Ken O'Keefe returning to Iowa Hawkeyes coaching staff

Chad Leistikow

Ken O’Keefe, who spent 13 years as Kirk Ferentz’s first offensive coordinator at Iowa, is returning to the Hawkeyes' coaching staff.

O’Keefe, 63, has been named Iowa's quarterbacks coach. The university announced the news Friday afternoon, confirming an earlier report by the Register.

He fills one of three full-time assistant openings that came about in January with the retirement of offensive coordinator Greg Davis and the terminations of wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy and running backs coach Chris White.

"During Ken’s years in our program, the individual growth and overall performance of our quarterbacks played a major role in the success of our football team," Ferentz said in a statement. "Ken is a key addition to our staff moving forward. He is an outstanding person and a perfect fit."

O’Keefe left Iowa after the 2011 season for the NFL to become the Miami Dolphins’ receivers coach. He now returns to work under Ferentz's son.

Brian Ferentz, 33, was named offensive coordinator on Jan. 9.

Ken O'Keefe spent 13 years as Iowa's offensive coordinator (from 1999 to 2011). He returns as the Hawkeyes' quarterbacks coach.

At face value, this is a smart and safe move by Kirk Ferentz. The 19th-year head coach, 61, puts a high premium on loyalty and having an understanding of the Hawkeye culture. There’s no question O’Keefe brings those characteristics to the staff.

The relationship dates to 1978-79, when Ferentz was an assistant under O’Keefe at the Worcester (Mass.) Academy. O'Keefe also doubled as quarterbacks coach in his first Iowa City stint.

The dynamic, of course, has now dramatically changed. O’Keefe has never coached alongside Brian Ferentz (who filled one of the openings created by O’Keefe’s departure after four years with the New England Patriots). Of course, O’Keefe oversaw the Iowa offense when Brian was a three-year starting offensive lineman from 2003-05.

In five years with Miami, O'Keefe spent the first four as receivers coach under former Iowa assistant Joe Philbin, then was moved into a senior research analyst role once Adam Gase became the head coach. Miami reached the NFL playoffs this past season.

Ken O’Keefe spent five years with the Miami Dolphins; four as a receivers coach and last season as an analyst.

“I look forward to working with Kirk Ferentz again, and the entire coaching staff," O'Keefe said in a statement. "I gained valuable experience in Miami the last five years, but at the same time I am anxious to return to coaching and working with college players."

O’Keefe, as is the case with most offensive coordinators, drew mixed reviews from the Hawkeye fan base during his time here. But there’s no disputing Iowa’s production under O’Keefe was better than under Davis. In 2016, Iowa sunk to 121st out of 128 FBS teams in total offense (325.0 yards a game) and had the program's worst passing offense in 35 seasons. Four days after Iowa's 30-3 Outback Bowl loss to Florida, the UI announced that Davis was retiring.

O’Keefe led the most explosive offense of the Ferentz era, in 2002. That team averaged 37.2 points and 424.5 yards per game, and quarterback Brad Banks was the Heisman Trophy runner-up. As a team, the Hawkeyes wound up with four top-10 national poll finishes (2002, '03, '04, '09) with O'Keefe on staff. But the offense also had its struggles, especially in the bowl-less 2007 season, when Iowa averaged only 316.3 yards a game.

The hiring of O’Keefe fills an experience need on Iowa's offensive staff, which, until Friday, only had former Hawkeye players in their 30s on board in Brian Ferentz and tight ends coach LeVar Woods, 38. O'Keefe was also considered a strong recruiter in his day, especially in the Northeast.

Brian Ferentz has never called plays, so having O’Keefe in the offensive backfield gives him (and the head coach) a trusted resource with familiarity of the Iowa pro-style system.

Iowa freshman quarterback Nathan Stanley made big steps in his first season, and will compete with Tyler Wiegers and Drew Cook this spring for the starting job in 2017.

One of the first orders of business for O’Keefe is to get acclimated with rising sophomore Nathan Stanley, a 6-foot-5, big-armed product from Wisconsin who is listed as Iowa’s No. 1 quarterback entering spring drills.

Kirk Ferentz said Wednesday that he hoped to round out his coaching staff in the next few weeks. He still has two more openings, with a third possibly coming about later this spring if the NCAA approves a 10th full-time assistant coach in football.

But with the addition of O’Keefe official, Ferentz can move forward with subsequent hires, having secured a veteran teacher for his offensive staff.