By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Assuming Kirk Ferentz plans to keep coaching the Iowa football team beyond this season, he will at some point have to hire a new offensive coordinator to replace his son.
When that will happen is hard to say since Iowa still has a game to play against Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day in Orlando, Florida.
Brian Ferentz will be relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator once the season ends, but he could also leave sooner.
Whatever the case, Iowa will have a new offensive coordinator next season and it’s probably safe to say that it won’t be anyone related to Kirk Ferentz.
The question is will it be somebody with a connection to Kirk Ferentz, either personally or professionally?
Or will Kirk Ferentz step outside his comfort zone to hire a new offensive coordinator?
This will mark just the fourth time since Kirk Ferentz was hired as the Iowa head coach a quarter century ago that he has had to hire an offensive coordinator.
From Ken O’Keefe to Greg Davis to Brian Ferentz to whomever is next in line, Kirk Ferentz hasn’t had to hire many coordinators on either side of the ball.
He’s only had to hire two defensive coordinators in 25 seasons as head coach, and he hit the jackpot in both cases.
Norm Parker ran the defense at a high level from 1999 to 2011, and he was followed by Phil Parker (no relation) who is now in his 12th season as Iowa’s defensive coordinator and is considered one of the top defensive coordinators in college football.
Phil Parker was named the winner of the 2023 Broyles Award, which goes to the top assistant coach in college football.
It seems that part of the reason for Kirk Ferentz’s success with hiring and keeping defensive coordinators is that he gives them the freedom to make their own decisions about strategy, philosophy and personnel.
Kirk Ferentz doesn’t micro-manage his defense because he apparently trusted Norm Parker, and now he has that same trust and belief in Phil Parker, and deservedly so, considering how well the Iowa defense has performed under Phil Parker.
It also could be a case in which Phil Parker shares many of the same defensive philosophies as Kirk Ferentz, making it easier for Kirk Ferentz to not be a micro-manager.
However, Phil Parker made a pretty dramatic move several years ago, at least by Iowa’s standards, when he created the cash position and started using a 4-2-5 defensive alignment.
Parker made the change to help keep up with the evolving offenses that were putting more speedy skill players in space.
Parker felt that a fifth defensive back, playing sort of cross between safety and linebacker, would help Iowa defend better in space, and down field, and it has worked brilliantly.
But he couldn’t have made the switch without Kirk Ferentz’s permission.
Iowa’s defense is often praised for its simplicity and for being a model of consistency in an changing landscape.
But that’s not entirely true because the decision to use a 4-2-5 alignment was an example of Phil Parker changing with the times.
The Iowa offense, on the other hand, has hardly changed at all under Kirk Ferentz.
From the play calling to the passing routes to the blocking schemes, what you see now seems almost identical to what you saw 20 years ago.
Brian Ferentz is basically being fired for not being able to make his father’s offense function at an acceptable level.
Fans were also glad to see O’Keefe and Davis step down because the offense was considered too predictable and too conservative and that it lacked imagination.
Do you notice a pattern?
Kirk Ferentz hasn’t had an offensive coordinator leave under positive circumstances, because more times than not, the offense has left much to be desired.
To think that Kirk Ferentz would overhaul his offense at this stage in his career is probably wishful thinking.
But would he be receptive to making some changes to attract more candidates for the offensive coordinator position?
Time will tell.
Two names that have been mentioned as possible candidates are Jon Budmayr and former Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst.
Budmayr, a former Wisconsin quarterback and assistant coach, is in his second year on the Iowa staff and his current title is special assistant to the head coach, while Chryst currently works as a special assistant for playoff-bound Texas.
Chryst, obviously, has a bigger name than Budmayr, so that could help to galvanize the Iowa fans.
But Chryst was also fired by Wisconsin and the performance of his offense was a big reason why the Badgers let him go.
Chryst appears to share many of the same philosophies about offense as Kirk Ferentz. They also have similar personalities and share a mutual respect, so they would have a level of comfort working together.
But maybe it’s time for Kirk Ferentz to step out of his comfort zone when making this hire because more of the same might just produce more of the same on the field.
There is something seriously wrong with the offense, and to say that it’s due mostly to injuries doesn’t explain what happened last season.
The injuries have certainly been a factor this season, but the offense also performed woefully last season, and wasn’t much better in the 2021 season.
This has been an ongoing problem and there doesn’t appear to be a quick fix.
Kirk Ferentz still seems to believe that it’s more a case of his offense just having to perform better than having to make significant changes.
And while maybe that is the case, it won’t matter if the performance level stays the same.
If Kirk Ferentz were to promote Budmayr to offensive coordinator, and the offense would go on to show improvement next season, Kirk Ferentz could then say that injuries were the biggest reason the offense struggled this season, and that would help to vindicate his son.
If Kirk Ferentz were to step out of his comfort zone to make this hire, and if he were willing to make some changes to the offense, that could be interpreted as him admitting that his offense isn’t working anymore, and he might not be willing to go that far.
Kirk Ferentz has shown that he is more willing to make changes on defense than offense.
He seems more paranoid about making changes on offense.
At some point, though, Kirk Ferentz has to realize that his approach to offense isn’t working, and that it ultimately cost his son his job.
It also might keep some up-and-coming offensive coaches from wanting to be his offensive coordinator.
This is a critical hire for Kirk Ferentz, and the time seems right for him to bend a little bit, and for him to evolve on offense.
Because the status quo certainly isn’t working.