Kirk Ferentz set the foundation for the upcoming season by banking on history and a feeling that Iowa’s offense is going to be better.
It’s a gamble that is going to define the final years of the 67-year-old head coach.
Iowa’s offense can only get better. The Hawkeyes went 8-5 last season with one of the nation’s worst offenses. They finished 130th out of 131 FBS teams in total offense, 123rd in scoring offense at 17.7 points per game, 123rd in passing offense and 124th in rushing offense.
But anyone expecting offseason upheaval within Iowa’s coaching staff had to have been disappointed when Ferentz said on Wednesday that, no, that wasn’t going to happen.
“As I stand here today, I anticipate no changes in our staff moving forward,” Ferentz said. “That's my plan certainly.”
He’s staying. His son, Brian, the Hawkeyes’ offensive coordinator, is staying. Offensive line coach George Barnett is staying.
If you were expecting some sort of axes swinging in Iowa’s football building, sorry. There’s no wizard with a playbook of five-receivers-and-a-cloud-of-points walking through that door. No Greatest Show On Kinnick’s Turf coming next season.
Now, Ferentz admitted on Wednesday that the offensive clunkiness of last season wasn’t acceptable.
“The bottom line is the offense is about moving the ball consistently, scoring enough points to win, and the numbers bear out that it wasn't good enough,” Ferentz said. “And the other part about that is we're well aware of that and we own it. Nobody is running from that by any stretch of the imagination.
“The whole idea right now is to move forward and fix it. That's where our thoughts are.”
But fixing it isn’t going to mean some sort of crazy offensive scheme. The scoreboard isn’t going to go crazy like a Vegas slot machine.
“I didn't say the same scheme, but it's not going to look radically different,” Ferentz said. “I don't predict anything wild or absurd there. I think we've been pretty consistent in our approach really for 24 years. We own it. We own the stats.”
Fixing it wasn’t going to mean firing or demoting his son and bringing in someone new. Instead, Ferentz wants to lean on his previous history.
“If you look back 24 years we've had down periods, years that have been disappointing,” Ferentz said. “We normally rally back. We normally rally back and fix it, and that's always kind of been my attitude. We're all products of our upbringing, I guess, or influences, and I worked for a guy for nine years ... there was never a coordinator fired here during my nine years with Coach (Hayden) Fry. I'm not planning on doing it. I haven't done it.
“I grew up in Pittsburgh where they had pretty good success. The thing you learn from the Steelers is they fix things. They don't panic, they fix things. As long as you’ve got the right people.”
Ferentz thinks Iowa’s offensive improvement will come with execution, and an upgrade in personnel.
Cade McNamara will take over as the Hawkeyes’ quarterback, with experience in Michigan’s offense to go with more mobility, something Iowa didn’t have with Spencer Petras over the last three seasons.
The offensive line will have more experience with the Hawkeyes adding Rusty Feth and Daijon Parker from the NCAA’s transfer portal. That, Ferentz said, is where Iowa’s improvement will begin.
“If you look at our offensive line right now we weren't where we needed to be (in 2021 (and felt the same way (in 2022),” Ferentz said. “We were forced to play some guys that probably weren't quite ready to compete at the level we're looking for. It's been part of what we've been battling a little bit.
“The facts are that when you can't do things up front, that kind of cascades to the entire offense. It's hard to run an offense when you can't block with proficiency.”
There’s more experience at wide receiver with the additions of Seth Anderson and Austin Kutscher from the transfer portal, joining Nico Ragaini, who is back for his final season. Former Michigan tight end Erick All joins Luke Lachey at a position which has always been a strength for Iowa.
Ferentz spent a lot of his time on Wednesday quoting all sorts of statistics to back up his reasoning on not having some sort of massive offensive reconstruction, but you can only twist numbers so far.
Iowa has had its ups and downs under Ferentz, and the coach is counting on history to prove another upswing is coming. The Hawkeyes won just 12 games in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, then won 20 over the next two. The 7-6 season in 2014, which seemed to put the Ferentz era on the brink of demise, was followed by an undefeated regular season and a Rose Bowl trip in 2015.
Ferentz leaned on those seasons when he spoke on Wednesday, but history lessons don’t resonate when there’s an uncertain future.
“We're just going to keep trying to get better at what we do,” he said. “I think we've had a fair amount of success. I just want to make sure everybody understands, we're taking ownership. Nobody is running from this, that would be ridiculous. Seventeen (points per game) is not the standard, eight (wins) is not the standard.
“We started work two weeks ago. The idea is to be a championship-level team, and that's easier to talk about than to do, but it takes a lot of things falling right, especially here. It's not easy. But it's doable because we've done it.”
John Bohnenkamp is a national and state award-winning sports reporter and a contributor to Pen City Current.
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