CHICAGO – In some ways, what Iowa football fans have been witnessing during the last three years is the Kirk Ferentz Era 2.0. The first portion of the tenure ended after the 2011 season.
The Hawkeyes replaced many long-time assistants four seasons ago, including coordinators Ken O’Keefe and the late Norm Parker, who were with Ferentz since he took over the program before the ’99 campaign.
On Iowa’s current 10-person, on-field staff, only Phil Parker, Reese Morgan and LeVar Woods were part of it before ’12. Replaced during the last three years have been Lester Erb (’00-’12), Darrell Wilson (’02-’12), Eric Campbell (’08-’12) and Eric Johnson (’00-13).
"It’s been a process certainly. We’ve gone through quite an evolution, I think, since 2012. So, it’s been an on-going process," Ferentz said.
The new staff has met mixed results. In 2012, the program sunk to 4-8, its worst record since ’00. A year later saw an 8-5 mark with a coveted Outback Bowl bid. Last fall, a 7-6 finish was viewed by fans and outsiders alike as a disappointment.
Ferentz’s future has been a main topic of discussion this offseason. Speculation swirled that assistants might be replaced. The staff remained intact.
The head coach has hitched his legacy to the men he’s hired. The group included his son, Brian Ferentz, and much-maligned offensive coordinator Greg Davis.
"I really feel good about the people just like I did back 15, 16 years ago; felt good about the people in our organization and really feel that way now," Kirk Ferentz said.
Ferentz and the new assistants have talked about how well they work together since the turnover began in ’12. The boss indicated here at the Big Ten Media Day last week that it still took time to mesh.
"I think we all have a much better working knowledge of each other and probably a better working knowledge of our school, our program, etc. In some ways we’ve kind of gone through an evolution and I feel like we’re certainly farther ahead now than we were maybe a year or two ago," Kirk Ferentz said.
Changes were made internally this winter. Brian Ferentz became the run game coordinator. Woods switched from co-linebackers coach with Jim Reid to tight ends coach. Graduate assistant D.J. Hernandez tutored that spot the last two years.
Chris White was brought in before the ’13 season to coach running backs and special teams. Those areas have not lived up to the high standard set during Ferentz 1.0.
Bobby Kennedy joined the staff the same year as White as the receivers coach. The Hawkeyes opened camp today looking for more consistency from that position.
Perhaps the biggest part of the learning curve for the new assistants came in the form of a throwback to their roots. More of their focus has been placed on developing and teaching players.
"That’s one of the things I think you learn," Kirk Ferentz said. "Maybe for some of the guys coming to this staff that we probably have a little bit more emphasis on that. We probably have more walk-ons develop into good players.
"So, that’s probably part of the learning process, learning the culture of our program and where it might be different than some other places."