By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Joe Philbin or Paul Chryst?
Is that it?
Is it down to just those two?
And has it always been just those two as the most realistic candidates to replace Brian Ferentz as the Iowa offensive coordinator?
Sorry, I don’t have the answer to those questions, but my prediction right now is that either Philbin or Chryst will get the job.
That’s hardly a bold prediction, but rather a case of assuming that what seems so obvious will ultimately turn out to be true.
My gut still gives Philbin the slightest edge in landing the job, but if Kirk Ferentz were to hire Chryst, it would hardly come as a surprise.
I haven’t seriously considered anyone else, but maybe that’s my mistake and Kirk Ferentz will prove me wrong.
And in this case, I wouldn’t mind being wrong if it means that Kirk Ferentz steps out of his comfort zone to pick his son’s successor.
I’d gladly be wrong if it were to mean that Kirk Ferentz hired an up-and-comer with a growing reputation for developing quarterbacks rather than a been-there-and-done-it with a long-standing reputation for coaching offense in a similar fashion as Kirk Ferentz because that’s what I think the offense needs right now as sort of reboot.
That isn’t meant as disrespect to the been-there-and-done-it candidates.
Because if anything, Philbin and Chryst are both over-qualified for the job.
Philbin is a former NFL head coach and offensive offensive coordinator, and he also coached the Iowa offensive line under Kirk Ferentz during the crucial rebuilding years from 1999 to 2002, while Chryst is a former Wisconsin head coach and offensive coordinator.
Philbin currently works as an offensive analyst for Ohio State, while Chryst is an advisor for Texas.
In many respects, Iowa would be fortunate to have either Philbin or Chryst running the offense, and it would hardly be a lateral move for either one of them based on their current jobs.
The concern, however, is that even with their sparkling credentials, the offense might stay as is because it’s Kirk Ferentz offense by design, approach and structure.
Kirk Ferentz doesn’t call the plays, but the plays that are called are deeply rooted in his beliefs in how an offense should operate.
Kirk Ferentz has had three offensive coordinators during his time at Iowa, with Ken O’Keefe and Greg Davis the other two, but none of three have been very popular because of how the offense has performed.
Kirk Ferentz has been far more resistant to change on offense than defense, and that could be from being paranoid about turnovers. Every head coach is concerned about committing turnovers, but Kirk Ferentz takes it to another level.
When Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker felt that using five defensive backs rather than three linebackers was necessary in moving forward in this age of spread offenses, Kirk Ferentz didn’t stand in his way.
And with that came the creation of the cash position in which a defensive back, usually a safety, plays a dual role as a linebacker and defensive back.
The defense has mostly been rock solid since Parker made the change, and it’s hard to believe that it’s just coincidence.
Kirk Ferentz still believes that his approach to offense can work, and he will ultimately hire somebody that shares that belief.
So, unless Kirk Ferentz is willing to bend a little bit, as he did with allowing Parker to install a 4-2-5 defensive alignment, it might not matter who runs the offense.
It might just be more of the same with the goal of doing what Iowa does better.
Kirk Ferentz seems convinced that injuries to key players on offense are mostly to blame for how poorly the unit has performed this season.
And fair enough, but that doesn’t explain what happened last season when the offense was also horrendous.
Kirk Ferentz met with the media on Dec. 18 and made it abundantly clear that he is in no hurry to hire a new offensive coordinator.
He is mainly focused right now on preparing his team to face Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day in Orlando, Florida.
The team departed for Florida on Tuesday.
But on the other hand, Kirk Ferentz also can walk and chew gum at the same time as we’ve watched him do on the sideline for a quarter century as the Iowa head coach.
Just because there is very little concrete information to report on the search doesn’t mean that Kirk Ferentz is ignoring it right now.
He is just working at his own pace and being secretive about it, which is certainly his prerogative.
He said on Dec. 18 that he’s made three phone calls related to the search, but he didn’t say to whom.
It would be fascinating if Kirk Ferentz were to step outside of his tightly sealed box to make this hire; if he were willing to throw a bunch of money and power to someone such as Washington offensive coordinator and Iowa native Ryan Grubb, or if he were willing and able to lure Nathan Scheelhaase away from Iowa State.
But it’s just hard to see that happening because it would be so out of character for Kirk Ferentz.
So we’re back to where we started with Joe Philbin and Paul Chryst as the most likely candidates.
But again, I’d be just fine with Kirk Ferentz proving me wrong in this case.