Ken O'Keefe stepping down as Iowa football's quarterbacks coach

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Ken O’Keefe, an original member of Kirk Ferentz’s football staff at Iowa and longtime offensive coordinator, is stepping down after spending the last five years the program’s quarterbacks coach.

The announcement came Wednesday afternoon from Ferentz, who added that O'Keefe will remain with the program in an off-field role.

“My entire family and I are incredibly grateful to coach Ferentz, the players — especially the quarterbacks I have been privileged to work with — the staff, the University of Iowa and the great Hawkeye football fans for all of their support these many years,” O’Keefe said in a statement. “When you love what you do, and where you do it, when you love being around the staff and working with tremendous men like I do day-in and day-out, it is hard to walk away. But I am confident that the time is right for me to step off the field and embrace a new opportunity.

“This Hawkeye program is in great shape heading into the future. I look forward to helping out behind the scenes while also getting to spend some long overdue time with my wife, Joanne, and our family.”

O’Keefe, 68, had spent the last five seasons as Iowa’s quarterbacks coach in the same time frame that Brian Ferentz, the head coach’s oldest son, has been offensive coordinator. O’Keefe was re-hired at Iowa after a five-year stint with the Miami Dolphins. His time as Iowa QBs coach coincided with the three-year starting reign of Nate Stanley (2017-19) and the last two years with Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla.

The Hawkeyes’ passing game struggled mightily in the 2021 season despite a 10-4 record and top-25 national finish. Iowa finished 121st out of 130 FBS teams in total offense and ranked 94th in yards per pass attempt (6.4).

More:Leistikow: Is Iowa football's offense too complex?

Kirk Ferentz said at a signing-day news conference that the passing game needed to get better and that he would be seeking solutions in a February program self-evaluation.

Ken O'Keefe has been an assistant coach at Iowa for 18 of Kirk Ferentz's 23 seasons, including offensive coordinator from 1999 to 2011.

“Especially last year we didn't throw the ball well enough to be successful enough,” said Ferentz, who is entering his 24th year as Iowa’s head coach.

O’Keefe was a 13-year offensive coordinator for the Hawkeyes, starting in 1999 when Ferentz was hired to succeed longtime coach Hayden Fry. O'Keefe presided over the most prolific offense of the Ferentz era in 2002, when the Hawkeyes rolled to a top-five national ranking and quarterback Brad Banks was the Heisman Trophy runner-up. His popularity waned, as tends to happen for offensive coordinators, as his tenure continued. After back-to-back 7-5 regular seasons in 2010 and 2011, he left to coach wide receivers with the Dolphins.

O'Keefe also doubled as Iowa's quarterbacks coach from 2000 to 2011, overseeing program stars like Banks, Drew Tate and Ricky Stanzi. That experience and his ability to be a stabilizing force for Brian Ferentz earned him a return to the program in 2017.

“Ken rejoining our program from the NFL was a big bonus,” Kirk Ferentz said in a statement Wednesday. “While we will miss having him on the field on Saturdays, we are looking forward to him continuing to share his perspective and knowledge to benefit our entire program."

O’Keefe was paid $685,000 last season plus bonuses; Iowa said it would honor the terms of O’Keefe’s contract as he transitions to an off-field role.

There was no immediate announcement on O'Keefe's successor, but it undoubtedly will be an important job as the Hawkeyes look to find their starting quarterback in 2022 among Petras, Padilla and redshirt freshman Joey Labas.