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Iowa Football: A Tale of 3 Offensive Coordinators

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Tracking Iowa’s last 3 offensive coordinators

Purdue v Iowa
Being OC in Iowa City comes with scrutiny. How much of it should be directed at the OC and how much belongs with the head man?
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair... Ok, sorry. You got the idea. Was Chuck Dickens talking about Iowa football? Pretty good chance.

Offensive coordinators’ jobs became more difficult with the boom in video games like Madden. Now everyone thinks - nay, knows - that they can call plays better than their favorite team’s offensive coordinator. Even if fans don’t have the ego to believe they could do better, they certainly think a new offensive coordinator would be an improvement on the current one. Over the years, Iowa OCs have been among the least favorite people in Iowa City. I personally was a fan of Ken O’Keefe as Iowa’s OC but there were many who thought Iowa’s offense was underwhelming. Anecdotally, Greg Davis’ offense still makes me ill, but do the numbers back up the animosity we have for GDGD? Also, I think Brian Ferentz’ offense is trending up, but do the numbers support this? The big question may be, how much difference can a coordinator really make in Iowa’s program?

I looked at the last three years of each of Iowa’s last three offensive coordinators’ tenures, Ken O’Keefe (2009-11), Greg Davis (2014-16), and Brian Ferentz (2017-19) to see just how different the three have been. Over the course of nine years and three offensive coordinators, there are more similarities than differences.

There is the saying that “It’s not the X’s and the O’s but the Jimmys and the Joes.” Coaching plays a huge part in sports, but players win games. While there was some carryover of players across coordinators, there was also quite a bit of contrast. Talent-wise I would give the QB, WR and OL edge to O’Keefe. I would give the TE nod to Brian Ferentz. The RB talent pick for me is a toss-up. If Wegher stayed O’Keefe would get that tip of the cap as well. He would have been an all-timer. Looking at the years in this article I would have to go with the Davis RBs as the best unit. Mark Weisman was a great Hawk, but HawkNation saw about 134 too many slow-developing stretch plays with the big fella. Still, Greg Davis had some horses in the stable. The 2020 edition of Brian Ferentz’ WRs would take this crown, but they are not in the timeframe of the comparison.

Let’s take a look at some of the stats and see what we can make of it. The statistics I focused on for this are the following: points per game, passing completions, attempts, percentage, and yards, rushing attempts, yards, average rush, and finally total offense. If nothing else, it may get some Zoom discussion around the virtual water cooler as we lead up to Hawkeye football.

Ken O’Keefe

Period: 2009-2011
Record: 26-13

QB:Ricky Stanzi
RBs: Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher, Marcus Coker
WRs: Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Marvin McNutt
TEs: Tony Moeaki
OL: Seth Olsen, Kyle Calloway, Bryan Bulaga, Julian Vandervelde, Riley Reiff

Offensive Output Under Ken O’Keefe

PPG Pass Comp Pass Att Comp % Pass Yds Rush Att Rush Yds Rush Avg Total Yards
PPG Pass Comp Pass Att Comp % Pass Yds Rush Att Rush Yds Rush Avg Total Yards
26.4 17.4 29.8 58.6 230.5 34.8 133.4 3.8 363.9

Greg Davis

Period: 2014-2016
Record: 27-13

QB: C.J. Beathard
RBs: Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock, LeShun Daniels, Jordan Canzeri
WRs: Kevonte Martin-Manley, Tevaun Smith
TEs: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Henry Krieger-Coble, George Kittle
OL: Andrew Donnal, Brandon Scherff, Austin Blythe, Ike Boettger

Offensive Output Under Greg Davis

PPG Pass Comp Pass Att Comp % Pass Yds Rush Att Rush Yds Rush Avg Total Yards
PPG Pass Comp Pass Att Comp % Pass Yds Rush Att Rush Yds Rush Avg Total Yards
28 16.7 27.9 59.5 198.2 39.6 172.2 4.4 370.4

Brian Ferentz

Period: 2017-2019
Record: 27-12

QB: Nate Stanley
RBs: Akrum Wadley, Mekhi Sargent, Tyler Goodson
WRs: Nick Easley, Ihmir Smith-Marsette
TE: Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson
OL: James Daniels, Tristan Wirfs

Offensive Output Under Brian Ferentz

PPG Pass Comp Pass Att Comp % Pass Yds Rush Att Rush Yds Rush Avg Total Yards
PPG Pass Comp Pass Att Comp % Pass Yds Rush Att Rush Yds Rush Avg Total Yards
28.4 17.5 30.1 58.2 215.1 36.4 141.7 3.9 356.9

Based on the statistics, Ken O’Keefe’s offense was top-ranked in only one category: passing yards/game. Brian Ferentz’s offense, meanwhile, was number one in three categories: PPG, Pass completions, and pass attempts.

Greg Davis, I’m sure a good person, (I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I am the one typing this), would have had help moving his stuff down south from about 98% of us. The Greg Davis offense posted the best numbers in 5 of the categories: completion percentage, rush attempts, rushing yards, average rush, and total yards. So, Greg, on behalf of Hawkeye fans everywhere, I kinda-sorta apologize. [That was really hard for me.]

What’s most interesting is that for three different Hawkeye offensive coordinators and the three year studies reviewed, the numbers are extremely similar. This goes back to who the head coach is. Kirk Ferentz is ultimately the one calling the shots. As long as KF is in charge, Iowa will run a balanced offense; our run/pass ratio has been about 55/45 over the years. The USC game was eye-opening and exciting; Iowa didn’t look like Iowa. #NewKirk probably watched Mike Leach’s Mississippi State squad put up 8000 yards on LSU and told Brian to let ‘er rip. Ok. Maybe not.

Year four for the Brian Ferentz offense will be very interesting to watch. Nate Stanley took about 99.3% (guess) of the snaps during BF’s tenure. How quickly Spencer Petras can settle in will dictate the season we have. We have a good offensive line, the best wideouts in KF’s time here, three good RB’s (Goodson has it ALL!), and some promising TE’s (of course). I also think having Ken O’Keefe back in the program has been a great thing and will help with the maturation of Petras’ game.

Hit the comments up on this. I’d love to hear your thoughts.