IOWA CITY, Iowa – Sometime during the 2004 season, I wrote a story about the criticism Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe was receiving. The Hawkeyes lost several running backs to injury and things weren’t running smoothly. The boo birds were out before that and never really went away.
That day, I asked some of the players about O’Keefe and how they thought he handled being under the microscope. I arrived at offensive lineman Brian Ferentz. The son of head coach Kirk Ferentz summed it up perfectly.
You never hear of an armchair defensive end or linebacker, he said. It’s an armchair quarterback. And attached to the signal caller was the coordinator. Most fans hold strong opinions on offensive play calling.
Kirk Ferentz announced Monday that his oldest son would be his new offensive coordinator. He took over for the much-maligned Greg Davis understanding that he’s stepping into the crosshairs of criticism.
O’Keefe handled the vitriol with class. Davis did, too. Yeah, it came with the well-paying job, but absorbing it couldn’t have been easy. Most of us want to be told we’re doing a good job.
The daughter of O’Keefe once told me that she remembered fans calling her house. They were and remain a strong family that learned to live with it.
No, it’s not like being homeless or in a war-torn country . We need to keep things in perspective. There are a lot worse things with which to deal in life.
But in our little haven of Iowa City, and to a larger part, the Hawkeye State, families can be affected. Brian has a wife and two young kids. They’re out there.
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He understands the dynamic after witnessing the criticism of O’Keefe and Davis. Brian, who turns 34 in March, learned it at a young age while he was in high school and his father posted a 4-19 record during his first two seasons running the program.
It may seem inconsequential, but other coaches here and elsewhere in the country leave under pressure. Again, the money makes it easier, but not easy. And social media shrinks the fishbowl.
It’s part of what makes Brian a strong choice, but not the only reason. In a program that’s centered on culture and fit, he makes sense.
“He knows Iowa. He knows our players, knows our program and most importantly, I think he knows what works here and what doesn’t work and that’s important for all of our coaches. Certainly important for all of our players, too,” Kirk Ferentz said Monday.
That’s what I wrote about last week following Davis’ retirement announcement. And this hire was not nepotism anymore than Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands hiring his brother Terry or Tom Davis hiring Keno Davis.
Brian worked his way up the ladder with the New England Patriots, culminating in coaching one of the team’s most important positions, tight end, in the Super Bowl. He returned to his alma mater five years ago as the offensive line coach and added run-game coordinator to his duties two years ago. Both have performed well.
Brian has worked under Bill Belichick, arguably the best NFL coach in history. Accomplished men in the profession such as Bill O’Brien, Scott Pioli, Dante Scarnecchia, Greg Davis and Joe Moore, among others, also have tutored him. His father has put together a Hall of Fame career.
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Kirk Ferentz said Monday that he continually compiles a list of candidates for vacancies. He thought about them and came to the conclusion that his son was the best man for the job.
Time will tell if he made the right choice. It’s the most crucial hire he’s made here. Kirk Ferentz’s legacy, in many ways, is tied to how Brian performs.
Brian has his work cut out for him. He’s trying to re-energize a unit that finished 121st out of 128 FBS programs in total offense this season. It ended up 95th in scoring. It loses a two-year starter at quarterback, its top tight end and a 1,000-yard rusher.
There won’t be a grace period. Chances are good that Brian won’t make it through his first series next season without being ripped.
He knows it. His dad knows it. They’re prepared for it. We’ll all be anxiously await to see how it all plays out.