No staff changes for Iowa football; Brian Ferentz back as offensive coordinator

Chad Leistikow
Des Moines Register

The buildup to Wednesday's Iowa football news conference with Kirk Ferentz was filled with as much anticipation as any since January 2015, when after a disappointing season the veteran head coach emerged with a clear change of program direction.

Ferentz changed quarterbacks then, from Jake Rudock to C.J. Beathard, a long-called-for shakeup among the Iowa fan base ... and it worked. Behind Beathard and other program tweaks in 2015, Iowa enjoyed a 12-0 regular season and has largely experienced an eight-year run of sustained success ... except for the offense the past two seasons.

And that is where the anticipation for Wednesday stemmed. Would Ferentz announce big changes, small changes, ANY changes to an offense run by his unpopular son that has become a national laughingstock? Wednesday also marked a second national signing day, and the Hawkeyes did have a handful of new prospects come aboard. But the real focus was on the future of the Iowa offense and how boldly Ferentz's words and actions came across.

By the end of the news conference the No. 1 takeaway was this: No coaching staff changes, and Brian Ferentz will be back as offensive coordinator.

Kirk Ferentz's first news conference since after Iowa's 21-0 Music City Bowl win on Dec. 31 took place Wednesday at the Hansen Football Performance Center.

“I feel really good about the entire recruiting class.”

Ferentz kicked things off with talk about the second national signing day, and the Hawkeyes announced the signings of five scholarship players (including four from the NCAA transfer portal) and six walk-ons in the Class of 2023. Portal additions Rusty Feth (6-foot-5, 304 pounds) from Miami of Ohio and Daijon Parker (6-5, 300) of Saginaw Valley State highlighted Iowa's immediate efforts to fix the offensive line.

Ferentz also noted that maybe the Hawkeyes' three best recruits since December are the retentions of sixth-year seniors Nico Ragaini at wide receiver and Joe Evans and Noah Shannon on the defensive line.

Iowa recruiting director Tyler Barnes, Ferentz's son-in-law, took the podium next to elaborate on Ferentz's recruiting comments. Barnes noted that Iowa will have 44 new players between arrival periods in January and June, which is a big number for the program. That's a significant amount of roster overhaul.

One of the most intriguing additions is productive wide receiver Seth Anderson from FCS Charleston Southern, who has been on campus for two weeks. Anderson has three years of eligibility remaining.

"As we dug more into his background, he was a high school wrestler," Barnes said. "He's a great kid, big smile, big personality and the type of kid we like to go after. He's got a chip on his shoulder and has something to prove."

There will be another transfer-portal window in May, in which Iowa can add some players at areas of need. Barnes said Iowa still has a few scholarships available to spend. (Ferentz later would note that kicker Drew Stevens and long snapper Luke Elkin were in the process of being promoted from walk-on to scholarship status.)

Back to Kirk Ferentz, who puts his immediate focus on the offensive line

The head coach said, "I do think that's significant" that Iowa has the third-most wins in the Big Ten Conference since 2015. But his comments quickly turned to the offense, which finished 130th out of 131 in FBS and had the program's worst average yardage per game (251.6) since 1978.

"The 2022 performance, in a nutshell, was not good enough.," Ferentz said. "We're well aware of that. We have been well aware of that, and we own it. The whole idea is to move forward and fix it."

Ferentz said the first priority this offseason is to fix the offensive line, adding that Iowa played too many linemen who weren't ready to play. He applauded the players' effort and said they're well-coached but said poor line play cascaded to other areas of the offense. "An inordinate amount of medical issues" contributed to the poor line development, with only Connor Colby being healthy from start to finish over the past two seasons.

Ferentz later added that highly touted offensive linemen David Davidkov and Justin Britt have medically retired and won't return to football, but they remain on scholarship to finish their degrees.

On the quarterbacks: It was hard to evaluate in 2022

Ferentz cited the late-May transfer of Charlie Jones to Purdue and other unusual developments (Keagan Johnson injuries, Brody Brecht's missed time with baseball then injuries) as curtailing the help quarterback Spencer Petras received. Between receiver and O-line, Ferentz indicated his quarterbacks didn't have enough to work with.

On that note, he's enthusiastic about Cade McNamara (Michigan) and Deacon Hill (Wisconsin) transferring into the program. Both are on campus this spring. It sounded like Ferentz was setting the stage to justify minimal to no offensive staff changes on offense, and that's exactly where his words went next.

No coaching-staff changes. That's the big headline.

As Ferentz finished his opening statement, 40 minutes into the news conference, he said, “I anticipate no changes in our staff moving forward. I think we do have a terrific staff."

That put to rest (for now) any curiosities about whether offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz would return.

Kirk Ferentz emphasized that he felt he knows the causes of what triggered the horrendous offensive stats.

"It’s going to help us to be a more veteran line,” Ferentz began.

He noted that he is open to scheme changes but not radical ones. Bottom line: Not many changes expected.

“I think we’ve got the right guys, whether it’s players or coaches," Ferentz said. "I’m eager to get to work."

Continuing, Ferentz was pressed on the evaluation of his son in six years as offensive coordinator. His answer pointed to the fact that Hayden Fry never fired a coordinator, and he hasn't either. He referenced his final years as an Iowa assistant, in 1989, when the team went 5-6. The next year, Iowa went to the Rose Bowl. The following year, Iowa went 10-1-1.

“We normally rally back and fix it,” Ferentz said.

Monday, Iowa will begin discussion about scheme changes

And it sounds like those conversations will include Jon Budmayr, the analyst who was formerly Wisconsin’s quarterbacks coach and had recruiting connections to McNamara and Hill.

“He’s been a great resource, certainly for Brian,” Ferentz said, but didn't clarify whether Budmayr would be a permanent staff member. “I didn’t quite know what to expect (when he came aboard last spring). Now that he’s been here ample time, he’s first class. A really good man, a really good coach.”

Ferentz said that the staff as a whole will discuss tweaks to the offensive scheme, and agreed that what suits McNamara’s skill set (with a little more mobility than Petras had) will be among the considerations. Continually pressed on the offense, Ferentz added, “We’re taking ownership. Nobody’s running from this. The idea is to be a championship-level team.”

Why didn’t Iowa athletics director Gary Barta overrule Ferentz?

Brian Ferentz reports to Barta, as part of the university’s nepotism policy. Barta had plenty of authority to fire Iowa’s offensive coordinator and even said Tuesday that, “Offensively, the performance we had last year is not going to cut it, it’s not acceptable.”

But he also said Brian is “uniquely qualified” for the offensive coordinator job as a former player in the program who understands his father’s approach.

“At the end of the day, I have the ability to override any decisions in the department,” Barta said. “I’ve sat down with Kirk and Brian, more than ever before, from the bowl until today. I’ve expressed my expectations moving forward.”

Barta declined to say what those expectations are.