By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The grocery store near my house in Iowa City is usually a pretty good place to feel the the mood of Iowa fans.
Just the other day, I passed a gentleman who made eye contact and said, “when are we hiring a coordinator?”
The frustration was obvious in his voice, and he speaks on behalf of a lot of people, including members of the media, that have grown frustrated and annoyed with how long it has taken Kirk Ferentz to hire an offensive coordinator.
I’m certainly ready for Kirk Ferentz to announce his choice, but that he has taken this long isn’t surprising.
Kirk Ferentz didn’t sound like he was in a hurry when he met with the media in December and was asked about his search for a new offensive coordinator.
And when is the last time Kirk Ferentz ever did anything on offense in a hurry?
He even said that the search could stretch to February.
So, with February right around he corner, it seems likely that in the next few days Kirk Ferentz will hire a new offensive coordinator and it will be announced publicly.
Actually, it could happen at any moment.
Kirk Ferentz might already have made his choice, but he just hasn’t announced it yet.
Former Duke offensive coordinator Kevin Johns reportedly interviewed for the job on Thursday in Iowa City.
A photo of what is believed to be Johns and Kirk Ferentz sitting together at the Courtyard Marriot hotel across from Kinnick Stadium surfaced on social media Friday morning.
The 48-year-old Johns is certainly qualified for the job from an experience standpoint.
In addition to being Duke’s offensive coordinator in 2022 and 2023, Johns was also the offensive coordinator/quarterback coach for Memphis from 2019 to 2021; offensive coordinator/receiver coach for Texas Tech in 2018; offensive coordinator/quarterback coach for Western Michigan in 2017; co-offensive coordinator for Indiana from 2011 to 2013, and offensive coordinator/quarterback/receiver coach for Indiana from 2014 to 2016.
Johns has paid his dues since he started working as a high school assistant coach in Piqua, Ohio in 1998.
He was a graduate assistant for Northwestern from 1999 to 2001 and he also coached for Northwestern from 2004 to 2010.
Johns, when compared to Iowa’s previous offensive coordinator, Brian Ferentz, has by far the more impressive resume.
Brian Ferentz had never coached quarterbacks when his father promoted him to offensive coordinator in 2017, or when his father made Brian Ferentz the quarterback coach in 2022.
Johns, on the other hand, has coached quarterback at four different FBS programs.
While Kirk Ferentz has been very tight-lipped about his search for a new offensive coordinator, the names that have been mentioned the most as possible candidates, names such Kevin Johns, Joe Philbin and Paul Chryst, any of them would be a significant step up from Brian Ferentz from an experience standpoint.
Johns has emerged late in the search, but somebody has to be one of the final interviews.
Philbin and Chryst have been mentioned throughout the search, and especially Chryst, who once was described as the frontrunner.
Chryst has reportedly withdrawn from consideration and will stay in his job as an offensive advisor for Texas, while Philbin is an offensive analyst for Ohio State.
Johns is currently unemployed, and while that isn’t necessarily a red flag, the fact that former Duke head coach Mike Elko didn’t take Johns with him to Texas A&M when Elko was hired in December makes you wonder, or at least makes me wonder.
Mike Norvell also didn’t take Johns with him when Norvell made the move from Memphis to Florida State in 2020.
There could be a simple explanation in both cases, and if Kirk Ferentz does ultimately hire Johns, that is a fair question to ask.
Is it also just a coincidence that one of the three most-talked-about candidates is unemployed while the other two supposed candidates are working in what would seem to be temporary jobs?
It is assumed that Philbin is a candidate, even though he hasn’t said anything publicly, because of his vast coaching experience, but mostly because of his ties to Kirk Ferentz.
Kirk Ferentz also spoke highly of Philbin in December, but that was only because the media asked about Philbin as a possible candidate.
If Philbin has been Kirk Ferentz’s top choice throughout this process, it just seems the hiring would’ve happened by now.
Tim Lester, who currently works as a senior analyst for the Green Bay Packers, has also recently been linked to Kirk Ferentz’s search for an offensive coordinator.
Lester was the head coach for Western Michigan from 2017 to 2022, coached quarterbacks for Purdue in 2016 and was Syracuse’s offensive coordinator and quarterback coach in 2014 and 2015.
But as has been the case with most of the reports during this search, Lester’s connection is merely speculation and rumor.
There is more evidence to Johns being involved with the search, most notably the photo on social media.
There is always a sense of anticipation and excitement whenever a position as important as offensive coordinator is filled at Iowa.
For one thing, it doesn’t happen very often.
This is just the fourth time that Kirk Ferentz as the Iowa head coach will hire an offensive coordinator dating back to 1999.
Iowa is also coming off back-to-back seasons in which the offense performed so poorly that Brian Ferentz lost his job over it.
There is hope that this hire will mark the beginning of a new offensive era under Kirk Ferentz, sort of a reboot or rebirth, whatever you want to call it.
That hope seems to surface every time Kirk Ferentz hires a new offensive coordinator or whenever he has multiple coaching positions to fill on offense.
There is a belief, or hope, that new faces and new blood will convince Kirk Ferentz to evolve on offense.
But so far, that hasn’t happened.
And if what Kirk Ferentz said in December about playing complementary football is a sign of things to come, don’t expect major changes to happen with a new offensive coordinator.
Kirk Ferentz joked in December that he has no plans to shift to a run-and-shoot offense, but he really wasn’t joking.
He was basically telling the media that Iowa’s offense isn’t broken, but that it’s more a case of staying healthy and doing what we do better.
Kirk Ferentz is convinced that injuries were the biggest problem on offense this past season, and there might be some truth in that because Iowa did lose some key players on offense to season-ending injuries, including quarterback Cade McNamara and tight ends Luke Lachey and Erick All.
But that doesn’t explain why the offense performed woefully throughout the 2022 season, or why the offense has been in a steady decline since 2020 season.
It will be interesting to see how much freedom and flexibility Kirk Ferentz will give his new offensive coordinator.
Kirk Ferentz also has to hire a new receiver coach, so there will definitely be a new look on offense.
But as far as the offense looking different, history says to believe it when you see it.