Ken O'Keefe on Nate Stanley: 'He can fix things on the field'

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central


IOWA CITY, Ia. — Ask Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe whether his current starter, Nate Stanley, is ready for the NFL and he provides a philosophical answer.

“Is anybody ever NFL-ready when they get started? Those rookies? Very few of them are. And very few quarterbacks are,” O’Keefe told reporters Wednesday. “He’s working hard to make us Outback Bowl-ready right now and that’s the only thing we’re concerned about.

“Keep trying to improve every day. The rest of it is going to take care of itself. None of this is in your hands ever.”

Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken O'Keefe works with his starter, Nate Stanley, in a spring practice session. O'Keefe praises Stanley for the surge he took in leadership this season. Stanley says he has a good rapport with O'Keefe, who is quick with a corny joke.

Stanley, a junior from Wisconsin, has the size (6-foot-4, 242 pounds) that NFL teams covet. He has thrown 49 touchdown passes in his two years as the Hawkeyes starting quarterback. He has said that he welcomes an honest assessment from NFL scouts now that he’s draft-eligible, but that he’s planning on returning for his senior season.

“There’s a wide variety of offenses that people play in college and who knows what will translate and what won’t. It’s always nice to get feedback from the guys that are going to be looking at you seriously,” Stanley said Dec. 2.

“I’ve always wanted to finish out school and get my degree. Barring something crazy, nothing’s going to change.”

Stanley’s next chance to make a strong case for himself will come in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida, against No. 18 Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, who play in the Southeastern Conference, allowed only 12 points per game.

O’Keefe, in his second season mentoring Stanley, said the biggest growth he’s seen from Year 1 to Year 2 is in leadership. That has been evident every day in practice, but also after Iowa’s 30-24 loss at Penn State, a game in which Stanley’s goal-line interception late in the fourth quarter proved decisive.

“He didn’t get down on himself,” O’Keefe said. “You don’t have to hardly tell him anything in a lot of situations because he knows. He already knows. He’ll tell you as soon as he comes off the field what’s going on. His ability to communicate what’s happening really helps me.”

Stanley completed 214 of 365 passes this season, a 58.6 percent rate that is still not good enough for an elite quarterback. He was intercepted nine times but sacked on only 13 occasions. He led Iowa to an 8-4 record.

O’Keefe said the success on the field was the result of Stanley’s dedication during practices, a mindset that influenced the rest of the offense.

“He can fix things on the field. We talk about the job that the quarterback has out on that field every day. The No. 1 thing is he’s got to fix everything and make it right,” O’Keefe said. “As a first-year starter you’re totally worried about getting the play, getting it right, getting it out of your mouth right in the huddle, breaking the huddle, finding where the (play) clock is in those big stadiums, getting the ball snapped on time and going from there.”

This season, Stanley was able to do all of that and still find time to remind a receiver about a defensive scheme or a lineman about a potential blitz.

“He really does provide a great example for those guys to follow. And that elevates everybody else’s performance around him. Everybody. Coaches as well. That’s a standard that he sets,” O’Keefe said of Stanley.

“A great leader’s got to be able to communicate in a really positive way no matter how tough the situation is. A guy drops a ball. You’re not going to get on a guy’s rear end about dropping a ball. You’ve got to help him through it."

“So when he goes over and grabs you after running the wrong route. He’s not beating you up. He’s helping you improve.”

It’s not always so serious. Stanley has said that he enjoys a good rapport with O’Keefe, who can be quick with a joke.

“A little joke every day, which are beyond jokes. They’re so stupid and corny,” O’Keefe confirmed. “I just take them off the internet. Right now, we’re working on Christmas jokes.”

And then New Year’s Day will be here before you know it. It will be the final exam this season for O’Keefe and Stanley.

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