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Examining possible hires to replace Ken O’Keefe

With his departure, Kirk Ferentz could go a number of routes

Syndication: HawkCentral Harry Baumert/The Register, Des Moines Register via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Ken O’Keefe has retired from his on field role and so my brain has been churning about possible replacements. In my view, we see Kirk Ferentz go one of three routes: QB guru, “in the family,” or someone currently on staff. What are some pros and cons? Let’s get into it!

QB Guru

One of the immediate names which sprung to mind was Tony Racioppi, out of New Jersey. He’s a private QB coach who, most relevant to Iowa fans, has coached Nate Stanley post-Iowa and Spencer Petras last summer. His name gained some traction last night in media circles, most notably the Des Moines Register’s Chad Leistikow:

The verb tense leads me to believe he’s absolutely a possibility but let’s operate from the assumption that Iowa would pursue QB GURU RONY TACIOPPI.

Pros:

  • Addresses skill-based needs at the QB position: This was most notable when Nate Stanley said he needed to fix his mechanics ahead of the NFL Draft in 2020. Iowa, as it stood, focused more on the Xs & Os when it came to QB play. With a QB guru there, those tweaks could help see significant skill improvement over the course of a QB’s time at Iowa.
  • Unbiased look at the QB competition: Should the QB coach be hired before spring practice, they’d have a clean eye when it comes to evaluating Iowa’s skill at the position. This goes a little out the window, should Racioppi be tabbed given his connection to Petras, but let’s presume he’d be as unbiased as anybody else on staff.

Cons:

  • Ramp up with offense: Presuming Iowa starts spring camp around the university’s spring break (3/13-3/20), that gives Iowa about 4 weeks to find their guy, bring him in, and have him learn the offense. We saw how that went last time Iowa hired a QB coach without ties to Ferentz (Greg Davis) and while Davis had offensive coordinator duties alongside QB coach, the short runway could make the first camp season tricky for a new coach.
  • Most outsider-y: This isn’t necessarily a con, but a reason it might not happen. Kirk simply seems to be at the stage in his career where he’s surrounding himself with increasingly like-minded coaches and a QB guru who’s been their own boss for years doesn’t necessarily seem like a smooth transition in that respect. Maybe I’m just projecting, though.

In the family

Two names that stick out here are newly hired UNI QB coach, Drew Tate, and recently displaced David Raih. Both played quarterback for Iowa in the aughts. Tate had a 10+ year career in the CFL before some coaching stints. Prior to joining UNI’s staff, he was at UT Martin. Raih’s been a longtime assistant after a 10 year non-football career. He was on Iowa’s staff as a grad assistant from 2010 to 2012 and then went the NFL route, with five seasons in Green Bay and two with Arizona. He was Vanderbilt’s OC/WR coach the 2021 season before not being retained.

Pros:

  • Potentially less on-ramp: Both Raih & Tate know what they’re getting into with a job on the Iowa staff and are more likely to understand what Kirk and company want out of the QB position. The offense is undoubtedly different since they were last in Iowa City so there will be some learning there, but less than I would expect a QB guru to experience coming.
  • Both played QB: Tate, especially, has spent the last 20 years, really, looking at football through the quarterback lens. Undoubtedly that would be important to bring to the room.

Con

  • Limited coaching experience: Raih has been a big message board rumor guy once fans caught wind that he was in Green Bay but he and Tate have spent three combined seasons coaching the QB position. And while Raih has been around a decade in coaching circles, his first attempt captaining a ship did ... not go to plan. The Commodores averaged 15.8 points/game, with yardage in line with Iowa. On one hand: tough sell. On the other: Vandy.

Currently on staff

This one offers the least specific new names on staff but offers a mix between “in the family” and borderline insanity. The first reason being, the Hawkeyes don’t currently have anyone on staff with QB-specific coaching experience. The three candidates here are Brian Ferentz, Kelton Copeland, & Jason Manson.

Brian: No quarterback experience but, as offensive coordinator, does know what he want from the position. It would have him in the room with those guys every day to walk through it and cut out the middle man which existed in O’Keefe. I’m really lukewarm on this as a possibility (credit to StoopsMyAss for emailing it to me) because it would 1) signal a tripling down of the way Iowa football operates offensively and 2) have Brian learning on the job and 3) offer no skill development and 4) the closest he’s been to the QB position is having the quarterback’s hands under his rear end. A tight end coach would be hired in this example.

Copeland: He’s overseen exceptional development from the wide receiver position during his time in Iowa, been a good recruiter, and understands what Iowa wants from the passing game. He played QB back in the day, so he can tap into that skillset. I’m personally disappointed Iowa hasn’t added the passing game coordinator to his title, as that seems like a huge opportunity for the staff and himself. That promotion could happen with him as QB coach or still at WR, but the WR coach to QB coach pipeline has been used effectively elsewhere.

Manson: Played QB for Iowa. History as a high school head coach, as well as a position coach elsewhere. Already in the building as director of player development and could be either QB coach or WR coach if Copeland were to vacate that position.

Wildcard

Chuck Long. I mean, he’s only the greatest QB to play at the school, has a history of success as QB coach, albeit awhile ago. Chuck was also on Kirk’s first staff in that role. He’s been a commentator for the last decade, though. I guess it can’t hurt to throw his name out there.

I’m sure there are others but this is the only wildcard that isn’t out of complete left field.


Kirk Ferentz’s recent history of hiring has been increasingly to find guys who operate similarly to himself. Most recently, Tim Polasek, schooled in the NDSU-style gap blocking, left and was replaced by zone blocking acolyte George Barnett. Derrick Foster departed for the NFL and was replaced by all-time great Hawkeye Ladell Betts.

So I am not expecting a particularly inspired choice, however well-regarded they may be.