Ken and Joanne O’Keefe have been married 41 years. Of course, you know Ken O’Keefe as Iowa quarterbacks coach and, maybe more notably, Kirk Ferentz’s offensive consigliere for nearly 20 years.
Coaching football on the Power 5 level comes with the obvious demands. If COVID-19 didn’t have the world on lockdown, Iowa’s assistant coaches would’ve been on the road for five weeks in May and June on recruiting duty. With finals next week, plans for summer conditioning and installment would be happening. Football is 12 months a year and then some.
“We have never spent this much time together,” said O’Keefe, who’ll begin his fourth season as Iowa’s quarterbacks coach, on top of the 13 seasons (1999-2011) as offensive coordinator. “At times, it’s been a blessing and other times it’s been absolutely frightening.”
So, check in next year to see if there was a year 42. Kidding, kidding.
O’Keefe has conducted weekly video meetings with his QBs. When the pandemic started, Ferentz had a couple of video conferences with reporters and basically unveiled the emphasis for a team that’s scattered all over the country — respect your academics in this strange time and do your workouts. There’s also the human touch. Coaching is hands on. As close as a coach can get right now is the video meeting.
“It’s more to find out how they’re doing,” O’Keefe said. “Let them know if there’s any academic issues we need to address, strength and conditioning. Whatever it may be, the message still is being sent.”
O’Keefe’s video chats have included celebrities. Let’s be honest, Iowa QBs Ricky Stanzi and Drew Tate fit that bill around here. They were popular, charismatic QBs who won at a high level at Iowa. Now, both are working their way into coaching. They’ve stopped in to the video chats with Iowa’s QBs.
“Ricky came on and talked to the guys about how to prepare and develop routines,” O’Keefe said. “They’ve done an outstanding job talking about their playing days here, what it’s like after their playing days and what it’s like for them now. It’s been fantastic for our players to hear and to be a part of. For a guy who’s been coaching for 45 years now, to sit back and give the reins to some very knowledgeable and experienced guys and let them share their wisdom with our current players is valuable.”
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It’s Iowa football, so, yes, the current QBs know who Stanzi and Tate are. Former players have knowledge the coaches don’t. O’Keefe recognizes that.
“You can’t ever lose sight of what it was like to be a player,” O’Keefe said. “Once you’ve lost sight of that, you lose your way, you lose your path, you lose your pulse on what’s going on. We know we’re asking a lot out of you. We know it’s not easy. You can’t forget about how hard it was, the sacrifices they make.”
Football is coming, at some point. Nate Stanley is a Minnesota Viking now, so any chance to interview O’Keefe will include at least a few Spencer Petras questions. The 6-5, 235-pound Californian will be the starter when there is football.
At this point with Petras, yes, it’s been just talking and in theory, but everything has been positive. Every time Kirk Ferentz has been asked about next year’s starter, his response has been what you’d expect and/or want to hear. Same with offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, who believes Petras might be close to “mastering” Iowa’s system.
“You can see his love of the game,” O’Keefe said. “He loves football. He’s driven to be the best, that’s one of his main objectives in life. He has a magnetic personality and you can tell he’s comfortable with every sort of person who walks the face of the earth. He’s a pretty amazing kid.”
And on Petras’ game ...
“He can touch a ball,” O’Keefe said, “In the drop-back game and in the pocket, I don’t think there’s a throw he can’t make. One of the areas he has to work on is his movement throws. That’s what he’s working on in the offseason. The movement stuff is going to be critical. He has a really good feel for protections and the decision making we need in the running game.”
Back in February at the NFL combine, Stanley talked extensively about hiring a QB coach to prepare for the NFL. He said the explanation on why throws were missed “wasn’t always there” from Iowa staff. It wasn’t an indictment, and O’Keefe, who worked with the Miami Dolphins from 2012 to 2016, didn’t take it that way.
“The biggest issue in Division I (Power 5), in the NFL is that we can’t get with our position people very much in the skill development area. When we have skills and drills and guys have footballs in their hands (summer 7-on-7 stuff), I can’t be out there, I can’t be coaching them. I can work on a five-step drop with them but with no ball in their hand. Running backs coaches have drills with no footballs, same with the receivers coaches, and that’s most of the year.
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“We have virtually nothing we can do that these private coaches can do, and it’s the same in the NFL. Most of us are saying the same thing, just a little bit differently. If one thing can help a guy, I’m all for it.”
O’Keefe appeared on The On Iowa Podcast this week with Marc Morehouse and Scott Dochterman. Check the podcast out here.
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