By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz has mostly been tight-lipped about his search for a new offensive coordinator, but he shared some details on Tuesday.
Ferentz said he started with a list of about 10 to 12 candidates. He then spoke with six candidates about the job, and had what he described as extensive discussions with four candidates before he ultimately hired Tim Lester as his new offensive coordinator.
Ferentz spoke about his search in a press conference in which Lester was introduced as the new offensive coordinator.
However, there was one question that Kirk Ferentz refused to answer about the search, and that is whether Lester was the only candidate to whom the job was offered.
Ferentz was asked that question after the press conference, and away from the podium, and away from the cameras, but he declined to answer, other than saying there were four really good candidates that were considered.
Former Duke offensive coordinator Kevin Johns would seem to be among the four since a photo of Johns and Kirk Ferentz sitting together at the Courtyard Hotel across from Kinnick Stadium surfaced on social media late in the search process.
The other two candidates were likely Joe Philbin and Paul Chryst.
In fact, there are reports that Chryst was offered the job, but that he turned it down.
There was also rumor and speculation that Philbin was the leading candidate very early in the search process.
Whatever the case, Kirk Ferentz picked Tim Lester to run his offense, and the specific details of how that decision was reached, and whether Lester was his top choice, is something Kirk Ferentz would prefer to keep private.
And fair enough.
Head coaches rarely share all the details about a search, and some candidates would prefer that their name stays private.
While it would be nice to know if the job was offered to anyone else, it also makes sense why Kirk Ferentz would prefer to keep that information to himself.
Judging from the reaction on social media, some fans were less than thrilled with the decision to hire Lester, who spent the 2023 season as senior analyst for the Green Bay Packers after having been the Western Michigan head coach from 2017 to 2022.
If fans were to find out that Lester was Kirk Ferentz’s third or fourth choice, it would just cause more anger and frustration.
“The bottom line is this, the whole key to this thing was to ensure that we got the best person and the right person for this position, and that was the goal from start to finish,” Kirk Ferentz said. “The bottom line is I want to do what’s best for our team and best for our program, and I’m confident that we landed the mark there.
“When it came down to it, in my mind at least we had four candidates that were qualified in my mind to do the best job, and it was just to figure out who the best person for that would have been.”
At this point, it doesn’t really matter if Lester was Kirk Ferentz’s top choice.
The job now belongs to Lester, and with that comes the daunting task of trying to fix an offense that has suffered through a stunning decline from a statistical standpoint in each of the past two seasons.
Lester was asked Tuesday what gives him confidence that he can come in and help move this (offense) in the right direction?
“Well, I love tight ends. I’m a huge fan,” Lester said of Iowa’s long-standing tradition of producing quality tight ends. “Everywhere I’ve been, our tight end has been all-conference normally. I guess as a quarterback, that’s the guy you start with. Some people use them, some people don’t. I love the fact of what they can do to a defense in the run game, in the pass game, in the play pass game, in the keeper game. It also can open up things out on the edges, too.
“I know there’s an unbelievable tradition here of that, and I’ve heard we have some good ones. Everything is I’ve heard this, and I’ve heard that. But I can’t wait to see with my own eyes.”
From an experience standpoint, Lester as a former college quarterback, and as a former college head coach, is certainly a step up from his predecessor, Brian Ferentz, who was fired in late October.
Lester has also been a college offensive coordinator at the FBS level and a play caller, while Brian Ferentz, a former Iowa offensive lineman under his father, had never coached quarterbacks, or played the position when he was hired as the offensive coordinator in 2017.
Cade McNamara is expected to be Iowa’s starting quarterback next season, assuming that he recovers from a knee injury that caused him to miss the final nine game last season.
McNamara, by definition, isn’t a dual-threat quarterback, but when healthy, he can move the pocket and scramble when the play breaks down.
Iowa didn’t have that option with backup Deacon Hill playing quarterback this past season as he lacked mobility.
Lester was asked Tuesday how much he values mobile quarterbacks and if recruiting mobile quarterbacks will become a priority.
“I value efficiency at the quarterback position,” he said. “Mobility would be a bonus. If I can get both, 100 percent I’m all for it. Who doesn’t want that, right? But there has to be efficiency first, and I think sometimes people get enamored with the mobility, and when they have to drop back on a 3rd down to get us a 1st down or a two-minute drill to go win us the game, we can’t fall short in that scenario. You have to play quarterback first. You have to be able to move the sticks with your feet, and the more you can do, the more we can do when it comes to running the ball.
“It’s a great icing on the cake if you can have it, so I’m always looking for it, but I’m not going to go away from a guy that I think can really execute an offense and make throws and be efficient as a quarterback just because if he can’t do that, I’m not going to just take him because he can run a little faster.”
Lester presented himself well on Tuesday.
As a former college head coach, he is used to interacting with the media and it showed in Tuesday’s press conference.
Lester has gone from being fired at Western Michigan to being a member of the support staff with Green Bay to now being the offensive coordinator for a Big Ten team that has won 10 games in two of the past three seasons and two Big Ten West Division titles.
That’s called landing on your feet.
And say what you want about coaching the Iowa offense, but if Tim Lester were to make it just average, Hawkeye fans would love him because the bar isn’t set very high right now.
Lester knows a good opportunity when it’s offered to him, even if maybe he wasn’t the first or second choice.