IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz knows his offense needs to improve. And the 24-year-old Iowa football head coach firmly believes he already has the coaches and players on hand to make it happen.
At his first press conference in 32 days, Ferentz had many important topics to cover, including the history of the advisory group which dominated the headlines for a week in mid-Januaryhis new contract which takes his employment during the 2029 season and recruitment. (Wednesday was the second national signing day, after all, and Iowa added a scholarship rookie in Michigan defensive back Deshaun Lee.)
But arguably the most pressing topic on the field, anyway, was what could be done to fix the Hawkeyes’ offense that ranked 121st out of 130 FBS teams in 2021 at just 303 yards per game. Remarkably, Iowa still put together a 10-4 record and reached the Big Ten Championship Game, which naturally promotes the following line of thought: if only the offense could improve a bit… maybe the Hawkeyes could take the next step forward (and not get beaten by a 42-3 margin at Indianapolis).
“I bet on us, if that’s how you mean it,” Ferentz said. “…I think we have good staff.”
Defending this approach, Ferentz said he didn’t shake things up too much after dismal offensive seasons in 2004 and 2007. When asked if changes to the scheme would be necessary or not, he instead talked about victories and defeats.
“For the past four years, we’ve been second in conference wins. That’s our ultimate goal,” Ferentz said. “It’s not just about winning, but obviously when we line up and play on Saturdays, that’s what we try to do.
“For me, that’s what I’m obsessed with. If they have the ball for 40 minutes and we have it for 20 minutes and we win, I’m glad we won.
If we feel like we’ve heard this kind of feedback from Ferentz before, we did. This has been his annual and regular approach. For the best or for the worst.
Hey, it was Groundhog Day, right?
That said, Iowa will be doing more “under the hood” offensive stuff in February.
The passing game is at the top of the list of things to improve. Iowa was 113th nationally in completion percentage (55%) and 114th in yards per attempt (6.2). Does this go along with the claim that the Hawkeyes the offense is too complicated? At the Citrus Bowl, backup quarterback Alex Padilla noted that it takes 12 to 18 months to learn offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s system.
“We have to do better. That will definitely be part of the discussion,” Ferentz said. “If there is a problem or a problem, it often makes things more difficult than they should be. We will ask those questions.”
Speaking of Brian Ferentz, here’s what the head coach had to say about the nepotism claim holding his son responsible for an underperforming infraction.
“Nepotism, my approach — trust me, I thought about all of that — we didn’t really turn it on in 2004,” Ferentz said. “…We didn’t burn it down or tear up the playbook after that.
“It’s my judgment to decide if we have the best people in the building. It’s my obligation to the program. More importantly, to our players. Again, I feel really good about our staff. A staff capable. Talented staff. And we will find ways to improve.”
Quarterback competition will be wide open this spring.
Ferentz always says no job is secure, but he was pretty firm that the quarterback’s game in 2021 wasn’t good enough. With the return of outgoing starter Spencer Petras, Padilla and rookie Joey Labas, Ferentz hopes someone can take a big step forward.
“I do (I think it’s wide open). Everyone has a right to compete,” Ferentz said. “I’m also looking forward to seeing Joe compete. He was sort of spoon fed in December because he was the only guy there for a while. But yeah, we have to do better.
“We don’t have to score 45 points a game, but we have to do better. We have to make achievable plays. You have to do that, and that’s what I mean about those fundamentals.”
This initially paves the way for very interesting spring practices, which will begin at the end of March. If Iowa gets the right quarterback position, it could be a really good team in the fall.
The Diversity Advisory Committee is ongoing, but has not yet taken shape.
Ferentz said he was still formulating thoughts on what shape his advisory group would take after disbanding the previous group that was designed to be a sounding board. The intent of his creation was to help him see what he called “blind spots” after the 2020 racial bias outcry in his program and to be an ally for gamers.
Ferentz reiterated what he had done in a Jan. 17 email to players’ parents on Wednesday, in which he thought it would be good to restart membership with younger former players. He also defended how his program has created a welcoming environment for all players, pointing out that Iowa has a Big Ten-low five players entering the NCAA transfer portal since the start of the 2021 season.
“I really believe our program is on the right track,” Ferentz said.
While Ferentz said he would not divulge details of personal conversations with committee members, he said, “I have no regrets about my communication” and added, “a lot of guys (on the committee) knew where we were going. this thing” before his Jan. 11 email disbanding the group with a view to reshaping it in the future.
“One thing in life, everyone has opinions. That doesn’t make them facts, but everyone has opinions about things,” Ferentz said. “Intelligent people can decipher and understand what is factual.”
“Obviously everyone is entitled to their opinion,” Ferentz said. “…I didn’t have much of a reaction. I read it. And that’s his opinion. There is not much to react, except that I have a different opinion. My intention is long-term and global, not short-term.
This brings us to the discussion of the contract.
Ferentz’s new contract, signed Dec. 31 but not made public until Jan. 14, will pay him $56 million over eight years and ranks him in the top 15 in annual salaries among college coaches nationally. It was the first opportunity for Ferentz to publicly address the deal and the fact that he would be 74 when the deal closes.
His conclusion in a few words: “I feel better than I have felt in a long time, quite frankly. Physically and mentally.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow covered the sport for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.