Iowa Hawkeyes football coaches talk about the stability and security of their program

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My column for Sunday's Gazette is about the atypical stability and continuity of the Iowa football staff. Space didn't begin to allow me to include all the comments from the three Hawkeye coaches I interviewed Friday.

At the end of the 2009 seasons, Iowa's nine assistant coaches will have been in Kirk Ferentz's program for a combined 77 years. That doesn't happen in football. Coaches move on, coaches get fired.

Why has Ferentz's staff stayed together? What keeps the coaches there when their salaries are basically average by Big Ten standards?

Here are remarks made by Iowa assistants Ken O'Keefe, Darrell Wilson and Phil Parker from interviews with them on Friday at the Hawkeyes' Media Day:

KEN O'KEEFE, 11 years as Iowa's offensive coordinator:

(On why the Iowa program has had such little turnover among coaches)

I think the number one reason would be the environment that Kirk and his wife, Mary, have created for Iowa football, the staff and players both.

For most assistants, for a guy like me who has been a head coach previously (at Allegheny College), the biggest factor was being able to trust and put your faith in a head coach. Thatís never been an issue with Kirk Ferentz, ever.

When you come back to that, what does that do for the program and the stability? Obviously, all this improvement each year is a process that takes place from the very beginning to the end. When youíve been together a while as a staff you can, at certain points, start to improve the process because you know the things you are dealing with, you know what youíre up against. That prevents boredom, that prevents complacency, things like that. This is a very hungry staff, a staff thatís always looking for ways to improve professionally.

Kirk, he provides the leadership that allows all that to take place. He lets guys coach their positions, he lets guys recruit their positions. He pushes all of us to improve and get better. Thatís an important thing.

Thatís why I think for any kid that comes here, itís easy in my mind that when we recruit now to say "If you come to the University of Iowa, youíre going to get a chance to play for one of the truly legendary coaches in college football in modern history." Guys will be able to count on it. All the guys that have played here in the last 10 years will be able to say that along with the ones that continue to play, too.

The systemís not changing all the time. Certain things are going to change, but the whole philosophy, the core of the program doesnít change. The philosophy of what youíre doing doesnít change. The system might be tweaked to a certain degree to allow us to do things better, which could be perceived as change, but thereís a lot of security in how all that takes place from a playerís perspective.

Itís tough on players when you have to play for a couple different position coaches and a couple different systems. Itís my experience young people are pretty good at making transitions if they have to, but itís not easy. Any time thereís a big transition itís usually toughest on the senior class.

(On what qualities he would say Hawkeye coaches own in in general)

First of all, I think theyíre good teachers. Everybody on our staff has the ability to really teach well, to break things down so their players understand them, to get their points across so that you can see the improvement.

Part of our whole process is improvement. People get into coaching usually because somewhere along the line they had a coach who mentored them Usually, somebody thatís in coaching is trying to give that back to the players.

I think the guys on our staff are all in coaching for the right reasons, because they want to help these kids become what theyíre capable of becoming and reach their full potential. They want to give back, they want to see these guys succeed. Footballís the avenue in which weíre able to do it.

You have people that are in coaching because of that, and you have people who coach to extend their own careers. Our coaches are coaching for all the right reasons. Theyíre great coaches, theyíre good people, they care about the people they coach. They have close relationships. Phil Parker was at Bob Sandersí wedding this summer. Guys are in touch with people after they leave the program. Theyíll come back and train with (strength coach) Chris (Doyle).

This is education, ultimately. Itís tough in our business, obviously. Weíre measured by wins and losses, the production on a daily basis. Thatís how our players are evaluated. But education isnít about immediate results in most cases. It might be 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the road when you start to see the results of what weíve done or what youíre trying to do. Itís tough in this environment to keep perspective on things. But our staff has good perspective on what this is all about, helping young people.

I think if you want to start right at the top, itís going to be Kirk and how he treats people, how everybody feels about him.

If we push past football and the environment that Kirk and Mary have created for us as a staff, then you look at the state and how the state approaches things and the environment that you have to coach in. If you want to be a football coach, itís hard to be anywhere where itís as important as it is here. Itís important and still in perspective to a large degree. Itís a great state, a great place to raise a family. I think thatís a huge factor with our staff. Because in this day and age, thatís important.

After the state, the city factors into that, and certainly the university. Ö Those are factors that are critical.

Then . . .†the players. Weíre recruiting guys that you like being around, you have fun being around every day. Thatís worth its weight in gold.

Itís fun, too. My wife accuses me of not having a real job.

DARRELL WILSON, 8 years as Iowa's linebackers and special teams coach:

I think it starts with the head man in Kirk Ferentz. I mean that in all sincerity. Youíre working with a gentleman who exemplifies everything you look for as a person. You talk about character, leadership, caring Ė all the above.

Knowing Coach when we played together (at Connecticut), I had an opportunity to work with him. I wouldnít want to work anywhere else or with any other head coach.

Weíve all had opportunities to move on and chose to stay. One reason in particular is because of Kirk Ferentz.

(On what the stability in the coaching staff means for the players)

I think it has a tremendous effect. In this day and age where itís almost Ė the clichť is three and out Ė as far as the pressure thatís put on college coaches and programs to win, thereís so much turnover. That affects the continuity of the program. It does affect recruiting. Young men today want to know how long is a coach going to be there, how long has he been there. In our situation, itís become a big plus.

At one point I was the new kid on the block, and that was six years. Then Coach Kaz (Rick Kaczenski) became full-time and Soup (Erik) Campbell, but you had a staff of men that had been here eight to 10 years. That continuity Ö we know each other, the players know us, things run a little smoother.

I really think it truly trickles down into the young men. When they see the stability of the program and the system, theyíre comfortable. All those things play into having a successful program.

PHIL PARKER, 11 years as Iowa's defensive backs coach:

When I first came here I'd†spent†11 years at Toledo. The†one thing that intrigued me about Iowa was coaches seemed to stay for a long period of time. Obviously, Hayden Fry was here for a long time and this seemed like a very stable situation.

I think once a coach moves here with his family Ö† itís a beautiful place to live, itís slowed down compared to major cities, and I think a lot of guys want their families in a good environment with good education here. There are different priorities than some coaches have.

Coach mentioned to me one of the reasons I liked so much about you is that you stayed 11 years in one place. There were three different head coaches there when I was there.

Some guys will always be taking a job while theyíre looking for another job. I guess what I look at is I take a job, try to do your best. I enjoy doing what Iím doing. I was never a guy to keep on looking for another job.

Weíve had some guys that moved on for coordinatorsí positions and some of them moved into the NFL. But I think everybodyís in different stages of their lives. For me, the best thing is to have my family in a good situation. Theyíre comfortable. And working for Kirk Ferentz, who else can you work for?

You look around the country, a lot of guys are getting compensated very well, and I think thatís what some guys make decisions and move to different parts of the country and different places and different organizations for -- †the money. I donít think too many guys here are coaching for the money and the compensation. I think weíre coaching for the love of the game of football, and thatís kind of the philosophy of Coach Ferentz. We love the game of football, weíre doing something we like to do. Yeah, weíre paid good. But we have to win, too. Everybody understands that.

If you put how many hours we put in Ö Life on the road, Iíve missed a lot of my sonís ballgames, my daughterís basketball, softball Ö thereís some sacrifices that go into it that maybe some guys donít see. My neighbors say weíll put your picture up to make sure we know who you are for a while.

(On an assistant coach's responsibilities at Iowa)

Everybody has a job to do and youíre expected to do it. Kirk doesnít micro-manage it. You do what youíre supposed to do, and thatís why he hired you. He does good research before heís hired guys, and thatís helped us.  

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