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KIRK SPEAKS: Tim Lester Edition

Let’s meet Iowa’s new offensive coordinator

Syndication: Iowa City Press-Citizen
‘don’t try any funny business, tim’ - kirk
Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Well folks, the day is here. Kirk Ferentz met with the media yesterday and brought with him newly appointed offensive coordinator Tim Lester. Seth Wallace also made an appearance to talk about his promotion, but if you want to hear about that, read the transcript. Let’s skip right to the meat, shall we? Check out the aforementioned transcript here, and my offseason highlights, complete with snark! below.

Let’s start at the very beginning...

KIRK FERENTZ: If I can bring Tim up just to say a couple words about Tim and the search in particular.

It appears there’s a lot of interest in this position, has been, and also the timeline.

But basically, as I said back in December, my first and foremost concern and most of my time was just focused towards our football team. It’s my number one responsibility. That was that little bit of research, that type of thing, on the coordinator deal.

The bottom line is this, the whole key to this thing was to ensure that we got the best person and the right person for this position, and that was the goal from start to finish.

The bottom line is I want to do what’s best for our team and best for our program, and I’m confident that we landed the mark there.

Roughly in rough terms, probably had a list of maybe 10-12 people, had conversations with six, and extensive conversations with four. When it came down to it, in my mind at least we had four candidates that were qualified in my mind to do the best job, and it was just to figure out who the best person for that would have been.

When you look at Tim and what I’ve discovered, he’s had a wide range of experiences. I certainly knew of Tim and was aware of his background, especially at Western Michigan. As I did a little research, learned a lot about the wide range of experiences that he had, some things, his story basically, I know I felt good about it, was very impressed, and as we open the door and let the staff learn more about him and spend time with him, everybody walked away feeling pretty good about things.

In my mind he’s a good fit for us, and that’s first and foremost. Similar in a lot of ways to I think the way we’ve operated, yet a lot of different perspectives, too, new perspectives. That’s part of moving forward, obviously getting different ideas, different views, and trying to implement them in a way that we all believe will work for us.

Feel confident about the way the process worked, and pleasure to bring Tim up here to say a couple words.

Ah yes, Tim Lester is definitely the guy who Kirk had first on his list and was the only person he thought could do the job. Paul Chryst didn’t turn it down or anything like that. Nope.

Also: “similar in a lot of ways to the wave we’ve operated” Cool. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Because it doesn’t matter who the new boss is, when his boss isn’t open to change.

But, let’s hear him out, shall we?

TIM LESTER: I’d like to start off by thanking Coach Ferentz and Beth Goetz for this opportunity. My family and I are extremely excited to be moving to Iowa City and be a part of this football program.

The one thing I know everybody wants to know is what we’re going to be about, and I can tell you right now that we’re going to be a physical football team. We’re going to be disciplined, and we’re going to be aggressive in everything we do, from run game to pass game to keepers to RPOs to tempos.

One thing I’ve learned in my time as a former quarterback, quarterback coach, offensive coordinator, head coach at pretty much every level, it’s about putting your players in the best position to succeed.

Unfortunately, I’ve only been here a couple days and haven’t had a chance to meet all the players other than a couple that were in the hallway in the last couple days, but I’m excited to get to work with those guys and to figure out their strengths, their weaknesses, figure out where we can put them in positions to have success to help our football team win.

It’s going to be a process. We’re excited to get started as soon as possible. We started the moment we hit the ground running.

But I am excited to work with all of you to answer all your questions, but most importantly, I have a saying, RBO, ‘relationship before opportunity.’ I’ll have a great opportunity to coach these young men once I have a relationship with them. So that process is going to start real soon, and we’re looking forward to having the opportunity to have some fun out there and be aggressive at all times.

RPO, huh? Putting players in the best position to succeed? Ok well, you’ve got me there. I don’t think we saw that from the last guy. Relationship before opportunity is a nice mindset as well from a coaching perspective. As for aggressive at all times...I’m going to hold off on assessing that.

Beth Goetz also stepped in here to congratulate Wallace and Lester, and threw some affirmation Kirk’s way. Not really super quotable, but I wanted to mention it. Let’s get to the meat and potatoes.

Q. I wanted to ask you about the offenses that Tim has put together, relies heavily on RPO and 11 personnel. Iowa does do a lot of 11 personnel, but also kind of a foundation that’s more under center. How do you anticipate kind of the marriage going, and what are kind of the keys that you think will help the RPO game work here at Iowa with what you have?

KIRK FERENTZ: It’s kind of funny, my first blush was crossover film through the years. You can watch people, and the first thing I think of is 12 personnel with them. They ran the ball extremely well. To that point, what you said is correct, as well.

That’s the key component here. He has a real diverse background. He’s experienced in a lot of different areas, as were many of the candidates, and that’s attractive.

Last year being in Green Bay, being on the defensive side, yet part of his response, and I don’t want to speak for him, but part of his job was to analyze the offense that Green Bay would face each and every week, so forget about the preseason, but got to study 17 games and two playoff games.

It’s like a year of research, and I’ve always joked about it would be great to have a sabbatical like professors and go research, study. The bad news is it usually means you got fired the year before when you get to do that in our business, but it was a wonderful opportunity to just put it to good use.

Long story short, he has a real extensive knowledge of offensive football, and then the most important thing in any year is knowing who your players are, where their strengths and weaknesses are, and then trying to get them in the right spot, and that came across clear during the conversation portion of things over time. This offense is all about figuring out who we’ve got to get the ball to and then working from there, and hopefully we’ll have a couple people to get the ball to, not just one or two.

This is...a weird answer and a classic Kirk dodge of a fine question. ‘Boy Tim, I sure wish I had been fired so I could have had your job last year!’

Q. I’m sure as you studied Tim’s background at Syracuse, Western Michigan, even the Packers, I’m curious where you landed in terms of where his potential was offensively and what you liked about his track record at all his stops.

KIRK FERENTZ: I think I’d look more at the last six, seven, eight years probably, Purdue on. With all due respect to Syracuse at that time, because I don’t read a lot of feedback, but I did read somebody took a shot at that one.

My first thought was okay, if you evaluated my career at Maine, I probably still wouldn’t be standing here. I never would have been standing here. We were 12-21 at Maine.

You can go back, and I think you have to quantify and qualify everything you look at.

It’s like our team last year, I think there are pretty obvious reasons why we struggled offensively. It doesn’t take a detective to figure that out.

What I’ve looked at and focused more so, the job he did with David Blough at Purdue and then the entire body of work at Western Michigan. You consider the MAC schools, they typically play at least two games that you’re fighting, swimming uphill, upstream, and look at some of the wins that they had and some things they did, beating Pitt in ‘21, there’s some really impressive things there, but more it’s about the big picture.

Then last year’s experiences really factored in, too. You try to examine the entire resume, try to talk to a lot of people that have worked with him and know him pretty intimately, and then project is this candidate going to be a good fit.

Felt really good about it, the work I did on the front end, and then certainly with our staff getting involved.

Everybody gets involved in the interview process, making phone calls, all that type of thing, so it’s pretty thorough, pretty extensive.

Because of that, I feel really good about where we’re at.

Lol at the veiled shot at Chad there. We should have known that Kirk would go for A: a MAC Guy and B: a MAC Guy who beat Pitt. We should have known.

Q. When you got to the point of the interview process where you were interacting with Tim on a face-to-face more kind of personal basis, what struck you and made you feel like that relationship could be one that could work really well?

KIRK FERENTZ: It’s kind of interesting. Tim’s situation is a little bit unique, but there were a couple, three, maybe four people that worked with him that I really trust and value their opinions, and I know a couple of them have personal connections to this program. One person in particular, we have a past relationship. He was a player a long time ago for me that worked with him — so when you talk to those people and they know what we’re about and they know what he’s about, it’s reassuring because a huge part of anything we do — we all spend more time with each other than we do with our wives and families.

The first thing is you want to bring somebody in the building who is not going to be like everybody else but who is going to share some common goals and realize this thing is bigger than any one of us individually.

That came across real clearly.

Then when you get into the personal part of it and the personal interaction, the staff interaction, then hopefully that comes across to everybody and everybody feels the same way, and I think, again, I feel really good about how our staff felt about Tim and their exposure to him and the things they learned, too, when they did their homework and research. But this was a group effort for everybody.

To be involved I think is important, and for everybody to — maybe not be unanimous on the vote necessarily but everybody saying, yeah, could really see this guy being really successful with us and then letting him go to work.

So, who’s the former player he’s talking about here? Also, don’t think I missed Kirk saying it wasn’t a unanimous decision! Not that it needs to be - it’s Kirk’s call to make, but still. Not lost on me.

Q. In the RPO game there’s a lot more slants that are involved and probably more slants than you guys have run recently. Do you look at that as a positive for this offense and getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands at a mesh point, and how can that help elevate moving the ball down the field and the way you want it to be moved?

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, it’s not something we haven’t ever considered or we’re blind to. It’s kind of like I touched on earlier, part of Tim’s job is going to be to figure out what do we want to emphasize. You can only practice so many things and emphasize so many things and do them well. But if that’s something we deem to be good for our offense and fits in the package and we can execute it and not take away from other things, it’s a balancing act a lot of times. But yeah, I’m open to anything right now, any ideas.

The whole idea is advance the ball and help yourself, and hopefully in theory there you’re helping yourself in the running game. You’re also helping yourself in the passing game. It starts with not having a negative yardage play. That’s the first way to kill an offense, besides turnovers. That’s the worst.

I think one thing I would interject, with his head coaching experience, it came across, and that wasn’t a requisite, but it’s certainly a plus in my mind because if you’re paying attention, you really have an appreciation for how football is complementary and how one thing affects the other. We’ve been pretty good on defense. Obviously we want to be better offensively, and we have been better. We want to get back to that.

But just how one thing affects the other. You’ve got to be really sensitive to that because as much as things change in football, and I know entertainment value is a big thing in this day and age, but it’s still about winning, and that’s really where my focus was 25 years ago, and it’s going to stay there. That’s what we’re trying to do is win games if we’re going to keep score, which I’m pretty sure — someday we’ll play without equipment, I’m convinced of that, but they’ll probably still keep score.

Tim, will you pledge to only focus on complementary football? If so, I will hire you. - Kirk Ferentz, probably.

Q. You were quoted in the past as kind of downplaying the total offense stat. I believe you were quoted in the Big Ten Network as saying it was the most overrated stat in football. Do you stand by that? I noticed in the press release about Tim’s hiring that his numbers at Western Michigan specifically in total offense were cited. Do you still believe that’s a stat —

KIRK FERENTZ: Is that in the context of making this hire? Is that for clarification, me talking about total offense?

Q. As far as goals and criteria for evaluating Tim’s performance.

KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, I’ll give you what I was referring to specifically and then I’m going to step aside and let everybody else talk. But basically my reference is it’s an interesting — believe it or not, I do pay attention to what goes on nationally, and I’ve kind of been fascinated through my career. There’s certain guys that get reputations. In fact, I worked with one 26 years ago. Do the math here, 26, 27 years ago — no, holy smokes, 35 years ago, okay. It was a guy who it was all about him and it was all about the next job, so it was all about his numbers, and the place I was at had a pretty prolific quarterback. In fact, we actually had two really good ones, but it was all about what he was trying to do, his agenda.

Over my career, I’ve noticed there are certain people — I’m not saying that’s all they’re thinking about, but it’s more about their portion of the equation, if you will. I really don’t gravitate towards people like that.

I’m kind of fascinated — I am a little petty; sometimes I’ll do a little research, and that’s where the wins per game stat came from. So it’s possible for a guy to really try to emphasize what it is he does, make himself look pretty good. Meanwhile, the team is winning seven, eight games, which I’m not making fun of that by any stretch. Every game to win is tough.

But when that starts taking away from what the team might be able to do, I really am not interested. I have no interest. I’ve just never gravitated towards that type of person, I guess.

I’m just not big into self-promotion, not big into look at me guys. Sometimes those guys are really good, and the coach does deserve credit. I’m all for that. There’s a reason why things happen typically.

But I think, again, it gets back to what’s the bigger picture. Are we trying to be a showy offensive team or a high-blitz team or whatever, and that stuff is all great until you’re giving up the big play, or on offense you turning it over to the other team and all of a sudden your defense is out there defending 20 yards.

Everything goes together, I guess, and I’ve just never been fascinated with that glitzy stuff sometimes that a lot of people get distracted by.

We’re just trying to build a team. We’re trying to build a team on the field that’s going to be able to get the job done and hopefully at the end of the game win, and fortunately we’ve been on the right side of that more than not, so try to stay there and try to improve on that. That’s our goal.

Offense is a big part of that. That’s our goal. I’m not minimizing that. If we can hold them to 500 yards and hold them to 150, awesome, unless we’re getting six punts blocked. There’s something everywhere.

This is an extremely telling answer here. We’ll get into Tim’s questions and answers but this is the reason Kirk chose him, right here. Kirk’s greatest fear is turning the ball over (unless it involved a certain quarterback last year) and he will do anything in his power to prevent it. Listen, it’s true, winning is all that matters. But this answer tells me exactly what everyone has thought for this entire process, and part of why I think most people, myself included, are a bit miffed at the hire: Kirk says he’s allegedly open to anything right now when it comes to building this offense, but this answer says otherwise. He wants to do exactly the same things he’s focused on for 25 years.

I mean, HE WON THE BIG TEN WEST LAST YEAR GUYS.

Pay no attention to the fact that he couldn’t score points against any team with a number in front of their name, but yeah, let’s just keep the same philsophy forever, no matter who’s calling the plays.

But again, let’s hear him out...

Q. I think there’s a lot of questions about the wide receiver usage. Iowa has only had one wide receiver with 600 or more yards since 2016. It’s a position that comes with a lot of ego and wanting touches. Coming into Iowa City, how are you going to reinvent the wide receiver positions because I think you said in your opening comments you want to put a product that people want to be a part of, so from a strictly wide receiver perspective, how are you planning to do that?

TIM LESTER: Well, obviously wide receivers are a huge part, no matter what you’re running, schematically. But putting them in position is the biggest key.

Through my time in coaching, I think we’ve been around quite a bit of pretty good ones, and we’ve been able to find ways to get the ball in their hands. There’s a lot of ways to do that, whether it’s screens, whether it’s straight drop-back, whether it’s putting them in the backfield. The flexibility of an offense is key.

I haven’t had a chance to meet all the wide receivers yet, but I want to make sure that the quarterback understands that we are going to spread the ball around and he’s going to read his keys as he’s supposed to. It’s my job to make sure that one of those first couple options is the guy that we want it to be.

Had some success with that and plan on keeping it going.

Ok, checking the appropriate boxes here.

Q. I’ve been studying the 2021 season because that was a terrific offensive year for Western Michigan. I’m curious what you remember about that season in terms of the production, how that could maybe apply to what you want to do here. I see a lot of things here like rushing attempts, time of possession. The wins were good ball security, those types of things.

TIM LESTER: Yeah, I think we were top 10 in the country in time of possession. Never huddled, which was unique.

Team, I felt like we did a good job running the ball, finding our run lanes, and the pass comes after that. We never even talk about throwing the ball until we figure out how to move the ball on the ground.

That was an explosive team. The one thing that people don’t — maybe it’s because I’m a quarterback, always have been and coaching them. We’re going to do what that person does best, and Kaleb was good at it.

Before that we had Jon Wassink was my first couple years our quarterback, and he was great at drop-back, going through a progression. That was his thing.

I just saw a trophy, the Campbell trophy in there. Jon was a finalist for that, which is an award that Jack won. Jon was a finalist when Justin Herbert won it.

It changes every year depending on who you have and what he does well. That guy behind the center matters.

Figuring out what he does well, because if you have a flexible enough offense, we can call it anyway he wants it. That year Kaleb was really good at the RPOs. We had some pretty dynamic wide receivers, D’Wayne Eskridge and Skyy Moore. We had two second-round draft picks out there running around. So that combination that year was a great mix. We had a great combination with Jake upstairs and me on the field.

Yeah, every experience can help us moving forward, but we’ve got to figure out kind of what we’ve got and what’s the best way for us to be efficient, aggressive, run the ball and help the team win, and we’ll do those things whatever they are.

God, it will certainly be refreshing to have a guy in the room who can actually...coach a quarterback. The emphasis on the run here was definitely a selling point for Kirk as well.

Q. Sidelines or press box for a game? And Cade McNamara is likely going to miss most of the spring. What is the challenge when your starting quarterback is not available to you on the field for spring ball in trying to implement your offense?

TIM LESTER: I would say to the first question, A. Question A, I would say up. I prefer being up. I like to see the game from up there. I think being an offensive coordinator is about making adjustments. I’ve called games for a long time. I was a head coach at I want to say 24 years old or 25 years old, so I think I’ve called a game with 70 passes, and I’ve called 70 runs in a game. You have to make adjustments as it’s happening because they have a plan, too.

When you’re having to think and make adjustments, I just think being in the environment up in the booth is a way better learning environment than sometimes on the sideline where it gets very emotional.

I know as the head coach I had to call from the sidelines, so that guy up in the booth was the most important person in the world to me, that we thought the same way.

But it became my preference. Pretty sure I’ll be up.

The second half of your question is the one thing I would tell you is we need to get the horses to the race. Whenever Cade is ready to go, I’m looking forward to working with him. But there is absolutely zero way that you can discount his experience. When you have experience in playing in games, I’m very confident that he’ll pick it up when it’s time, when he’s healthy, when he’s ready. If he didn’t have a ton of experience, I’d be more scared, more worried.

But he’s got to get healthy and be good to go when he gets his chance, and he’ll be out there every single day we’re out there whether he can throw it or not. He’ll get a lot of learning in, but he has played games, and that is invaluable when it comes to quarterback play, so I’m excited about that part of it.

Thank God, an offensive coordinator who wants to see the field. That will certainly be nice.

His answer about Cade...is somewhat frustrating to me. I get where he’s coming from, and I’m guessing he’s politicking a little here, but at this point, we’re looking at a guy who has been injured nearly as much time as he’s been on the field. At what point do you need to say, yeah, we might need to look at another option here? Again, I don’t know what he’s supposed to say here, but put me down as absolutely SMASHING the under of Cade McNamara seeing the field for a full season next year.

Let’s end with this (but there’s a lot more in the transcript):

Q. How much do you value mobility at the quarterback position, and will that be a priority moving forward when recruiting?

TIM LESTER: I value efficiency at the quarterback position. Mobility would be a bonus. If I can get both, 100 percent I’m all for it. Who doesn’t want that, right? But there has to be efficiency first, and I think sometimes people get enamored with the mobility, and when they have to drop back on a 3rd down to get us a 1st down or a two-minute drill to go win us the game, we can’t fall short in that scenario. You have to play quarterback first. You have to be able to move the sticks with your feet, and the more you can do, the more we can do when it comes to running the ball.

It’s a great icing on the cake if you can have it, so I’m always looking for it, but I’m not going to go away from a guy that I think can really execute an offense and make throws and be efficient as a quarterback just because if he can’t do that, I’m not going to just take him because he can run a little faster.

Yeah, that’s a classic Iowa answer right there. No surprises.

All in all for me, I think Tim answered the questions above and the questions I didn’t mention but are in the transcript well. For me, the fact that he wants to mold his offense around what he has speaks volumes. I don’t think we ever got that from Brian, and look at the results. Again, I just wonder what he will actually be allowed to do. I’m all for giving him a chance, but I think the skepticism is more than ok.

Win us over Tim, and you’ll make a lot of people happy. Good luck.