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Inside The Hawkeyes

Brown: Surprised By Ferentz's Decision

By Rick Brown,


Iowa Coach Bringing Back Son as Offensive Coordinator Increases Pressure

IOWA CITY, Iowa - I thought that Kirk Ferentz was stuck in an inescapable corner.

Change was his only option. Change that stepped inside his family circle.

Iowa entered the 2022 season with the promise of a retooled offense. It wasn’t going to be the kind of wide-open change Hayden Fry had brought with him from North Texas in 1979. It wasn’t an offense that would erase two decades of the conservative approach that is the Ferentz playbook. But it was going to bring a more modern approach to the offense.

Fans bought in. Every home game was a sellout before the opening kickoff. And then Iowa beat South Dakota State with two safeties and a field goal. Brian Ferentz, the offensive coordinator, became a lightning rod for criticism with each passing week. So did father Kirk. Iowa’s offense also became a punch line for national reporters who were quick to jump on the pile.

Injuries to a thin group of wide receivers and an underperforming offensive line didn’t help matters. But it was a disaster from an offensive standpoint.

You know the gruesome details. The worst Power Five offense since 2014. And the worst at Iowa since 1978, when Bob Commings lost his job and Hayden became a household name in the state.

Iowa did win eight games in 2022, but a lion’s share of credit fell on the shoulders of Phil Parker’s dominant defense. So I figured change was in the air. I figured the only way Kirk Ferentz could get out of the corner was by firing his son.

So I was surprised when the man heading into his 25th season as Iowa’s head coach, a man who is sometimes loyal to a fault, came out Tuesday and said the plan was for Brian to return for a seventh season as Iowa’s offensive coordinator.

Welcome to the 2023 season. Pressure and scrutiny will be at an all-time high for Ferentz and Ferentz. Apathy is ready to pounce, and we’ll see if a vocal portion of the fanbase will stick by their promises of passing on season tickets to seven Kinnick Stadium appearances - Utah State, Western Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Minnesota, Rutgers and Illinois - in 2023.

If Cade McNamara is the real deal at quarterback, if tight end Eric All and wide receiver Seth Anderson give him some targets and if the offensive line gives him time to execute the offense, maybe Ferentz and Ferentz will get the last laugh.

That’s a lot of “ifs,” but I’ve seen Kirk Ferentz escape predicted doom and gloom before in a career that has been, for the most part, Hall of Fame worthy.

After an embarrassing 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the Tax Slayer Bowl concluded a 7-6 season in 2014, apathy and discourse were also at all-time highs. Ferentz had a news conference on Jan. 14, 2015. And as I went back and reviewed that day, it struck me that Tuesday was Groundhog Day. This was the lead to my Des Moines Register column that day in 2014:

“It might have been the most eagerly anticipated news conference in Iowa football history, short of the firing or hiring of a coach.

“For the last week, Wednesday’s media gathering called by Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz was discussed and analyzed. The internet message boards had a field day, with “good sources’ claiming everything from Ferentz resigning to assistant coaches being fired to quarterbacks transferring.

“On Wednesday, those looking for blood in the wake of a disappointing 2014 season didn’t get what they wanted. Meltdown turned into letdown.”

Sound familiar?

That day in 2015, Ferentz laid out a plan to return the program, which hadn’t been ranked in the Associated Press poll since late in the 2010 season, to better days.

“What’s important is to make sure we cover the territory we need to cover, to come up with a good plan, and again, not just change things to change things,” Ferentz said in 2014. “But the big thing is to really look and find out what we need to adjust and then go about it in a smart, logical way and make sure we do that right.”

Ferentz did give the masses one thing to smile about. He said that C.J. Beathard would be the No. 1 quarterback instead of Jake Rudock, who packed his bags and headed for Michigan.

Iowa football has gone 71-30 since that 2015 presser, with victories in four of the Hawkeyes’ last five bowl games and two Big Ten West Division titles.

McNamara’s arrival has fans excited, as the move to Beathard did in 2015. But he can’t do it alone. The defense should offer a helping hand again, but the heat will be on Ferentz and Ferentz to put a winning offense on the field.

Back in 2014, Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta told reporters before the bowl game with Tennessee that 7-5 was not acceptable. He said Kirk Ferentz had shared his plans for bringing Iowa football back to where it had been before.

“I like his plans and I’m behind it 100 percent,” Barta said after that 2015 news conference.

That’s not the first time he’s drawn a line in the sand with a coach. After a disappointing 17-14 basketball season in 2006-07, Barta said another rebuilding year under Coach Steve Alford would not be acceptable.

“I’m very pleased with the progress we made this year, but now we can’t start over again,” Barta said.

Alford took matters into his own hands, taking the job at New Mexico a week later.

On Tuesday, Barta fielded questions from reporters on the state of the football program.

“Obviously, offensively, the performance we had last year is not going to cut it,” he said. “It’s not acceptable.”

On a personal note, I have always held Kirk Ferenz in high regard. He is an honorable man who has done many good things for his university and people throughout the state of Iowa. But surely he knows the natives are restless.

Barta has drawn a line in the sand again. And if the offense flounders in 2023, Kirk Ferentz won’t be the only man standing in an inescapable corner.

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