With the reference last week to the Once and Future King, and the royal wedding over the weekend (goddamn monarchists), it got me thinking of successions. In Iowa, Kirk Ferentz certainly could be called a king. He’s been the highest paid state employee for quite a while, has been around for almost 2 decades, is going to pass the great Hayden Fry as the all-time winningest coach in Iowa history this coming season. He’s also seemingly setting up his first born son, Brian Ferentz, to take over for him after he retires.
After the magical 2015 season Ferentz was essentially given a lifetime contract extension. A massive 10 year contract, through the 2026 season, with a buyout so prohibitive that his seat is never hitting even room temperature. Just a few seasons prior, Ferentz brought Brian on his staff after Brian had spent a couple of years as the tight ends coach for the Patriots. After the 2016 season, and mostly disastrous results for 5 seasons, Greg Davis “retired”, and that paved the way for Brian to step into the OC role at the age of 33.
Succession plans for other famous coaches’ kids have not exactly worked out well. So what makes this situation any different? Ultimately, not much. But there are some signs that Kirk has at least attempted to give Brian as of a shot as he can.
When Brian was given the OC job, they also brought two former OCs on staff (former Iowa OC, and Kirk’s coaching mentor, Ken O’Keefe; and North Dakota St. Bison OC Tim Polasek). Giving Brian two sounding boards to help grow into his position. O’Keefe representing the old school, Kirk-centric offensive philosophy; and Polasek adding some more newer tactics and wrinkles that Iowa hasn’t really used much under Kirk.
In his inaugural season as offensive coordinator, Brian didn’t immediately disqualified himself by obvious incompetence. But it was wildly inconsistent. Putting up one of the most impressive offensive outings in program history one week, and literally the very next week, putting up possibly the worst performance in the history of Iowa football. The advanced stats didn’t exactly know what to do with Iowa’s offense, either. Football Outsiders has two measurements for offense, S&P+ and FEI. Iowa ranked 106th and 42nd, respectively. That’s a giant gap. And while they were still Iowa, Brian did improve how predictable the offense was. No longer were you guaranteed to know the play based purely on formation groups.
Even though the AD, Gary Barta, is a feckless wimp, Brian will still have to prove himself as a capable OC before being coronated. And Kirk, ultimately, will have to get the hell out of the way to let him do that. I’m not entirely sure he’s capable of doing that. It’ll be an interesting to see how that tug of war plays out over the next few seasons.