By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – There is so much to unpack with Iowa football right now, even if you didn’t make the trip to Orlando Florida for the Citrus Bowl.
The Brian Ferentz coaching era finally has ended, much to the delight, and to the relief of some Iowa fans, and maybe a lot of fans.
Iowa’s 35-0 loss to a depleted Tennessee squad in the Citrus Bowl on Monday was the final nail in the coffin.
The way in which the game played out was yet another painful example of just how awful the Iowa offense is right now, and how far it has fallen.
Iowa faced three ranked opponents this season – Penn State, Michigan and Tennessee – and lost all three games by a combined score of 92-0. Iowa averaged 134.7 yards per game, 1.9 yards per carry and 2.7 yards per play in those three games.
Brian Ferentz certainly isn’t solely to blame for the offensive deficiencies, but someone has to be held accountable, and his father doesn’t deserve to be fired, so Brian will have to pay the price for how far the offense has sunk.
The offense that Iowa put on the field in the Citrus Bowl was embarrassing, and unacceptable because the fans deserve better.
Heck, the game deserves better.
Kirk Ferentz now faces the awkward task of hiring someone to replace his son, but he also faces the massive challenge of having to rebuild, or reboot, his offense.
Kirk Ferentz probably would disagree with that description of the situation on offense because he seems convinced that injuries are mostly to blame for the struggles this season, and because he’s proud and stubborn.
But when Kirk Ferentz looks back at this season and evaluates the offense, will he do it strictly as an objective a head coach, or will his bias and influence as a father impact how he feels?
If it’s the latter, that would be a problem.
Kirk Ferentz sort of did a reboot with not just his offense, but the program as a whole, following a 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl.
He made C.J. Beathard the starting quarterback, moved practice from late afternoon to early morning and became slightly more aggressive on offense with Beathard as his quarterback.
It paid immediate dividends as Iowa finished 12-2 in the 2015 season and played in the Rose Bowl.
The big difference between then and now, besides nearly a decade, is that the Iowa offense wasn’t nearly as bad then as it is now, and Brian Ferentz was only in his third season as a member of his father’s coaching staff, and was highly popular with fans for getting his father to think outside the box.
Beathard had good mobility when he was healthy at Iowa, but his success did not cause Iowa to start recruiting more mobile quarterbacks.
That’s why it was such a joy for Hawkeye fans to see true freshman quarterback Marco Lainez be a rare running threat in the Citrus Bowl.
Kirk Ferentz seems determined to show that injuries are what led to his son’s demise, but the only way Kirk could prove that is by continuing to do what Iowa does on offense, but with better results.
Kirk Ferentz is a Hawkeye legend, the third all-time winningest head coach in Big Ten history behind Woody Hayes and Amos Alonzo Stagg.
The Iowa program was hurting when Kirk Ferentz replaced his former boss, Hayden Fry, as head coach shortly after the 1998 season.
But then by year three, Iowa was in a bowl game and the program has been respectable ever since.
There has certainly been some controversy and obstacles to overcome, including when 13 of his players were hospitalized in 2011 with a rare blood disorder called rhabdomyolysis following a strenuous workout, and when multiple former Iowa players accused the program of racial discrimination in the summer of 2020.
But in both cases, Kirk Ferentz was able to turn adversity into achievement because he learned from both experiences, and because he has kept winning enough games to withstand any real job pressure.
The fans that are saying in the wake of Monday’s disaster in Orlando that Kirk Ferentz should be fired just aren’t being fair or realistic.
Fans have a right to wish for Kirk Ferentz to retire, but that is up to Kirk Ferentz as long as he keeps winning enough games.
As horrible as the offense has been in each of the past two seasons, Iowa still won two of the last three Big Ten West Division titles and 10 games in two of the past three seasons.
So, enough with this silly narrative that Kirk Ferentz should be fired.
But on the other hand, Kirk Ferentz has a mess on offense right now and it can be traced to when he made his son his offensive coordinator in 2017.
Kirk Ferentz made the mistake of hiring someone that he couldn’t fire for personal reasons, and his offense has suffered significantly for it, as have the fans from watching the offense.
Kirk Ferentz hitched his legacy to his son, and now both are paying a price for it.
Again, Brian Ferentz isn’t solely to blame because all three offensive coordinators that have worked under Kirk Ferentz at Iowa have struggled, and fans were glad to see all three leave.
Ken O’Keefe held the job from 1999 to 2011, while Greg Davis had it from 2012 to 2016.
They both had some high points, but rarely has the offense been a strength under Kirk Ferentz.
Kirk Ferentz said recently that he believes strongly in playing complementary football in which the offense, defense and specials teams feed off each other.
The problem is that the Iowa offense hasn’t come close to holding up its end of the deal for two consecutive seasons.
Defense and special teams were enough to win a mediocre Big Ten West Division this season, but not nearly enough to even be competitive against quality opponents.
Iowa’s offensive woes seem more about style and structure than who is actually running the offense.
That’s why it’s hard to get really excited about the current search for a new offensive coordinator because it seems likely that Kirk Ferentz will ultimately hire somebody that shares many of the same beliefs about how an offense should operate.
Some are saying that Kirk Ferentz will have to make a home run hire to fix the offense, but he probably doesn’t feel that way because he gives the impression that the problems on offense are fixable and not nearly as bad as what fans and the media think.
Kirk Ferentz said in the wake of the racial unrest that he had a blind sport and he vowed to fix it.
He now seems to have a blind spot with his offense, but he shows no signs of acknowledging it, and that is holding the offense back
His insistence on playing Deacon Hill every snap at quarterback until it became too embarrassing and destructive in the Citrus Bowl is just hard to understand.
Especially after what Lainez accomplished in the fourth quarter of the Citrus Bowl.
Lainez still needs work as a passer as he only completed 2-of-7 attempts in the Citrus Bowl, but he also led Iowa with 51 rushing yards despite playing less than one full quarter.
And though Lainez shined in mop-up duty, his ability to scramble and gain yards after the play broke down is something Iowa didn’t have with Hill this season, and barely had with original starter Cade McNamara, who had a soft tissue injury heading into the season.
It was impressive how Lainez eluded defenders and broke tackles.
At least, it was something.
Of course, it takes more than being a runner to excel in Iowa’s offense, but it’s reasonable to think that Lainez could’ve provided a spark at some point this season when Hill was struggling.
Kirk Ferentz, like every head coach, hates turnovers, but his hate and paranoia seems more extreme than many of his peers, and yet, he still stuck with Deacon Hill despite Hill being a turnover machine at times.
Hill committed all three of Iowa’s turnovers in the Citrus Bowl, and the last straw was the pick six in the fourth quarter.
It’s tough criticizing Hill because it isn’t his fault that Kirk Ferentz believes that Hill gives Iowa the best chance to win without a healthy McNamara.
Deacon Hill wasn’t ready to be Iowa’s starting quarterback this season, nor did he plan for it since McNamara had the job.
It also isn’t Deacon Hill’s fault that he moved ahead of Joe Labas on the depth chart this past spring.
Labas already had been in the program for two seasons when Hill transferred from Wisconsin for the 2023 spring semester.
However, by the end of spring practice, Hill had climbed to No. 2 on the depth chart.
Labas, not surprisingly, has since entered the transfer portal.
The fans and the media only have the games and one or two practices a year to form their opinions about who should play.
So, it comes down to trusting that the coaches are playing who they feel gives them the best chance to win.
And why wouldn’t they?
The problem is that the level of trust has suffered from what happened this season with the quarterback position.
And speaking of trust, it’ll be interesting to see how Kirk Ferentz and Iowa Interim Athletic Director Beth Goetz work together moving forward, especially if Goetz is hired on a permanent basis.
It’s hard to imagine their relationship ever being the same since Goetz is the one who fired Brian Ferentz.
The situation with Kirk Ferentz and Goetz has become personal, at least for Kirk Ferentz.
You now wonder if they’ll be able to put aside their differences and find common ground to work together?
Because there is a lot of work that needs to be done, and moving on without Brian Ferentz is just one step along the way, albeit a significant step.