, before going on to assistant positions at Arkansas, Georgia and North Carolina.
It was at Texas that Davis enjoyed his greatest success, as offensive coordinator under head coach Mack Brown from 1998-2010. Davis tutored quarterbacks Colt McCoy, Vince Young and Chris Simms and was the winner of the Frank Broyles award for assistant coach of the year in 2005 after the Longhorns won the national championship. That team averaged 50.2 points per game, then an NCAA record.
After Texas missed a bowl game for the first time in 13 seasons in 2010, Davis resigned. He was out of football for one season when Ferentz came calling.
Hawkeye sports columnist Chad Leistikow reacts to the announcement that the Hawkeyes' five-year offensive coordinator has retired.
Offensive coordinators are continually embattled by fan bases, and Davis endured his share of criticism, particularly for the lack of inventiveness in his play-calling and for the statistical regression of senior quarterback C.J. Beathard this season.
Iowa entered 2016 ranked 15th in the nation after a 12-2 finish in 2015. Beathard, despite being injured for the bulk of 2015, had put up 2,809 yards and 17 touchdowns through the air and 237 yards and six scores as a rusher in his junior season.
“I think he has a chance to be the best I’ve ever coached,” Davis said during the summer on KxNO’s “Hawk Central” program. “He’s got a wonderful feel for the game. We give him a lot of flexibility. He’s fixing to get a lot more flexibility because we feel like he’s ready to handle that and do a lot more at the line of scrimmage.”
It never materialized.
The Hawkeyes scored 87 points while coasting to season-opening wins over Miami of Ohio and Iowa State, but were humbled by North Dakota State in Week 3. In that game, Beathard threw for three touchdowns but completed only 11 passes. Seven of those went to wide receiver Matt VandeBerg and tight end George Kittle. Both players later suffered injuries and the Iowa offense was never able to find suitable replacements as the passing game became an afterthought.
At a midseason news conference, Davis acknowledged that Hawkeye wideouts were underpeforming.
“We have not had as much production with the outside part as we need,” Davis said of sophomores Jerminic Smith and Jay Scheel, who combined for 28 catches and two touchdowns this season. “How could we better help those guys either through motion, through stacks, through some things that may help the wide receivers get off the press better, get down the field?”
Davis and his offense never did figure that out. In the bowl game, senior Riley McCarron was the only wide receiver to record a reception. It gained 11 yards.
The new offensive coordinator will be expected to groom quarterback Nathan Stanley, the heir apparent to Beathard. Stanley played sparingly this year as a true freshman, completing 5-of-9 passes for 62 yards. The 6-foot-5, 212-pound Wisconsin native has shown a strong arm and will be aided by the return of VandeBerg, who qualified for a medical redshirt.
Iowa also will get 1,000-yard rusher Akrum Wadley back for his senior season, after he opted against entering the NFL Draft. And Cole Croston was the only Hawkeye who started on the offensive line to graduate.