Hawk Stock: Coaching Report Card

If you missed Part I of the Coaching Staff evaluations, click here to read it.


I’d give this staff an ‘A’ in player development, for reasons I stated near the end of the first part of this item.

I’d give this staff a ‘B’ in putting together offensive and defensive philosophies that are the best match for the recruiting battles they are most likely to win.  I’d give Norm Parker an ‘A-‘on the macro.  Were it not for so many Top 20 Iowa defenses through the years, this program would not have tasted the success it has enjoyed.

Once upon a time, I’d have given this staff an ‘A’ grade on special teams, but the second half of the Ferentz era has not been as crisp in this area.  Kickoff coverage has been an issue.  Iowa was 51st in kickoff yardage defense this year, 50th last year, 82nd in 2008, 107th in 2006 and 48th in 2004.  They were 1st in 2005, 10th in 2007 and 8th in 2009.  Given those issues, it’s also been disappointing to see so few kickoffs go for touchbacks in recent years.

Iowa has had solid punting for the majority of the Ferentz era which has also led to excellent punt return coverage.  They have had decent place kicking with the Nate Kaeding era being the high water mark.  However, missed field goals hurt the Hawks this year against Minnesota, where missed PAT conversions hurt Iowa against Arizona and  Wisconsin last year just to name some recent instances.

The biggest concern on special teams in recent years has been the frequency where Iowa’s opponents have successfully executed surprise special teams plays.  The fake punt against Wisconsin last year.  The fake field goal against Michigan State this year.  The onside kicks against Minnesota in each of the last two seasons.

Someone suggested on Soundoff following the 2011 Minnesota onside kick that the Iowa coaching staff is taken off guard by plays like this because they would never consider using such gadgetry themselves, therefor they cannot anticipate other coaches being so aggressive.

All this being said, the most consistent ‘underwhelming’ aspect of the Iowa football program in the Kirk Ferentz era has been the production, or lack there of, of the offense.

Take a look at some of these numbers as they correspond with Iowa’s NCAA statistical ranking in each of the categories:

Some of those stats are just ho-hum and some are shockingly poor. Some of them are also ancient history when it comes to today’s college football environment.

Here are two such numbers. Iowa ranked 33rd in the nation in scoring offense in 2008, just three years ago, with 30.31 points per game. In 2011, 30.31 points per game would rank 45th. In 2002, Iowa averaged 37.23 points per game, which was and is the most prolific offense in school history. In 2011, that point total which was the best in Iowa history, would have been 16th best in the nation.

The game is changing and it’s changing rapidly. Scoring 30.0 points in a season doesn’t make you special or dynamic anymore; it just makes you 46th in the nation in scoring offense in the 2011 world of college football.

Another stat to toss out was last season’s 22nd ranking in third down conversions.  Over the final four regular season games, Iowa was under 35 percent in converting third downs and they lost three of those four games and probably should have lost the fourth at Indiana.

The 11 year window of those stats is nothing to write home about, considering that a ranking of 58 puts you around the middle of the FBS during that time span.

However, the five-year trend is downright scary, and I don’t mean in an Oregon offense sort of way.


Iowa ranks in the bottom half of every one of those offensive categories I listed. The two most important numbers on this list, at least to me, are scoring offense and rushing offense.

Kirk Ferentz talks about wanting his offense to be balanced and I certainly respect that approach. To gain that balance in this program, the job starts on the ground. If you can’t run the ball given Iowa’s offensive philosophy, you have little chance of being successful anywhere on that statistical spectrum, with one important caveat; you better have a Top 10 scoring defense.

Iowa had that in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and they were 16th in 2004.

The two biggest statistical outliers in this grouping are 2004 and 2009.

The 2004 season remains my favorite season of Iowa football due to the near miracle that was performed. That team should never, ever have won a share of a Big Ten title with those offensive statistics, yet it did. You will not see another season like that as long as you live.

The 2009 season is also a statistical outlier. The 99th best rushing offense? The 86th best scoring offense? 70th in 3rd down conversions? How in the world did that team start 9-0 and win 11 games including an Orange Bowl?

Here is the answer: the 8th best scoring defense, the 11th best takeaway defense and the 4th best passing defense. Iowa’s total defense rank was 10th in the nation, but there wasn’t another defense in college football that had numbers inside the Top 11 in those first three categories I just listed. It was simply one of the three or four best defenses in college football and it was enough to overcome an offense that barely did enough. At times, it didn’t do enough and needed a blocked punt for a touchdown by Adrian Clayborn and a pinball interception return for a touchdown from Tyler Sash to spark victories.

None of this is to say that you can’t score a lot of points and win a lot of games with a pro-style offensive attack; Wisconsin and Stanford averaged 44 and 43 points, respectively, this year with pro-style offenses. Iowa still plays in the Big Ten and the ‘spread fancy’ is already waning a bit and most teams in this league will not be able to sustain success with that style of play at Big Ten latitudes, and certainly not in November.

However, something is missing in this Iowa offense and it has been for a long time and I really can’t say for sure what it is.

This program prides itself on being an offensive line factory, yet the rushing average over the past five years doesn’t suggest that.  Then again, when you are running similar sets each week in 2011 that you were running in 2003, opposing defenses might have a tell or two to play off of.

However, it’s unfair to lay the ‘blame’ for lack of better run production numbers solely at the feet of the linemen.

Iowa has featured a running back that is not quick through the hole and can’t hit home runs in many of the Ferentz era years.  There have been plenty of games where there were home run holes but the backs were just hitting singles and doubles.

The lack of a back with home run potential will hurt the offensive production numbers and hurts the offense’s ability to score easier which makes everything that much harder.

I love guys like Coker, Adam Robinson and Albert Young, but they are slower to get to and through the LOS, which makes the margin for error smaller along the line.  Players have to hold blocks longer, linebackers have a chance to get deeper into the hole to prevent plays from breaking longer, DB’s and LB’s aren’t punished more for being a step out of position, etc.

Iowa needs to add some lightning with its thunder, which will make things easier on everyone.

Look, when the Iowa offense is in a groove, it’s my favorite offense to watch.  I am not a spread fanatic and I like the balanced, pro-style attack Iowa has employed.  I like it because I think it’s the best offense Iowa can run given the types of players they are most likely going to bring into the program each signing day.

The day someone comes into this program and tries to play a finesse brand of football is the day you should cancel your season ticket order, unless you are just going to Kinnick Stadium for the parties because trouble will be right over the horizon.

This offense works.  This philosophy works.  The execution is just not there as much as it needs to be.  Iowa doesn’t have to be in the Top 25 in each of these categories to have great seasons, but it should be on the good side of 50/50.  More often than not, it just seems like Iowa digs itself too many holes.


I believe there is a reason why this program has a harder than usual time getting out of empty plays on first down to later convert on third down and it’s pretty simple; play action won’t work on third and five. Three and four receiving targets running routes into a defense setting up for the pass is going to be unsuccessful more often than it will be successful on third and five or longer.

I would guess a football coach reading this would say that most teams are not good on third and long and I won’t argue that.  But I just have this feeling, due to watching six or seven football games per week over the course of the last five or six years, that Iowa would rank near the bottom of those statistics among BCS conference teams.

Iowa did run more four and five wide sets this year than any other year I can recall.  However there were far too many instances of 311 personnel (3 receivers, one running back and one tight end) on the field in third and five or longer and teams have been scouting Iowa long enough to take care of that.

Simply put, the Iowa offense seems stale.  Or as someone tweeted me following Iowa’s loss at Nebraska, the Iowa offense smells like Aqua Velva.

Here is how Iowa has done on third down conversions (which is where you separate the men from the boys with the execution argument) in November in each of the past five seasons:

2011: 35.41%
2010: 34.04%
2009: 21.62% (this floored me)
2008: 50.00%
2007: 35.56%

So now the question some of you have is simple; who is to blame?  Is it Ken O’Keefe?  Is it Kirk Ferentz?

As you can see from the data, there is more than enough ‘evidence’ during the Ferentz era to support some sort of change.  I am not one of those types who feels people need to be placed on the football altar to appease the masses and I think one of the reasons Iowa has been successful is due to so much continuity on the coaching staff.

Given the years of mediocre to below mediocre offensive production at Iowa and the lack of obvious change, one can only assume that Ferentz is OK with the way things are on offense.  I am certain he’d like to see more points and a higher rate of execution, however we have to assume that he is comfortable with the status quo due to the status quo being the standard operating procedure some 13 years later.

Ferentz has often talked of football in simple terms, that it’s still a game where you have to execute.  If you do that, you win more than you lose.  If you don’t, you get what you deserve.

I don’t disagree with any of that and feel Iowa just needs to make some tweaks in philosophy, not wholesale changes.  Yet some things, or some situations, are easier to execute than others.  Rolling out 311 personnel all day (career) on third and long can lower your chances of successful execution.

The numbers bear that out. By the time your team gets to November, opponents have seven or eight games of your tape to analyze. They know your trends and tendencies. They know what you are going to roll out on third and five or longer. All too often, Iowa doesn’t do much to disappoint them and has only had one season (2008) among the last five where it could exert its will on the opposition. In that season, Shonn Greene on first and second down was the best cure for the third down ills.

(As an aside, I stick to my belief that the 2008 Iowa team was the most talented of the Ferentz era behind the 2002 Hawkeyes and a much better team than the 11-2 Hawkeyes in 2009.)

The biggest thing that has kept this football program from winning more than it has is an inconsistent offense…or one might say it’s because Ferentz is OK with it. What other conclusions can we draw there?  I’d have to say the offense is around the C-/D+ range.

The reality in the Ferentz era has been this; unless Iowa has a Top 20-ish defense nationally, it won’t win more than seven regular season games because the offense cannot carry its own weight and even then, it might not be enough.

I am not fond of those odds.

NEXT UP in our Hawk Talk Series: A recruiting analysis.  Why is Iowa having problems keeping defensive linemen in the program?  Should Iowa have dipped into the Junior College ranks LAST December?  Did they overestimate the talent they had on hand and where has that left this program, one that relies too heavily on steel curtain defensive lines to carry the day, heading into 2012?

  • William

    I don’t think they do not need to re-invent the wheel. Just some tweaks and good old fashioned extra practice.

    On offense, keep what they do but don’t be afraid to throw in something “illogical”. Do a calculated “fumblerooskie” or my dream that never happened the past couple of seasons is Marvin McNutt on a reverse heave a pass to another Iowa receiver. My dream was he would have done that against Nebraska or Michigan State or last year against Ohio State. Utilize his former passing talents. I just wish they can find a better way to pick up the blitz coming around the ends. Like the one that clobbered James in the Minnesota loss. I am relieved he never got a concussion on that one.

    Defense, figure a more honorable way to slow down the no-huddle that is so popular now. Or more aerobics for the linemen? Don’t do a Michigan State and pull some acting jobs as they were suspected of when they came to Iowa City. But something tells me alot of defense’s may complain of not getting a fair chance to get set.

    One thing that drives me crazy and it is not just Iowa but all levels of football. When you have a team within their own five yard line, you need to mercilessly smother them! How many times have I seen this, sadly Iowa has done this the past few seasons, of a team be on their own 2, get a first down. Then another. Then another and all of a sudden the momentum gets them down the field and score (most times) a touchdown. USC broke Iowa’s back in the 2002 Orange Bowl and I will not go to the Northwestern fiasco last year. If you smother them, even blitz, in that situation and they do break a big play, it will be more like a freak of nature. Much like the Chiefs hail Mary touchdown against the Bears last Sunday.

    • Joe3939

      You’re an idiot.  Iowa ran at least 2 reverse passes where McNutt was supposed to throw the ball in the last couple years, and the fumblerooski has been illegal for decades now.

      • William

        You know, I would never call you any names if you made a posting I may not agree with. I am sorry I caused such suffering with what I said. When you work weekends, you may not see entire games like you wish for. Have a nice day.

  • Jts87047

    Jon, Thanks for this heavy work.  It is very helpful.  This may sound like a dumb question, but does the coaching staff do this type of analysis? I have wondered.  I was particularly alarmed when, someone  blogged in to report his review of the NE game that on three 2nd and 10’s Iowa ran Coker into the right side of the line for no gain..surely not! I don’t believe the smallest classification h.s. team that I played on back in the day would have done something like that.  I so much like the surprises that Bill Snyder and H. Fry brought to the games…Kirk is very close friends to his staff and he is very sentimental…so I think it is almost too hard for him to make a major change. The only changes that have been made have either been internally of a coach left. 

    • James kalina

      Jon, so what’s your grade on the special teams for this staff?

      I think it ought to be a C with more weight given to the second half as opposed to the first half of Ferentz tenure at Iowa.

  • Schreibertrucking

    Time for a change on Offence ,Ken O’keefe needs to go.

  • Mgthawk

    I seriously think there is a certain amount of complacency that has set in with this staff.  Ferentz knows he’s secure and he’s not going anywhere.  Barta wouldn’t have the guts to change anything for at least several losing years.  The rest of the staff feels safe because they know Ferentz is very loyal and change adverse.

    So, what do you get.  A very stagnant and let’s play it safe philosophy.  We’d rather go 6-6 or 7-5 and keep our safe and secure jobs than take any calculated risks and possibly get to 9-3 or 10-2 or better.

    I’m not saying to throw the baby out with the bath water as there are some good coaches and schemes.  What they all need to do is take a LONG look in the mirror and decide whether they are coaching it safe and not to lose rather than coaching and playing to win.  Analyze your tendencies and then fight them.  Give the opposition something else to think and worry about.

    The definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

    • nzhawkeye

      You’ve said it well – while I agree winning 9 games in Iowa is much more difficult than most places settling and playing “safe” football is not worth watching for me. How many times this season did we take a knee at the half when there was ample time for many offenses to at least position themselves for a field goal. Not to mention that it says something to the guys playing offense about the trust they have. It’s funny that KF talks about needing a balance of run and pass which purpose is to throw defenses off as to what they’ll be looking at play to play, but are unwilling to do anything even remotely innovative or aggressive. There is an inherent difference in philosophy between Wisc. and Iowa – you can see it in the aggression and way that things are done. Wisconsin can’t have that much of an easier time recruiting and creating a program than Iowa and yet I think the difference is in the philosophy and maybe even dare I say passion. To use another metaphor are we going to be grinders and eek out a living or make educated gambles. I personally would rather watch an aggressive 5-7 team than a vanilla “let’s not lose” 7-5 team… 

  • Danejens

    My bigest frustations are the staffs’ apparent rigidity when it comes to making any significant changes and the sentiment that “we are only Iowa; we are not a ‘sexy’ program,’ therefore, we should not expect more than 7 win seasons. Several years ago when money was needed to refurbish the stadium and contributions were required to get season tickets, the athletic administration marketed Iowa as an elite program worthy of improved financial support.I believe the university got that, but what has the fan received in return?

    • Jts87047

      l agree.  I kind of flinch when I hear him say these things and others such as to Tim Brando’s show were he mentioned we only win by a few points and lose by a few points and he sounded proud of that. I think the players and staff actually are likely to see these sayings reach fruition. From what I know of Kirk he doesn’t seem to put much stock in the so called “Positive Thinking Self Talk School”. I think a more positive vision would help.

  • On the offensive struggles part-and-parcel of that is talent acquisition. As you said, two of the three top WR prospects in the state(already a very small pool of talent to begin with) headed to UM. Not that the defense has been gifted with loads of talent but, the offense really needs skill position talent that they haven’t been able to consistently bring in. Part of that need is because it is a predictable scheme/s and players aren’t going to fool the defenses with unexpected formations and plays run out of those formations. Maybe, it’s simply a case where skill players are largely “born-not-made”. McNutt being an aberration. I’m not sure, however, that Iowa’s recruiting base fits a lot of the “new” offensive schemes well like the zone-read. There’s a lot of offenses running spread types of attacks and many of those are close to recruiting bases that produce that kind of talent. Iowa is likely going to continue an OL oriented offense because that’s the strength of Ferentz as a teaching coach, and that’s also the strength of the Iowa/Midwest recruiting pool. As a region we produce NFL OL better than anyone and that is really the only unit we can presently say that about. Iowa “isn’t sexy” as KF says and isn’t likely to attract a lot of marquee kids from places like Texas(Hayden did, but was uniquely suited to get Texans), Florida and the rest of the deep south that really excel at that offense. A version of Northwestern’s pass-spread offense with similar talent would not likely produce a significantly better offense either. I do believe Iowa can learn a lot from Paul Chryst and Jim Harbaugh ‘s Stanford offense, though. Very similar offensive styles to that of Iowa’s but more innovative in play calling and in Stanford’s case, blocking schemes. The solution then, IMO, improve some of the recruiting of the staff, don’t change the basic offensive structure but adapt to a more varied blocking and play calling structure. Over the long-haul I don’t think it’s fair to believe that Iowa can be OSU in wins and losses but, what they can do is make the kinds of moves in terms of better recruiting from the staff and modest but important offensive changes that will ensure that Iowa is improving and not being left behind as a moderately successful school but overwhelmed by “brand” teams and more innovative coaches at their peer schools.

  • Grady

    Myth #1:  “Iowa is a great running team.”  They are not, and generally haven’t been for a long time.  KF talks about run-pass ‘balance’ as tho the only way to have the run part of the ‘balance’ is to run off-tackle.  Many spread offense teams have better running stats than Iowa.  You can run off the spread formation…surprise!

    Totally agree on the lack of innovative play-calling and blocking schemes within the traditional run game.  How often did Iowa pitch the ball to Coker to let him build up a head of steam?  Would you rather meet Coker at the LOS on an off-tackle play or on the edge after he’s built up momentum?  With Ferentz we have one of the best centers in the league — how often does he pull to help with blocking on the outside sweep?  KF talks about how we have some of the smallest O-linemen in the BTen — if Wisconsin’s huge linemen can pull, why can’t Iowa’s?

    Myth #2:  “It’s all about execution.”  In college football, it’s rare when all 11 players on offense OR defense execute to perfection on ANY play, let alone on MOST plays.  They are kids.  The reason the spread offense is so effective is because it forces defenders to play in space, and if there is one “failure to execute” on the defensive side it often results in a 15-20 yd gain.  Compare that to Iowa’s run offense, where if one D-lineman misses a tackle there are 1-2 more LBs there to make the tackle.  Misdirection on offense is another factor which increases the chances of a defender to “fail to execute”.  Iowa’s offense is predicated on all 11 players executing perfectly — which simply isn’t a reasonable expectation at the college level, and our scheme makes it forgiving for defenses even when there IS a single defensive breakdown.

    It’s no surprise Iowa consistently ranks in the bottom half of the country offensively.
    And will continue to do so without changes.

  • Wilcox Austin

    Would you mind running the offensive numbers on a “Per Play” basis? To say we have a low Total Offense says more about our deliberate, slow style of play than it does ineptitude. When the rest of the country is running a passing play every 15 seconds while we run the ball every 25 seconds, of course we will have a low ranking Total Offense.

  • Louiue4482

    when will you people realize nothing will ever change as long as Ferentz is here.Parker should do the Iowa program a favor and retire,because Ferentz will never get rid of him.if you can’t go out and recruit and be on sidelines on gameday you need to go.The offensive side of the ball is a total joke.If you don’t think Ferentz basically calls the plays you’re an idiot,Ferents runs a dictatorship and everything that happens on the coaching side is on Ferentz.From play calling to who plays, and most importatly game management it’s all on Ferentz.Besides developing players which I would give him an A+ everything other phase is a C to F.we just have to accept until he leaves.we should feel out Stoops interest in future when at Bowl game.    

  • MLW22

    “I think one of the reasons Iowa has been successful is due to so much continuity on the coaching staff”…  Complete baloney!  Don’t ever say that again and correct everyone you hear saying it – look at the Michigan 2010 staff and results vs the new 2011 staff and results.  Basically the same players – Entirely new staff.  Ferentz and Norm can stay, but the offensive side of the ball needs to go.  Another issue no one talks about is the “Hayden Fry Coaching Tree” vs the Ferentz Coaching Tree!  If the current assistants are good, why are they still here? basically all doing the same jobs since 1999?  Obviously Kirk and Norm are not who I’am pointing at but everyone on else is being questioned 

  • Jeffbuck7

    Prediction: Next year is KF’s last year. He’ll serve out James’ senior year, then retire or take another job. 

  • Hammer Pants

    I am continually impressed with your ability to add scientific validity to my gut feelings. 

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