By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – There is no such thing as a bad win as coaches often like to say, including Kirk Ferentz.
But for Iowa’s 68-year-old head football coach, Saturday’s 26-16 victory over Michigan State at Kinnick Stadium was bittersweet because he lost his starting quarterback to an apparent knee injury, and because he had to listen as fans chanted for his son, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, to be fired.
The chants started late in the third quarter and were in response to an Iowa offense that continues to perform woefully, and to Brian Ferentz’s conservative play calling.
“Well, I mean, 3-and-out isn’t any fun for anybody,” Kirk Ferentz said when asked about the chant. “I get that. We’re working hard to improve that and that’s what we’re going to do. That’s what we do every year, every season.”
Since the start of last season, the Iowa offense has ranked among the worst in the country from a statistical standpoint, and Saturday’s game was more of the same as Iowa was held to just 222 yards and was just 2-for-13 on third-down plays.
From dropped passes to the inability to sustain a rushing attack or to throw downfield, Brian Ferentz’s offense has become a national story, but for all the wrong reasons.
The hope was that the addition of Michigan transfer Cade McNamara at quarterback would help to jumpstart the offense, but that just hasn’t happened.
And now it looks as if McNamara might be out for an extended period with a knee injury.
McNamara watched the second half of Saturday’s game on crutches after having been carted off the field in the first quarter.
Kirk Ferentz, meanwhile, watched his sputtering and predictable offense do more of the same, and he watched as his special teams and defense helped to save the day as they have so often since the start of last season.
Iowa fans saw an all-too-familiar script play out Saturday as Phil Parker’s defense and LeVar Woods’ special teams had to make up for the many deficiencies on offense.
Backup quarterback Deacon Hill was hurt by some dropped passes, and by some that he appeared to throw too hard, while the running game produced just 61 yards.
The joke afterwards was that Iowa met the 25-point performance incentive in Brian Ferentz’s revised contract, but as usual, his offense needed help from special teams and the defense to do it.
This formula has worked more times than not against average to mediocre opponents, considering Iowa’s record is 12-6 since the start of last season.
But it usually falls short against elite competition, and sometimes, way short as was the case last Saturday when Iowa was held to just 76 yards in a 31-0 loss at Penn State.
The shortcomings on offense have kept Iowa from performing at an elite level despite having a defense and special teams that are elite.
Offense rarely has been a strength in 25 seasons under Kirk Ferentz, but the gap that separates Iowa’s offense from its defense and special teams is as wide as it’s ever been right now.
A new statistical joke being mentioned now to show just how miserable Iowa has been on offense since the start of last is that defensive back Cooper DeJean has scored four touchdowns since the start of the 2022 season, including a 73-yard punt return that won the game against Michigan State on Saturday, and that only one other Iowa player, running back Kaleb Johnson, has scored more touchdowns during that time with seven.
That is a sobering statistic that truly shows the level of dysfunction on offense.
It will also keep being mentioned because Brian Ferentz’s critics are always ready to pounce on the newest click bait because that is the world in which we now live.
Kirk Ferentz had to being aching inside as he listened to fans chant for his son to be fired.
And while it takes a thick skin to be a head coach, Kirk Ferentz is also human.
Brian Ferentz has said before to the media that he doesn’t pay attention to the criticism and that it has no effect on him.
But that seems hard to believe.
Brian Ferentz might not pay attention to the criticism, but he knows it’s out there, and it’s justified, although, chants for him to be fired seems harsh.
Kirk Ferentz only has himself to blame because he hooked his saddle, and his legacy, to his son at a time when maybe Brian Ferentz wasn’t ready to be the offensive coordinator.
It was assumed that Kirk Ferentz was preparing Brian Ferentz to be his successor, but even if that were the case, the odds of that happening under the current circumstances are slim to none, and much closer to none.
Iowa’s inability to evolve on offense comes at a time when many college teams are producing offensive numbers that are staggering.
A 300-yard passing game is almost routine for many quarterbacks, but in Iowa’s case, it hasn’t happened since Nate Stanley was the quarterback from 2017 to 2019.
It has reached the point where passing for 200 yards in a game is rare for an Iowa quarterback.
There are times when just completing a pass to a wide receiver seems almost impossible for Iowa, and that is inexcusable.
Iowa has had three offensive coordinators under Kirk Ferentz as Ken O’Keefe and Greg Davis preceded Brian Ferentz.
And what they all have in common, besides the same head coach, is that the offense struggled under all three of them to where the fans became frustrated.
Kirk Ferentz believes that offense should be played a certain way, and he’s won a lot of games along the way as he ranks fourth all-time in the Big Ten with 190 career wins.
Kirk Ferentz has refused to overhaul, or as some like to say, modernize his offense, nor has he been forced to make any changes, partly because he’s won enough games to apparently satisfy those who have control over him.
But the fans aren’t satisfied and that was painfully obvious on Saturday as chants of “fire Brian” echoed throughout the stadium.
Imagine how Brian Ferentz’s family must have felt as they heard fans lashing out.
There is a misconception that Brian Ferentz will be fired if he doesn’t meet the performance incentives that former Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta added to his contract just a few months before retiring this past August.
But that isn’t necessarily the case as there is nothing specifically in writing that says Brian Ferentz would be fired.
Kirk Ferentz has backed himself into a corner because of his love for and devotion to his son, and there doesn’t appear to be a way out right now.
Those hoping that Iowa Interim Athletic Director Beth Goetz would take a stand and fire Brian Ferentz during the season just aren’t being realistic because that isn’t how Iowa operates.
At some point, however, there will be a breaking point even for the Iowa administration.
Brian Ferentz has seven games left in this season to right what has been a sinking ship on offense since the start of the 2022 campaign.
The concern with fans is that fixing his father’s offense is beyond Brian Ferentz’s capability, and that his father will be too stubborn and too loyal to make a change.
But even with all the frustration with the offense, Iowa’s seven home games are all sold out this season.
Fans chanting that Brian Ferentz should be fired is a serious problem, but not nearly as serious as fans refusing to purchase tickets.