Sunday, 23rd June 2024

COMMENTARY: Upcoming season will be telling

Posted on 03. Feb, 2012 by in Iowa Football


By Brendan Stiles

In 13 years, Kirk Ferentz has built a solid reputation for both himself and the Iowa football program. He has led the Hawkeyes to a pair of Big Ten titles and nearly guided them to a third in 2009. Under his watch, Iowa has won six bowl games, including the 2010 Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech. He has coached players such as Brad Banks, Dallas Clark, Nate Kaeding, Robert Gallery, Shonn Greene and Marvin McNutt, all of whom had some of the best seasons any Hawkeye has ever had at their respective positions.

Yet one month into 2012, and it’s becoming crystal clear — This season will play an enormous role in the way some folks will ultimately view Ferentz’s legacy at Iowa.

Ferentz is now the longest-tenured head coach in the entire Big Ten by seven full seasons. Some of those eyes that for years were placed squarely upon Joe Paterno during his time at Penn State will now be placed on Ferentz. Right now, things appear shaky.

Gone are the two coaches who were Ferentz’s left- and right-hand men — Norm Parker and Ken O’Keefe. Parker officially retired as defensive coordinator after the Hawkeyes lost the 2011 Insight Bowl to Oklahoma last December. On Friday, O’Keefe resigned as offensive coordinator to pursue another opportunity, most likely with the Miami Dolphins.

Both Parker and O’Keefe have been with Ferentz since the beginning. For 13 years, Ferentz had the luxury of having the same two assistants stick by his side through good and bad times. Now he has the monumental task of finding two new coordinators.

Those two new faces will inherit a team that has plenty of questions surrounding it entering next fall. Whoever takes over the defense will have an entirely new defensive line on his hands. Whoever commands the offense needs to figure out who fills the voids left by McNutt and Riley Reiff, who declared early for the NFL Draft.

Speaking of player personnel, Ferentz also has to deal with the fact that five other players — Marcus Grant, Dan Heiar, Mika’il McCall, Marcus Coker and A.J. Derby — have left the program this winter. Iowa does have 24 new recruits signed that will be coming in this fall, and maybe a handful of those 24 provide an immediate impact.

But with that being said, there are areas on this team that need heavy addressing, otherwise the Hawkeyes are going to be in for a long year.

At this moment in time, Ferentz will be able to leave Iowa on his own terms. That’s how he wants it. Judging his entire 13-year tenure from its starting point to the present, he has earned that. How he ultimately decides on a staff is going to go a long way in whether that still ends up being the case.

It’s safe to say he hit home runs with Parker and O’Keefe. Even though both men received their share of scrutiny from fans, media, and others, they panned out exactly as Ferentz planned in the grand scheme of things. The years under Ferentz Iowa has had its greatest success, both were instrumental.

Regardless of whether one or both hires come from within or from the outside, these decisions will shape the future of this program. If both hires are home runs and Ferentz wins that third Big Ten crown within the next five years, then his legacy will be greater than that of Hayden Fry’s. If after these hires are made, the same criticisms of O’Keefe and Parker over the years are being expressed towards their replacements, then all that frustration will start boiling over towards Ferentz.

Every coach is remembered for both their successes and their flaws, and 2012 might prove to be Ferentz’s greatest challenge yet. How he handles things in the coming weeks and months will not only go a long way in dictating this upcoming season, but in how many — not just in Iowa, but around the country — will view him when the day comes that he does walk away from the coaching profession.


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