Ken O'Keefe on feedback from Iowa fans, helping Nate Stanley and Spencer Petras's poise

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

There may be more ways for football fans to criticize those who coach their favorite team these days, but such scrutiny has always been there.

Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe made that clear in an interview that aired on Thursday’s “Hawk Central” radio hour on KxNO in Des Moines. O’Keefe was the Hawkeyes’ offensive coordinator from 1999-2011 and was once responsible for recruiting a placekicker for the team who slipped and missed a field goal right before halftime one Saturday afternoon.

A fan called O’Keefe’s office phone seconds later to voice his displeasure.

“I’m not sure if he knew, but usually I’m not at my desk at halftime. I’m normally in the locker room with the team trying to make sure we’re ready to go with the second half,” O’Keefe recalled.

The fan’s message to O’Keefe?

“I recruited the wrong guy. He stinks. What are you doing?” O’Keefe said.

The kicker in question was Nate Kaeding, who went on in his career to win the Lou Groza Award as the best in the nation. The point of O’Keefe’s story was that certain fans will always find a way to get their opinions to coaches.

And that they’re not always right.

O’Keefe was asked if there was more criticism for play-callers these days than when he held the job. Brian Ferentz is in charge of those duties for Iowa now.

Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken O'Keefe, left, and former quarterback Ricky Stanzi chat while players arrive before a NCAA Big Ten Conference football game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and Penn State, Saturday, Oct., 12, 2019, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

“I think it was always a pretty visible position,” O’Keefe said. “The difference is you’re dealing with more social media, more access, more people have ways to communicate it. I’m sure he gets emails, Instagram, whatever all that stuff is that comes flying in that he probably has to deal with.

“Where in the past all people would do was leave me messages on voicemail on my office phone. That was the only way they knew how to get hold of me back then. So I used to play those for the (graduate assistants). I’d bring the GA’s in my office every Sunday night and let them listen to some of the advice that I got from my call-in show that I wasn’t even aware I had.”

O’Keefe, 66, did acknowledge that the modern football fan has become savvier.

“I don’t know how anybody gets any work done anywhere with spending all of their time on fantasy football and sports betting,” he said. “Because of that, though, the average fan knows a lot more about football and is confident in their ability to communicate it, especially to offensive coordinators.”

No one satisfied with Iowa's offensive output

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley leads the Big Ten Conference in passing yards with 1,950. The senior has 62 career passing touchdowns to rank second all-time in program history.

But O’Keefe said no one involved with the Hawkeye offense is pleased about the production they’re seeing this season. No. 19 Iowa (6-2) scored only 61 points in its four games against Big Ten opponents after its first bye week. The Hawkeyes have a second bye this weekend before heading to No. 17 Wisconsin (6-2) on Nov. 9.

O’Keefe said his role is to make sure Stanley is prepared for what he’s going to see from defenses each week, and he wants to do a better job of that.

“A big part of that is us making sure as coaches that we can duplicate the defense to the best of our knowledge,” O’Keefe said, “trying to give (Stanley) the looks that we’re going to see during the course of the ball game so that he can execute properly.”

Backup Petras showing command in the huddle

Redshirt freshman Spencer Petras is the only other quarterback to see game action for Iowa this season. He won the backup job late during fall camp after battling with sophomore Peyton Mansell.

Petras is 6-for-10 passing in mop-up duty.

“He’s done a nice job with helping fix things and making things right in the huddle,” O’Keefe said of Petras.

“If a guy doesn’t line up right, he’s got to get him straight. When something’s going wrong on the field where somebody ran the wrong route, then he’s got to make that right with his decision. If a defender isn’t quite where he was supposed to be, then he’s got to make sure that he puts the ball … in whatever the location point might be.

“The biggest part of the quarterback’s job in a lot of ways is making things right all the time on that field, somehow, some way. And Spencer’s been able to do that with the young guys and that kind of helped him climb, in that regard. And he’s pretty cool under pressure and operates that way on the field. That’s kind of been the distinguishing point at this stage.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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