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Ken O'Keefe Leaves Iowa for the Miami Dolphins


No need to pinch yourself. It's really happened: Thirteen-year Iowa offensive coordinator and twelve-year quarterbacks coach Ken O'Keefe has decided to leave the program:

"Ken O'Keefe has decided to leave our Iowa staff for another coaching opportunity," said Ferentz. "Ken's work contributed greatly to our program's success during the past 13 years, and more impressively, to the growth and development of the young men in our program. We wish Ken and Joanne the most success in this new chapter of his career."

The other "coaching opportunity" is wide receivers coach with the Miami Dolphins, which gives us the opportunity to discuss the Ken O'Keefe coaching tree. In the late 1970s, Ken O'Keefe was the head coach of Worcester Academy, a prep school in Worcester, Massachusetts. His coaching staff might have been the best high school coaching staff in history: His offensive coordinator was Mike Sherman, his defensive coordinator Kirk Ferentz. He also had a player on that team named Joe Philbin. Twenty years later, when Kirk Ferentz was named Iowa's head coach, he brought in O'Keefe as his offensive coordinator and Joe Philbin, who had spent the last two seasons as offensive coordinator at Harvard, as his offensive line coach. Philbin left after four seasons at Iowa for the vacant offensive line coach position with the Green Bay Packers under his former high school offensive coordinator, Mike Sherman. He eventually became offensive coordinator and, a couple of weeks ago, was named the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. He brought in Mike Sherman as offensive coordinator and has apparently called on his old high school head coach to join the staff now, as well.

Ken O'Keefe is almost certainly the most divisive figure in Ferentz's tenure at Iowa. His 2002 offense was a juggernaut, the highest-scoring offense in school history and the only Iowa offense to ever average more than 35 points per game in Big Ten play. That team featured the most experienced and talented offensive line in the history of the program, a set of linemen thrown to the wolves as freshmen in 1999 and built into a beastly unit in four seasons (and coached by Joe Philbin, unsurprisingly). After that, though, the results have been middling. In the last ten seasons, Iowa's offense has finished in the Big Ten's top five scoring offenses once, and that was with a Doak Walker Award-winning halfback in the backfield. Since 2004, Iowa's average conference rank in both scoring offense and total offense has been seventh. There was the disastrous 2007 season, when a young offense finished last in the conference in every relevant offensive statistic. There was 2009, when Iowa won eleven games and an Orange Bowl despite finishing tenth in the conference in scoring and total offense (and, yes, ESPN guy, there was quite deserved criticism that year). There was mediocrity everywhere else.

His playcalling was somehow both completely inexplicable and endlessly predictable. He had a tendency to take a gimmick -- the bubble screen, the throwback screen, most recently the end around -- and run it into the ground. He would take a simple concept and strip out the thing that made it effective in the first place (the multiple-formation no-huddle that Iowa used early this season is a prime example; for reasons passing understanding, Iowa took the no-huddle offense to Penn State and ran every play from the same three-wide formation, so that Penn State's defense was not stuck with inappropriate personnel packages for defensing the offense). There was a playbook so limited that Iowa was reduced to drawing a slant pattern in the dirt at the end of the 2009 Michigan State game because there wasn't a slant in that week's playbook.

And yet, as a player developer, Ken O'Keefe was fantastic. He turned JUCO journeymen like Brad Banks and Nathan Chandler into top conference quarterbacks. He made something out of Kyle McCann. He had Big Ten defenses trembling in fear of Drew Tate. And he turned a two-star afterthought into the winningest Iowa quarterback since the 1960s and a cult hero. Ken never had premium talent (the one time he did, it was a disaster), but he certainly made the most of what he had, which is why we think his new position is perfect for him. If you stripped the playcalling duties out of O'Keefe's tenure at Iowa, he was as effective an assistant coach as Kirk Ferentz has had. The criticism was so loud only because the thing he struggled with the most was also the most visible component of his job.

We'll get to the potential replacements shortly, but Godspeed You Ken O'Keefe, and best wishes in the future.