Leistikow: Answering 5 questions about Iowa's football hires
IOWA CITY – When Kirk Ferentz hits the open waters on the annual Hawkeye Cruise this week, he can kick up his feet, knowing his football coaching staff is complete and ready to roll for 2017 season preparations.
I’s have been dotted, the T’s crossed with this week’s additions of Kelton Copeland as wide receivers coach and Tim Polasek as offensive line coach. They join a new-but-familiar hire in Ken O’Keefe, who will coach quarterbacks.
Our coverage so far has tackled the big-picture stuff: How self-made-men Copeland (from Northern Illinois) and Polasek (North Dakota State) rose up the ranks to more than earn their first Power Five coaching opportunities. How both men bring an intense appreciation for Iowa’s blue-collar culture. And how O’Keefe will provide a steady, trusted hand to complement first-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.
Here are some other answers to questions that help put a bow on what transpired during the offensive-coaching search to replace departed assistants Greg Davis, Bobby Kennedy and Chris White.
Did Iowa intentionally go young?
Not necessarily, Kirk Ferentz said. But it did seem that way, with 80 percent of the resulting offensive staff under the age of 40, and Brian Ferentz, 33, winding up the third-youngest offensive coordinator in the Big Ten Conference.
Kirk Ferentz, entering his 19th year as Iowa's head coach, isn’t a risk-taker. Committing $1,620,000 to O’Keefe over three years, believed to be the longest assistant-coach contract in the Ferentz era, sends the message that veteran stability was worth the investment.
O’Keefe, 63, who served as Ferentz’s offensive coordinator from 1999 to 2011 and spent the past five years with the Miami Dolphins, is the glue to hold the young crew together.
“We didn't have a bar (for age), necessarily. But certainly Ken was a key part of this whole equation when we made the move with Brian,” Kirk Ferentz said. “I think it just gives us that veteran presence in the room, the experience.”
Ferentz compared the situation to bringing veteran linebackers coach Jim Reid, a former coordinator, on staff as Phil Parker grew into his role succeeding Norm Parker as defensive coordinator.
Still, O’Keefe’s salary ($540,000 annually, according to UI documents – which almost matches the combined one-year deals of Polasek, 37, at $325,000, and Copeland, 36, at $225,000) is very high for a position coach that doesn’t have a coordinator title, USA TODAY’s Steve Berkowitz said. Berkowitz oversees the newspaper’s annual salary database for FBS assistant and head coaches.
It’s notable that O’Keefe’s term is three years – the exact amount of eligibility that No. 1 quarterback Nathan Stanley has remaining.
Did beating Iowa help Polasek?
It didn’t hurt.
Polasek said that during his interview, he shared things with Iowa’s coaches that North Dakota State did in knocking off the Hawkeyes, 23-21, at Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 17. He spent 10 years overall with the Bison, the last three as offensive coordinator.
“I did feel like it was an opportunity to potentially answer some questions of some things that we did during the game,” Polasek said. “And some of those things came up; some didn't. You know, it was really fun coming into the interview process, being able to speak on behalf of all 11 guys on offense.”
Polasek shared one of his most vivid memories from that game: A late fourth-and-2 conversion by King Frazier, who went off tackle for 3 yards with NDSU trailing, 21-14.
“I just spoke to King Frazier on the way in here (Thursday) and told him thanks for that run,” Polasek said.
How will recruiting areas be divided?
The program’s official stance: To be determined.
“Recruiting is recruiting,” Kirk Ferentz said. “It's nice to be in an area you're familiar with, but the principles of it are the same, so I think we've got some versatility.”
Copeland has been all over the place. He’s recruited in South Florida (he's from Miami), but also has experience in places like Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis and Kansas City.
“I know what our goals are with this program and the type of kids we want here,” Copeland said. “And wherever I'm placed, I feel like I'm going to do a great job getting those guys here and helping us win championships.”
Polasek feels comfortable in the upper Midwest. He actually has run into Iowa linebackers coach Seth Wallace on the recruiting trail in Wisconsin, where Polasek is from and starred as a small-college quarterback. Polasek got very familiar with Minnesota while stationed in Fargo, N.D., and could be a good asset to battle new Gophers coach P.J. Fleck up north.
“I'm totally confident you could drop me off with a helicopter in the desert, and we'll go find some people to build a relationship with,” Polasek said, “and find out who the biggest guy is that can bend and move, and do our best to get him educated at the University of Iowa.”
How will the offense change?
North Dakota State, with Polasek, deployed a power-running style. At Northern Illinois, coach Rod Carey used the read-option. And in O’Keefe’s 13 years at Iowa, the Hawkeyes showed more vertical, over-the-middle tendencies in passing routes than Davis did in his five years as offensive coordinator.
But nothing has been determined about Iowa’s approach under Brian Ferentz. Thursday marked the first day that all the offensive coaches could kick around ideas.
“Finest morning I've had in a long time,” Copeland said. “Just talking ball and just bouncing ideas off each other. But, no, we're not even close to even talking about or addressing where we're going with the pass game or anything else right now.”
What if the NCAA approves a 10th coach?
What looked like a slam dunk to be approved “immediately” in April might get tabled for a January 2018 start date over concerns of adding payroll in the middle of a fiscal year.
The NCAA will still vote in April over whether FBS programs can add a 10th full-time assistant coach. Either way, Iowa seems well-positioned.
Kirk Ferentz came away pleased with the final six coaches he had for the Copeland and Polasek spots. So, if and when approved, it seems Iowa would be ready to act quickly.
“I feel like we've got good candidates down the road if we get to the 10th spot,” Ferentz said, “and we have options available.”
That could mean shuffling chairs – maybe tight ends coach LeVar Woods, 38, could slide to another role – depending on the best fit. If the 10th coach doesn’t happen in time for the 2017 season, Iowa will likely handle special teams (partially White’s role the past four seasons) by committee with Wallace, Woods and Copeland.