On Davis and Strategic Transformation: JC Penney, Maytag -- or ALCOA under Paul O'Neill?

Iowa now has the most NFL-laden coaching staff in the Big Ten. This fact is poorly studied and acknowledged. There's much to be learned about Ferentz' intentions from this fact.

However, Greg Davis is not one of this new cohort of NFL-themed coaches. This anomaly is the subject of this FanPost.

So. Again, five of the 10 coaches have significant NFL experience. It’s an upgraded staff, by a significant amount. NFL teams (well, NFLteams not called the NY Jets) do not give games away by failing to execute punt coverage and onside kick coverage. They just don’t. Neither will Iowa, again.

Then we have the ineptitude of the 2012 Greg Davis Experience. Cautionary hypothetical: we're all committed and true to the concept of employing a "game manager" at QB, right? Do we really believe that Vandenberg could not fulfill the role of efficient game manager as a fifth-year senior, in his second season as starter? I don't. Davis is the question that wasn't answered last year. He ruined his quarterback and Iowa's season. Davis' work failed.

The touchstone explanatory comment for me remains Davis’ public criticism in his first year of his wideouts' speed. That was a glaring, blaring signal — that he repeated — of something being seriously amiss. It’s no different than Ferentz calling a lineman fat or a coward, in public. It just doesn’t happen with this team. Previously it never happened. It was an immature, stupid remark by a late-middle-aged man with leadership responsibilities. That was our warning, delivered in his second month on the job.

What does it accomplish, harping on the physical skills of your athletes? What are the athletes supposed to do? They can’t eat, lift or toughen themselves to "fast." I think it was a selfish comment, a comment by a man who was panicking in his second month on the job, and a man who was laying the pipe for a later defensiveness — a "Don’t look at me, these guys couldn’t walk on at Texas" CYA attitude. CYA-spouting managers destroy organizations. I assume that after one or two of those in staff meetings Campbell blew him up and things went downhill from there. They always do.

I’m assuming that KOK’s departure was a surprise to Ferentz. Is there any evidence that it was not? The evidence that it was is that it seems quite plain that he did not have a list of backup OC’s in his desk. Additional evidence is that Ferentz’ strength as a planner is not evident in the hire (I would assert that his strength as a coach reflects planning, discipline, ethics, logic, realism (in regard to recruiting and the financial constraints that exist in Iowa City), and two more that are harder to see, neither of which are evident in the Davis hire.

These are:

1. he’s almost unique in making a strategy of what others limit to tactical emphasis. The strategic foundation of the program is its emphasis on skill development, and historically, that is skill development in opposition to schematic complexity. Or, as well, in opposition to a Fry-vian devotion to disruptive surprise*, again a methodology to offset talent deficits. (Ferentz is tied for fourth in BCS tenure, and it’s not because Iowa and Iowans are stupid, it’s because he’s smart and good.) The other four (Stoops, Snyder, Brown, Beamer) in the top cohort do not do this and three of them arguably do not have to do this owing to superior access to talent. (I grant: it’s arguable that Beamer has equivalent access to talent, but he’s in the sunbelt where there is more talent, whereas it’s inarguable that Stoops and Brown have superior access and Snyder doesn’t even bother to pretend, with half of his team being JCAA-derived).

How do we know this is true? B+ talent that is educated in the football arts at Iowa plays in the NFL at above-market, disproportionate rates. B+ talent earns above-market returns, objectively. And again, that talent would often not even be allowed to walk-on at Oklahoma or Texas or tOSU or Michigan. That’s just a fact. The smartest decision a 4.55-running defensive back named Micah Hyde will ever make, unless he marries very well, was attending Iowa.

2. he’s willing to violate convention in an industry where conformity is a virtue. His seeming blandness, once we see it for what it truly is, has been one of his entrepreneurial advantages. See above, his opposition to schematic complexity or game-breaking surprise. (Who is Fry’s equal in that latter quality? Isn’t it Chris Petersen? Petersen has no system or "identity", he just has plays you cannot predict.) Ferentz has built his program by doing what Dungy did at TB and Indy, removing from the players’ heads the obligation to think faster -- while playing -- than every other team. (More evidence in the camp video, where Ferentz tells the guys to forget about what everyone else on the team is doing, and focus only on their individual jobs as their coaches define them.) And instead simply play faster (offsetting the talent deficit) through massive complexity reduction. Only Mike Leach and a few (not including Holgersen) have made the game simpler with Iowa-level talent.

Suddenly, Iowa hires Davis. BOOM! Cultural and technical skills valued for 13 years are antithetical to the mission. It was like watching what happened to JC Penney when some smarty-pants hedge fund guy named Ackerman decided that the way to make his second billion was to impose the culture and marketing strategy of Apple on the meat-and-potatoes culture of JC Penney. (JCP hired Ron Johnson from Apple and blew up the company. Took a year. They may not have enough cash to survive.) In less than a year this decision put a 100 year-old franchise at risk and in crisis. I guess Ackerman uses an iPhone and he doesn’t know why people who buy socks at JCP don’t, also. This unforced error also destroyed Maytag. One bad hire, and 100 years of success led to the sale of the company to a down-market competitor, in three years. Maytag hired a snack food executive to run the Mercedes of home appliances.

In contrast, Alcoa hired an outsider named Paul O'Neill in 1987 to reform a degrading franchise. Alcoa had poor quality and safety performance. O'Neill had never been in the aluminum business, and in fact was most notable for his career as a government bureaucrat. O'Neill transformed the company through embracing managerial and union ranks, implementing a safety ethic that made product quality and line efficiency paramount, and doubled the value of a mature company without resorting to financial engineering.

We know that Ferentz enjoys watching the NFL, even though he has to go to Brian’s house to do so (see above FanPost, by BadFan, whoever the heck he is, if you can wade through 5000 lines of surreal, quasi-pornographic ramblings). Brian’s prior boss runs an offense that has no basis in his prior work at Cleveland or what he knew working for Parcells. So we can assume that Brian is here for a reason, and Ferentz’ desire to change in the direction of Pats-level innovation is real.

Will it work? Well, I’m heartless on this subject.

The Davis hire is pointless if Iowa continues to attempt to win football games by scoring 17.1 ppg. If Davis cannot produce 30-35 ppg it’s going to be ugly. Further, if Iowa can’t put up 30 on NIU after nine months to prepare I’ll be singularly unimpressed with the prospects for Iowa with this effort at strategic transformation. It’s a much more challenging transformation than simply enlarging the playbook with new stuff using a new vocabulary on a 17-second play cycle. It may not work. Ferentz' job is to let him do his job, and stop the bleeding if it doesn't.

The reason I’m optimistic for the year is I see B+ talent all over the field, and we have always won with B+ talent. Frankly, while everyone worries about the wideouts, does anyone assert we don’t have B+ talent at receiver? I don't. The most important game last year, in my view, was Nebraska 13 Iowa 7. If Davis had done his job last year Iowa scores more than 7 points in the final game of the year against a defense that gave up 70 to a 7-5 Wisconsin, and wins. I assume that this is why Ferentz is strangely relaxed and happy on the eve of this inflection point in his career. He knows something that no one else knows, apparently.

Are we really supposed to pee in our pants BECAUSE OMG JORDAN LYNCH and a fullback with one career carry? BFD. We contained and broke Dennard (whom even Saban feared) and stuffed Taylor Martinez, playing behind O-Lines that outstrip what NIU puts on the field. The guy's good. I don't care. Charlie Weis with a 1-11 team played NIU to a one-score game. Are we hoping to reach the lofty plane that features ... Charlie Weis?

If we don’t score 30 on a MAC program 18 months into the Greg Davis Experience we can only conclude two things:

1. Davis cannot lead transformational change. After all, he’s never done it before. Usually when you make a senior hire of anyone over 40, you don’t ask them to do something they never tried. This makes Davis, potentially, a disastrous hire on the order of the Frito-Lay idiot who destroyed Maytag in three years. Or he’s Ron Johnson and Daniel Ackerman, sneering at the established and loyal customers (sneering at the Iowa culture of just doing your job on each play so that all 11 guys are in the right place at the right time), and longing for all-world talent that displaces at the very requirement for all-world talent;


2. the game has passed Ferentz by, and Dungy simplicity just doesn’t work anymore and cannot be integrated with the shiny new baubles in Davis’ mind.

I don’t believe one of the best coaches in college football over the past 30 years woke up stupid. I cannot. I have never seen it in any professional context. OTOH, I have seen mid- or late-career men fail repeatedly when they don’t recognize their surroundings and fail to respect the virtues of their staff and culture; when they fail to respect the fact that -- absent culture and an understanding that what makes an organization great -- organizations die quickly. FMI: JCP and Maytag.

Seriously, are we really going to respect an Iowa team that hopes to score 20 on a MAC program? Why should we or anyone else? Whatever happened to "I hope we didn’t hurt your boys too bad"?

This isn't complicated. Why? Football isn't complicated. That's the whole point of Ferentz' career. He (and Dungy) has proven it to be true. Davis needs to show now he can do his damn job or he should get out. Ferentz owns the decision to hire him, sure, and needs to take action if it proves to be a bad one. He needs to let him run his offense as they have planned, or he needs to can him. He should not fall prey to more scapegoating of athletes and some ridiculous assumption that we cannot compete better with NIU than did a 1-11 Charlie Weis team.

One of Bill Snyder's Core Principles of Coaching is "Be where you are." Davis chose to move his career from one environment that is the antithesis (talent-wise, culturally) of the present one. I'm giving him 60 minutes to demonstrate he knows where his is.

Does Greg Davis know where he is? We find out in 72 hours. Rudock is not the story this year. His position coach/coordinator is.

*Fry installed an entirely new offense in four days to beat Michigan in 1985. None of the film Schembechler game-planned was relevant to that contest.

[This post was modified per the comment by Reno below.]

Unless otherwise expressly indicated by BHGP editors, this FanPost is strictly the viewpoint of the author and is not endorsed by BHGP in any way.

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