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Sports Then and Now

Hawkeye Football Success Story: A Dozen Years of Kirk Ferentz and Staff

Posted on August 10, 2010 by JA Allen

Kirk Ferentz and Ken O'Keefe survey action on the field.

No doubt about it—you get more hype, more scrutiny, and media exposure playing for Ohio State, Texas, Alabama, or Notre Dame in football then you do playing for the University of Iowa.

That is because Ohio State, Texas, Alabama, and Notre Dame have reputations of being esteemed, premier football programs, fielding the best teams with the best athletes year after year.

The most talented players ready to enter college desire to play for top-flight football programs because it means a chance to excel, playing with or against the very best in the country.  It also means a higher likelihood of being drafted by the NFL and signing lucrative pro contracts.

In the past decade of college football, however, the Iowa Hawkeyes finished No. 8 in 2002, 2003, and 2004, No. 20 in 2008, and No. 7 in 2009 in both the Associate Press and USA Today polls.

How does Iowa manage to play great football and field winning teams despite being designated as a middle-of-the-pack team in college football?

Iowa Coaches get the most out of their players week after week.

For Iowa fans and college football aficionados the answer is pretty simple.  Iowa offers great coaching and stability.  For players, that means an open and honest assessment of your playing skills, a chance to develop and receive support from coaches who know the game well and are as committed to their players as they are to winning.

Leading the way in this player-rich environment is head coach Kirk Ferentz who begins his 12th season as Iowa’s head coach and under whose leadership Iowa has finished in the top 10 four times and in the top 20 five times.

Ferentz followed in the footsteps of Hayden Fry who remained at the helm at Iowa for 20 years, from 1979-1998.

Iowa coaches stay.  Why do you suppose in this day and age of mass coach migration—the infamous coaching carousel—that Iowa’s coaches stay?

The simple answer is this—just as Iowa football coaches give their players undivided attention and support, the University of Iowa gives its coaches an equally nourishing environment to grow and develop a substantial football program.  The University is committed to its coaches and offers them something that the prestige schools cannot always afford—time and freedom to develop.

Look at Notre Dame, for example.  As a coach, you know going in that if you do not succeed at turning the program around fast, your days will be numbered.  The PR focus becomes a nightmare because you not only have to deal with players and coaches as head coach, you have to mediate with donors, alumni, boosters, administration—plus confront a mean-spirited media.

Charlie Weis must have considered himself the most abused man on the face of the earth on any Sunday when Notre Dame failed to win on Saturday.  He lasted five years, always under the gun—let go after another tortured season in 2009.

Iowa teams are strong on defense, thanks to the work of Norm Parker.

For Ferentz, coming to Iowa as Fry faded away in 1998 with a  3-8 season meant coming home to a place he’d spent time coaching before he left Iowa City in 1989 to try something new.

In his first season in 1999, Iowa went 1-10, followed by a 3-9 record in 2000.  Not exactly awe-inspiring results but Ferentz and his coaches were given the time they needed to develop a program that would work at Iowa.  Ferentz felt at home, understanding Iowa ethics and the Midwest code for living.  Iowa City was a good fit for this quiet, hardworking man.

Right along side Ferentz was his defensive coordinator, Norm Parker, whose defenses have been the most consistent ingredient in the Hawkeye formula for success year after year.  Parker came with Ferentz to Iowa and he remains a true leader and champion of the defense.  His players respect him as do his peers, especially his boss, Ferentz.  This year, Iowa could well have the most potent defense in the country.

Joining Ferentz and Parker from the beginning was offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe who has also been at Iowa for 12 seasons, serving as quarterback coach for the past 10. O’Keefe has been responsible for helping nurture and develop some outstanding quarterbacks during his tenure like Brad Banks, Nathan Chandler, and Drew Tate, as well as Ricky Stanzi, the current quarterback.

Also on board for the past 12 years is strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle whose innovations many feel have been the at the core of the development of top Iowa players.  Their success on offense and defense come back to Doyle’s ability to assess a player’s strength level, guiding and motivating him to where he needs to be to succeed.

Other long-time coaches include

  • Lester Erb, running back and special teams coach who has been at Iowa for 11 years,
  • Eric Johnson, tight end coach and recruiting coordinator who starts his 12th season at Iowa,
  • Reese Morgan, offensive line coach in his 11th season at Iowa,
  • Phil Parker, defensive backs coach in his 12th season at Iowa, and
  • Darrell Wilson, linebacker and special teams coach for his 9th season with the Hawkeyes.

This is a rock-solid coaching staff with decades of experience who have created a winning program at the University of Iowa, building on the foundation of football fundamentals. These coaches root for their players and for each other week after week and year after year.

Iowa hopes to do well again in 2010, maybe better than their Orange Bowl win last year.

So as the Iowa coaches and their players get ready for their opener on September 4 in Iowa City against Eastern Illinois, both will be anxious to prove their preseason No. 10 ranking was spot on.  Coaches and players will not wish to start 2010 as they started 2009 with a one-point squeaker over in-state rival Northern Iowa.

No one wants to win more than the Iowa players, except the Iowa coaches who have built this winning program from the ground up, retooling the offense and the defense to fit the players they have and retooling the players to fit into roles necessary to win.  It works both ways in building a successful football team.

Iowa has never won a national championship and many feel the Hawkeyes just might come very close to it this season with an overpowering defense and a stable, experienced quarterback at the helm.  The window of opportunity is open for the Hawkeyes in 2010.  Time to let a little fresh air into college football…

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