Iowa Football

Iowa football position preview: How the coordinator and quarterback deal goes at Iowa

Coaches challenge players and each other, that's the only way this can work

Iowa Hawkeyes quarterbacks coach Ken O'Keefe talks to Nate Stanley and other quarterbacks during practice at the team's indoor practice facility in Iowa City, Iowa on Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes quarterbacks coach Ken O'Keefe talks to Nate Stanley and other quarterbacks during practice at the team's indoor practice facility in Iowa City, Iowa on Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — When Brian Ferentz was named Iowa’s offensive coordinator in 2017, the Iowa program needed to hire a quarterbacks coach.

There’s some “industry standard” here. Usually, the offensive coordinator is the quarterbacks coach, but not always. Ferentz was promoted to offensive coordinator after five years as offensive line coach with the Hawkeyes. Before that, he was an offensive coach (tight ends) with the New England Patriots.

There’s no “quarterback” anything on the offensive coordinator/tight ends coach’s resume.

“In everything I’ve been around in my life, the offensive coordinator has coached the quarterbacks,” Ferentz said. “Every staff I’ve been on, every place I’ve been as a player or coach, that’s how it was.

“I’ve formed growing up as a player and in coaching, I really felt like that’s how you have to do it. I still feel that way, and I obviously don’t coach quarterbacks.”

That’s Ken O’Keefe’s job. O’Keefe was Iowa’s offensive coordinator from 1999 to 2011 under head coach Kirk Ferentz. Before the 2017 season, Iowa brought O’Keefe back to serve as quarterbacks coach.

“You can’t undervalue Ken O’Keefe and what he’s done with the quarterbacks,” Brian Ferentz said. “As a teacher, as a technician, we’re very fortunate.”

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Quarterback Nate Stanley has O’Keefe as the primary coach and Brian Ferentz as more of the big picture. But there’s still some going against instinct here for Brian Ferentz.

“The quarterback is the extension of the play caller on the field,” Brian Ferentz said. “That’s why I feel it’s best if the play caller coaches the quarterback. He has to think the way you think. The immediate concern is there’s going to be a miscommunication or the wires are going to get crossed at some point if there’s a middleman.

“And then, even worse-case scenario and you see it in the National Football League all of the time, all of the sudden, there’s a guy who’s the quarterbacks coach and then the next year he’s the coordinator there and the coordinator isn’t there anymore.”

Brian Ferentz says this as the coordinator. He fully knows the offensive coordinator position is the favorite target for internet comments sections across the nation.

“That’s a real thing,” he said. “It happens to head coaches in the NFL now, too. ... There’s a politic to the whole thing. I don’t have to worry about that with coach O’Keefe.”

O’Keefe isn’t politicking for a job he’s already had.

“Yeah, I’ve known Ken since I was born. Literally,” Brian Ferentz said. “There is nobody more invested in the success of the University of Iowa football program than Ken O’Keefe. There’s nobody more invested in my personal success or Nate Stanley’s personal success than Ken O’Keefe.

“I know they’re going to be coached to what we’re all thinking in that staff room.”

And ...

“On top of that, I don’t have to worry about Ken trying to get my job,” Brian Ferentz said. “He’s had my job.”

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Of course, Brian Ferentz has direct communication with the QBs. When there are special teams meetings, free moments on the side in practice, whenever the moment presents itself.

“You’re always developing that rapport and relationship with them,” he said.

He’s also not afraid to step in and throw the “big-picture things” up on the screen. He’s also conscious of what O’Keefe teaches the group and doesn’t want to step on those toes.

“You try to let the coaches coach, and that’s one thing I appreciate about being here,” Brian Ferentz said. “The head coach is that way. He lets all of us do our jobs and that’s really nice. Most head coaches like to micromanage. Most coordinators like to micromanage. I would prefer to be a guy who lets the others do their jobs.

“My job is coordinator. That’s all it is. Here’s the philosophy and here’s what we’re trying to do.”

Believe it or not, this isn’t a place where “yes men” can hide out and ride the wave.

“If you don’t have conflict, you probably don’t have a healthy environment,” Ferentz said. “We have a staff room with a lot of guys who have a lot of ideas about things, educated ideas. ... If you don’t have guys with conflict and beliefs and discussion, I don’t know how we move things forward.”

Believe it or not II: The QBs don’t shrivel when they’re criticized.

“You can coach the quarterbacks and they’re not going to take it personal,” Ferentz said. “They want to get better, they want to improve, they’re open to learning and that’s a lot of fun to be around.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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