There will be a new lightning rod in Iowa City next season.
Greg Davis’ retirement as the Iowa football program’s offensive coordinator opens one of the most important and one of the most frequently criticized jobs on the Hawkeye staff.
Much like Ken O’Keefe before him, right or wrong Davis took the heat for the shortcomings of the Iowa offense in recent seasons.
It goes with the turf. Always has. Always will.
Davis got that.
He was Texas tough when he arrived at Iowa, hardened by 13 seasons in the same role in one of the country’s blueblood programs.
Prior to working his final game with the Hawkeyes last week in the Outback Bowl, Davis recalled a conversation he had with legendary former Texas coach Darrell Royal on a flight back to Austin after the Longhorns had won the 2005 BCS national title game.
“He said, ‘Boy, you checked the last thing off the list,’ and I said, ‘What are you talking about, coach? He said, ‘When you come here they give you a list. You checked the last thing off the list last night.’ I said, ‘Oh, thank you coach,’ and he said, ‘And when this plane lands they’re going to give you another list,’’’ Davis said.
That’s the nature of the beast and that won’t change with whoever coach Kirk Ferentz selects to become just his program’s third offensive coordinator in 19 seasons.
The work of Brian Ferentz as the Hawkeyes’ offensive line coach for five seasons and run game coordinator for the past two years positions the soon-to-be 34-year-old son of the Iowa coach to be a frontrunner for the position.
The Hawkeyes have rushed for 2,544 and 2,234 yards the past two seasons, producing a pair of 1,000-yard rushers this season in LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley who worked behind an offensive front which was recognized as the nation’s best in winning the Joe Moore Award.
An Iowa City native and former Hawkeye, Brian Ferentz spent four seasons growing as a coach on the staff of Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots, working as a scouting and coaches assistant in addition to coaching tight ends in the NFL before returning to the college game.
This could be the right time for Ferentz to take the next step in his career, although questions of nepotism — Brian Ferentz currently reports to director of athletics Gary Barta rather than Kirk Ferentz — and whether the Iowa coach would want to put his son in a position to take the arrows that accompany the offensive coordinator’s job description would need to be considered.
Ferentz could look to other coaches with ties to the program.
Current Indianapolis Colts assistant head coach and offensive line coach Joe Philbin, the Hawkeyes’ offensive line coach from 1999-02, and former Hawkeye walk-on quarterback and current Green Bay Packers offensive line assistant David Raih, whose coaching resume includes stops at UCLA and Texas Tech, are possibilities.
Ferentz could also turn to a coach from outside the program.
He may have some options and an opportunity for creativity to fill a void which also includes finding an assistant to work with Hawkeye quarterbacks, a role also filled by Davis.
An NCAA proposal to be voted on this spring would allow the hiring of a 10th assistant coach for programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
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Whoever Ferentz settles on, don’t expect Iowa’s new hire to reinvent the wheel.
The Hawkeyes have invested their offensive fortunes in building stout, sturdy lines to provide opportunities for a pro-style attack to succeed.
While striving for balance, Iowa’s calling card throughout the Ferentz era — and in Hayden Fry’s tenure prior to that — has been the ability to successfully move the ball on the ground.
That can’t and shouldn’t change. If you look at the teams which have traditionally succeeded in the Big Ten, that approach is at the core of what they do.
There certainly is room for growth in the Hawkeye attack.
Iowa averaged 153.2 passing yards per game during its recently-completed 8-5 season — numbers unquestionably impacted by injuries and the program’s lowest total since averaging 129.3 passing yards in 1981 — but throughout most of his five seasons Davis’ approach to the passing game never really connected with the power-based run attack Iowa features.
The Hawkeyes do need to go vertical a little more frequently in the passing game, but they don’t need to become basketball on grass.
Finding a balance between effective short, ball-control passes and the threat of the long ball to stretch a defense is as important in today’s game as is finding the right blend between the run and the pass.
The lack of experienced depth at the receiver positions combined with injuries and a general inability to create separation led to the collective struggles in the passing game in 2016, something that whoever becomes Iowa’s new offensive coordinator must work to solve quickly while breaking in a new starting quarterback.