Guest View: Is Ferentz Legacy Fading?
(PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Through the years there have been several people who have expressed an interesting in writing for the site, either on a regular basis or as the mood struck them. I have been reticent to take people up on these offers, but having done this now for 13 years I am more open to devoting some space for other voices to be heard. An Iowa fan recently contacted me with the following offering and I felt it raised some interesting points and was also fair. If you have an interest in offering your thoughts an opinions on a regular or one-off basis, you can email me at email@example.com. Any offerings will be published with your real name; anonymity is not something I am interested in on the articles section. Now, on to an offering from Iowa fan Scott Leslie.)
by Scott Leslie, Guest Contributor
In Order To Save Legacy, Ferentz Must Bid Adieu To Comfort Zone, Long Held Beliefs
We didn’t see it at the time, but Kirk Ferentz was the perfect hire for Iowa football in 1999. He was a fundamental perfectionist who stressed penalty-free football. He didn’t take risks and implemented a strategy that resulted in the best decade in Iowa football history. It was an NFL-driven ‘Wait for the other team to make a mistake and pounce’ strategy which worked.
He was able to coach up players who had not been highly recruited and turn them into All Americans. Few teams in college football have put more players into the NFL over the last 13 years than the Iowa Hawkeyes. By the time Warren Halloway caught Drew Tate’s last second bomb in the 2005 Capitol One Bowl, Ferentz was the most popular man in the state of Iowa. It was his third straight top ten finish, but that was nearly eight years ago.
Since the celebration in Orlando, Kirk Ferentz is 58-44. Even worse, in B1G play, he is 32-30. Iowa will finish the season as substantial underdogs in its last two games. If Vegas is correct, Kirk Ferentz will be 32-32 in the last eight seasons in conference play.
In 2006, he called his team ‘Fat Cats’ and they finished 6-7. In 2007 they responded by missing a bowl game. In 2008, it took until game four to start Ricky Stanzi over Jake Christensen. Some magic happened in 2009, but how easily we forget how close we were to losing to Northern Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State. In 2010, his star defensive lineman said the team lost its will to win following their loss at moribund Minnesota. This past Saturday following Iowa’s loss to Purdue, it’s fourth loss in a row which came in Week 11 of the 2012 season, he said his team was not ready to play.
Given the full body of work, it’s not unfair to say Kirk Ferentz is a far better program builder than he is a program maintainer.
The buck stops with Ferentz and the evidence piles up. He allowed a coach (Rick Kaczenski) to run off half the defensive line recruits before suggesting he find alternative employment in November of 2011. He oversaw two recruiting classes that were at the bottom of the Big Ten and by and large couldn’t even keep those recruits on campus (10 losses from the 2008 class and several from a smaller 2009 class that was ranked last in the Big Ten). He saw talented homegrown players like A.J. Derby leave the program because he wasn’t good enough to be a Kirk Ferentz system quarterback, but it was reported by Ed Podolak on Saturday that Derby is now being recruited for that very position by the #2 team in the country, Kansas State.
Even more perplexing is his refusal to go after JUCO help, because as he puts it, “it’s not really how we’re built.” Hey coach, Brad Banks, CJ Jones, Derreck Picken and Marshall Yanda say hello.
The very characteristics that made Iowa the envy of every second tier program in the country have now made it stale, boring and teetering on the edge of major college football irrelevance.
The schemes that made Ferentz so successful to start are now so predictable that Iowa loses to teams with significantly less talent year after year. The risk aversion that kept Iowa close against formidable opponents now keeps them close against the MAC. We don’t scheme around our strengths but instead around neutralizing our opponent’s strengths. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like we scheme to win; we scheme to cause our opponent to lose.
When Iowa is winning, Ferentz’s no bullcrap approach is refreshing and decidedly blue collar. When Iowa is losing it’s tired, old fashioned and a stubborn clinging to a past that is not coming back anytime soon.
Ferentz has a contract that makes him untouchable for at least another three seasons. His job is not at risk, but his legacy most certainly is and to some coaches, legacy is everything.
Which brings us to this past Saturday, where the game ended with Iowa’s fourth straight loss. It became apparent that Ferentz does not live in a vacuum and the noise is seeping through the walls of the athletic department.
Ferentz is no moron. He knows that while his job might be safe for the foreseeable future, he has very little good will to cash in. He is no longer above his boss demanding changes be made. He’s traded in carte blanche for renewed focus on him.
Yet doesn’t it seem doubtful that the coach who saw something in Bob Sanders and Dallas Clark has suddenly lost his eye for talent? In the post-game press conference Saturday, one quote sticks out to me: “This is not a dog crap team.”
There may be more ways than one to read that comment and those which followed, but here was my takeaway;
We have talent that is not being used properly and we are not preparing our players as well as we should be. Doesn’t that read like a public warning to the coaching staff and if so was the warning to anyone in particular?
One of the last questions in the press conference Saturday was “is the offense getting worse?” Ferentz’s response was ‘well we’ve lost how many in a row so what would that suggest?”
Some could say it suggests Greg Davis better be renting.
James Vandenberg was not a Heisman Trophy candidate last year, but he wasn’t the worst quarterback in the B1G either, which he is this year. We were not an offensive juggernaut last year, but we weren’t the most inept offense in the conference last year, something Iowa nearly is right now. Almost no part of the new look offense is preferable to what Ken O’Keefe ran and most of it appears to be worse; that’s is a major problem for a program that has struggled with offensive proficiency.
With a new QB starting next year, this is a convenient time to cut your losses and make this change. Greg Davis is simply not working. The speed that his system requires has never existed at Iowa and it likely never will. Colt McCoy, Ricky Williams and Vince Young are not on our recruiting list for next year. However, all one needs to do is look to State College, PA to see what a former Patriots offensive assistant is doing with comparable talent to Iowa in a pro style offense.
Brian Ferentz left the tutelage of Bill Belichick to come back to Iowa City in what is not even close to a lateral move on its best day. When Iowa named a 61 year old its offensive coordinator last year, many first reactions were that Davis was a placeholder for Brian.
Where does Kirk go from here? All in. It’s time to throw caution to the wind and make the moves that you are willing to tie your legacy to.
Would you rather be tethered to Greg Davis or your son who is a rising star in the profession? It’s time to adapt to modern college football and no one on your staff is more prepared for that than Brian Ferentz.
It’s time to understand that you can play to win as opposed to not to lose. It’s time to understand that your best offense can be your offense, not a crafty game of field position. It’s time to understand that tempo and spreading out the field has beaten you in the past but that it’s OK to use them to beat your opponents. It’s time to understand that your offensive goals have to extend beyond controlling the clock. It’s time to understand that the best offensive players want to play in a system that actually scores. It is time to come into a game with the mentality that we are going to step on your throat and impose our will on you. Lastly, it’s time to game plan and call plays based on our player’s skill set. This last point has received lip service under Ferentz with evidence pointing to the contrary.
This was supposed to be the big feather in Greg Davis’ cap. His history suggests he earned that feather. Instead, we have a complete and total regression of the offense.
It’s not going to be enough to let Greg Davis go; Ferentz has to let go of some of his most deeply held convictions about the game of football.
Kirk Ferentz has no one to blame but himself for where things are right now. As a very loyal man, he chose to not make some hard decisions until it was too late. If he lets the Greg Davis mistake go on for too long, the tough decisions may one day be out of his hands.