The Gary Barta era is officially over. Monday afternoon Beth Goetz asserted her control over the Athletic Department in a way that I don’t think any of us expected her to do, especially while the Interim tag was still featured in her email signature. If she doesn’t end up being the permanent AD (and we should all hope that she is), there will be no shortage of job offers waiting for her, in addition to adding “Took on a Legendary Head Football Coach and won” to her resume.
There was no happy ending to this story for anyone involved. Barring a wholly unrealistic offensive explosion over the next 4 games, Brian wasn’t going to meet Barta’s performance incentives (which were simultaneously inappropriate and pathetically easy to attain) and his contract was going to expire. Leaving him dangling in a tenuous position was not good for Brian, the football team, or the University and could only have served to prolong the national obsession with the “Drive for 325”. There was no win to be had here, only the possibility of shifting focus to any other number of positive things happening with UofI sports (WBB being in the pre-season Top 3 for one), and there’s an added bonus to releasing a Mt. Saint Helen’s worth of pressure that had to be weighing on a group of young men who were, effectively, playing to save their coach’s job every Saturday. In my opinion, Goetz made the right (and only) decision available: end the speculation and let the narrative return to the game being played on the field.
The announcement that Brian Ferentz will not return to the Iowa coaching staff next season likely resulted in a sigh of relief from a huge swathe of the Hawkeye fanbase, and rightly so. However, the announcement does not have any real significance until we find out two things:
- Who Kirk Ferentz chooses to replace Brian as the OC, and
- Whether that new coordinator will have the same kind of autonomy over the offense that Kirk has given to Phil Parker to run the defense
Let’s be honest, if Kirk Ferentz refuses to cede control over the offensive philosophy of this team, it doesn’t matter who replaces his eldest child at the helm, the results will be roughly similar.
A change is gonna come...
Whether he wants to accept it or not, the 2024 season will be the most significant season of Kirk Ferentz’s tenure at the University of Iowa. The new look B1G means flashy new teams for the Iowa fanbase to compare its moribund offensive outlook too. Sure, a lot of the new teams from the West Coast aren’t known for playing the kind of defense that is the hallmark of B1G football, but when you can rely on your offense to put up 35+ points a game, defense isn’t as large of a concern.
Also, just in case you were unaware, Oregon, Washington, and UCLA have top 40 scoring defenses and UCLA (4) and Oregon (18) are both in the top 20 for in YPP, so while USC’s defense gets the headlines for being terrible, the other 3 newcomers all boast good to great defenses (Washington is 51st in YPP). At present, 12 of the top 51 defenses will play in the B1G next year, Illinois and MSU are in the top half, and Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue are near the top of the bottom half. Of the 18 teams that will play in the B1G conference, only 1 school, USC, has a defense in the bottom 25% of CFB and it boasts an offense that can more than make up for it against a team like Iowa, that doesn’t seem to be able to offense its way out of a paper bag.
The B1G has added 4 top 50 offenses, and 3 top 50(ish) defenses for 2024 and while I’m not convinced that those offenses will be able to produce those kinds of numbers on a crisp November day in the Midwest, defense travels and outside of two locations, they probably won’t need to. Also, while Luke Fickell’s first year in Wisconsin hasn’t produced immediate results, the “Dairy Raid” will likely become formidable as he gets into year 2/3, and I think it’s safe to say that Matt Rhule will bring Nebraska’s offense back to something approaching respectability, as he has done with the Defense in year 1 (Top 20 in points, YPG, YPP). If Kirk just changes the name on the OC’s office door without loosening his grip on the offensive philosophy Iowa won’t be fighting to be the 2-4th B1G team in the playoffs, it will be fighting to tread water and get to 7-8 wins a season.
Focus your anger...
At the end of this road there is only one person who should be on the hook and that is Kirk Ferentz. I don’t know why he decided to make Brian the OC (I can only speculate), but I don’t recall feeling like it was a move to put a stranglehold on the offensive philosophy of the program. Personally, I felt, at the time, that elevating Brian to that role might just be what was necessary to move this offense into the 21st century and in those early years we did see some innovation (and two decent offensive years in 2017 – 28.2 ppg/2018 - 31.2 ppg). Unfortunately, it turned out that Brian did not have the ability to loosen his father’s iron-fisted grip on the offense, much to the detriment of the team. I’m going to be completely honest here, I have no idea if Brian Ferentz is a good offensive coordinator or not, because none of us know if he was ever given the chance to truly run his offense. It doesn’t matter now, but I wonder if there’s a version of the multiverse where Kirk gave his son the same autonomy he gives Phil Parker and it led to multiple CFP appearances and a Natty (a guy can dream right).
In his press conference on Tuesday Kirk said that he had access to the announcement that was released on Monday “over the weekend” and danced around a question about his future after this season. Kirk did what Kirk does and avoided directly answering any questions about Brian, the future of the OC, and all of the other, now irrelevant, questions asked by much of the Iowa press corps which ranged from the adult equivalent of “Do you still like Beth, if so check this box” to variations on “Do you still like your son”? I’m rarely impressed by the Iowa press corps, but they basically presented themselves as TMZ flacks yesterday. There are still 4 games left to play, maybe ask a damn question about football.
However, the one question that I thought deserved a real answer was answered in typical Kirk fashion, with a non-answer and some dithering about practice. Deacon Hill is still the starting QB and Joe Labas is the #2. I’ll just say this, Deacon Hill is obviously not prepared to handle the responsibility of being a starting QB in the B1G. In his one start, Joe Labas didn’t set the world on fire, but he also didn’t do anything that cost Iowa the game. Over the last 2 games Deacon Hill has completed 16 of 42 passes (38%), scored 1 TD on a sneak, and committed 3 turnovers (2 fumbles, 1 INT). If he’s the best we have in practice, this team is in serious trouble. I hope, more than anything, that Deacon balls out on Saturday and proves that Kirk’s faith in him is justified, but at this point it just feels like Kirk is prolonging the inevitable, especially as neither of these guys will supplant Cade McNamara as the #1 going into 2024.
So, up next is a de facto home game in the “Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field against a resurgent Northwestern team that has routinely handed Kirk Ferentz unexpected losses over his 2.5 decades at the helm. Playing in a baseball stadium brings its own challenges and all eyes will be on an Iowa team whose accomplishments will be over-shadowed by a lame-duck OC for at least one more week. Let’s hope that Wrigley will be as friendly to the “home team” as it was for the Cubs this year.
Let it go....
There’s one last thing I want to say, it’s time to ease up on the eldest Ferentz child. I’ve heard that over the last few months criticism of Brian has led to his children taking shit from their classmates in school. For a fanbase that goes out of it’s way to involve kids in myriad positive ways, hearing this made me just a tad sick. Brian knew the deal when he took the job, as did his father, and being criticized for a lack of performance is part of the gig, but his kids should not have to suffer the sting of his failures. I do not know how old his children are, but he is younger than me and I’m pretty sure he didn’t start having kids during his sophomore year of college, so let’s just try to reel things in a bit going forward.
At times our fanaticism for this team can lead us to de-humanize both coaches and players and it is imperative that we (again, I am as guilty as anyone else in this regard) remember that, off the field, the players and coaches that we, too often, berate are real people with real families, most of whom did not sign up to take the full brunt of a fanbase’s ire. I will try to be better, I hope the fanbase will join me.
As always, GO HAWKS!