By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Given all we know about Kirk Ferentz as a head football coach, it’s baffling that some Iowa fans still think he might overhaul his offense.
Somebody recently reached out to me on X, which was formerly known as Twitter, to complain about Joe Philbin being a possible candidate for the Iowa offensive coordinator job because this person was concerned that Philbin had been away from college football for too long, making him too out of touch with how to run a spread offense.
Sorry to disappoint this fan, but Kirk Ferentz has no interest in suddenly shifting to a spread offense at the age of 68 because he believes, even with how poorly his offense has performed this season and last season, that his way is the best way in the long run.
Kirk Ferentz believes in being balanced on offense, and that starts with establishing the run to set up play action.
He also believes in making defense a priority because teams that excel on defense usually have staying power.
As poorly as Iowa has performed on offense this season, the team still has a chance to win 11 games for just the fifth time in program history heading into the Citrus Bowl against Tennessee on New Year’s Day in Orlando, Florida.
“We have won a few games,” Kirk Ferentz said Monday. “I know sometimes we all forget about that. We’ve won a few games here, and I probably wouldn’t be standing here after 25 years if that wasn’t the case.
“Complementary football is the best way to win here in my opinion. And I’ve got 34 years here. It was no different in the 80s. You have to play complementary football. You’ve got to respect the ball. Ball security is critical.
“There’s certain things that are paramount, and I’m really not worried about points per game, excuse me, passing yards per game, all the stat stuff. Points per game isn’t as interesting. It’s important, but I’ll hold that in my pocket until January for you. But what is important is wins per game. And if you want to evaluate a coordinator in my opinion, check the wins per game column.”
Kirk Ferentz made those comments while addressing what he will look for when hiring a new offensive coordinator to replace his son, Brian Ferentz, who will be relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator once the season ends.
Kirk Ferentz’s remark about points per game seemed to be a shot against the 25-points per-game incentive that was added to Brian Ferentz’s revised contract prior to this season.
Brian Ferentz is being fired because the Iowa offense has mostly been horrendous from a statistical standpoint since the start of last season.
Kirk Ferentz resents the decision to fire his son, and he disagrees with it, because for one, it’s his son, and because Iowa has won 10 games this season and because the offense has been riddled by injuries to key players.
“I can think of a guy that entered the conference recently that came with widely acclaimed offensive stats and all that, and that’s usually how those guys become well known because whatever they’re doing, throwing it, running it, wishbone,” Kirk Ferentz said without mentioning a name. “But then you look a little deeper, so what’s this guy’s wins per game? There is usually a correlation. People that just throw the ball around, it makes it tougher to win and it makes it tougher to be good on defense.
“So, there is a team concept here that is real important to me. It’s the only way we can win in my opinion.”
Kirk Ferentz could have been referring to former Nebraska head coach Scott Frost, who was considered an offensive genius when he took over at his alma mater in 2018.
However, Frost was fired early last season after having compiled a 16-31 overall record, including 10-27 in Big Ten play.
One of the reasons Frost failed to win at his alma mater is because his defenses performed poorly.
USC head coach Lincoln Riley is also now struggling to win games because of his team’s deficiencies on defense.
“There is school on the West Coast right now that is going to re-commit to defense,” Kirk Ferentz said. “They gave up 42 (points) to Tulane last year in a bowl game, and a place where Ronnie Lott played.
“So, now they’re going to think about defense. To me, that was the first thing we thought about 25 years ago. And that ain’t going to change. That just ain’t going to change.
“So, the (offensive) coordinator coming in is going to have to understand that’s just who we are. It’s worked pretty well. We’re looking to improve. We’re always looking to improve. But we’re not going to become a run-and-shoot.”
Some fans will probably be angry by what Kirk Ferentz said because they’re tired of watching his offense struggle and they’re upset that the offense has kept Iowa from being elite.
Iowa has been elite on defense and special teams this season, but the struggles on offense have kept the team from being competitive against elite opponents.
Iowa lost to Penn State and Michigan this season by scores of 31-0 and 26-0, respectively.
The loss to Michigan came in the Big Ten Championship game as the Wolverines barely had 200 yards on offense.
Kirk Ferentz certainly has the right to decide what is best for his offense, but fans also have a right to be frustrated with his offense.
Brian Ferentz was given more than a fair chance to show that he could meet the challenge as the offensive coordinator, but it just didn’t work out for him.
I’m sort of torn by this debate in that I feel that some changes have to be made on offense, but I also don’t feel that shifting to a spread offense is the answer because the Iowa roster isn’t built for a spread offense.
My hope is that Iowa will be more aggressive on offense, more willing to take chances down field and more creative in getting skill players in space.
All those things could happen without having to overhaul the offense.
Kirk Ferentz isn’t about to overhaul his offense because he would be acknowledging that his way doesn’t work anymore.
He will ultimately hire an offensive coordinator who is willing to run his offense, and who shares many of the same offensive philosophies.
That’s why former Iowa assistant coach Joe Philbin and former Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst both seem like logical candidates because they share many of the same beliefs as Kirk Ferentz when it comes to coaching offense.
Kirk Ferentz has been affiliated with the Iowa football program for 34 years, including nine seasons as the offensive line coach under Hayden Fry from 1981 to 1989.
Fry rebuilt the program in the early 1980s and is now a Hawkeye legend, while Kirk Ferentz is now ranked third in Big Ten history with 195 wins.
Kirk Ferentz has only had two defensive coordinators in his 25 years as the Iowa head coach.
He said Monday that his decision to hire Norm Parker as his defensive coordinator in 1999 might be the best decision he has made as the Iowa head coach.
Kirk Ferentz also made a wise decision when he promoted Phil Parker (no relation) to defensive coordinator after Norm Parker retired in 2011. Phil Parker is now widely regarded as the top defensive coordinator in college football and he was the recipient of the 2023 Broyles Award, which goes to the top collegiate assistant coach in the country.
I asked Kirk Ferentz on Monday if fixing the offense still comes down to doing what they do better rather than making huge changes.
“I think the objective still is to win,” Kirk Ferentz said. “We had a little exception to that, okay. But the objective has always been to win football games first and foremost. Twenty-five years ago, it was important to me. When I came here as an assistant that was important. And it certainly was important to coach Fry.
“And so, you do what’s best to win, and every week is a different situation. Every game is a different situation.”
Kirk Ferentz seems convinced that the injuries on offense are mostly to blame for the lack of production.
And while that could just be him defending his son and refusing to accept reality, Kirk Ferentz seems determined to stick with that narrative.
“We had five guys get the next-man-up award at our banquet last week,” Kirk Ferentz said. “We had one on defense and five on offense. So, now what do you do? How do you fix it? How do work around that? We still found a way to win ten games.
“I would argue our staff did an unbelievable job, our assistants, not me. The assistants did an unbelievable job this past year. I would say the same thing about our players because they do the work. There the one’s playing. And that’s why you don’t hear our defensive players bitch because they know what’s going on. They know what is real and what isn’t real. And it’s genuine.”
Unfortunately, for Kirk Ferentz, Iowa Interim Athletic Director Beth Goetz felt otherwise, or she wouldn’t have fired Brian Ferentz.
There are two sides to this ongoing debate and neither side seems willing to bend, especially Kirk Ferentz.
Fans are fooling themselves if they think that Kirk Ferentz will suddenly abandon his beliefs about how an offense should be run.
Kirk Ferentz has brought a lot of success and happiness to Hawkeye football by doing things a certain way.
And if anything, the decision to fire his son will cause Kirk Ferentz to dig his heels in even deeper because he resents how it was handled, because he wants to show that his way still works and because he wants his son to be vindicated.