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Hansen: Football staff shakeup doesn’t mean new style of play at Iowa

[ 8 ] February 7, 2012 |

Now that Iowa football has filled half the coaching-coordinator vacancies, is there any chance Kirk Ferentz will do a few things differently on offense or defense next season?

Hawkeye fans are wondering. Some are doing more than wondering. They’re hoping.

We’ll find out more Wednesday afternoon when Iowa’s head football coach meets the news media, but don’t expect a major schematic overhaul.

Not just because Ferentz filled the holes left by defensive coordinator Norm Parker and defensive line coach Rich Kaczenski by shuffling the deck. But also because he isn’t a major overhaul kind of guy.

He’s the kind of guy who rewards loyalty and competence and likes keeping things in the family. It took him a while keeping them in the family this time. But Phil Parker, coming all the way from the defensive backfield, seemed like one of the D-coordinator favorites from the beginning and so it was.

Speaking of family, Ferentz now needs an offensive line coach — Brian Ferentz of the New England Patriots perhaps? And a linebackers coach and an offensive coordinator to replace Ken O’Keefe.

No matter who he puts in charge of the offense, Kirk Ferentz will run what he wants to run how he wants to run it. We might see some tinkering around the edges, some new plays and play-calling patterns. But after 13 years on the job, Ferentz is more about continuity than creativity.

For most of those 13 years, his philosophy has served the university well. But lately the program has been drifting further and further away from those four Top 10 finishes and those two Big Ten co-championships. Can he set the ship back on course?

Jon Miller of Hawkeyenation.com studied the situation and found that while scoring keeps going up around the nation — thank you very much, hurry-up offense — Iowa has failed to keep pace, actually slipping to the middle of the class or lower in most offensive categories.

In the past, when the Hawkeye offense has sputtered, the defense has been good about picking up the slack. But not so much the past few years.

Miller doesn’t advocate scrapping the pro-style attack, and most experts agree. I talked to a Big 12 Conference assistant coach recently who said the increasingly popular spread is so widely used anymore, especially in his league, it’s more difficult to prepare for the traditional two-back, three-receiver, tight-end set.

The Big 12 coach made the spread sound like a stock that’s about to reach a 52-week high before crashing back to Earth.

On Tuesday, Jerry DiNardo, the Big Ten Network analyst who was head coach at Vanderbilt, Louisiana State and Indiana, said the spread or any other wide-open, high-flying attack is not the answer at Iowa.

“I’m a fan of that style offense,” DiNardo said of Iowa’s pro-style system, “whether it evolves some with a new coordinator, that’s possible. I do not think the spread is the future. I think you still have to run the ball. Time of possession is still important. What Iowa does on offense is the way to win championships. The spread is an offense that benefits people that maybe can’t recruit at a high level.”

Oklahoma State and a few other schools would beg to differ. It would have been instructive putting DiNardo’s theory to the test in a national championship game pitting the Cowboys against LSU or Alabama. And let’s see how much Urban Meyer spreads it out at Ohio State.

Almost everyone who roots for Iowa wishes the Hawkeyes would stop being so risk averse and live a little — try a few more exotics, fake a punt or a field goal once in a while, send the entire campus after the quarterback, onside kick when it’s least expected and occasionally forget about taking a knee at the end of the half.

When I told DiNardo the natives are as restless as they’ve been in quite some time, he sighed.

“It comes with the business,” he said. “I certainly don’t think Iowa fans are unique. At LSU, all you have to do to please the fans is win all your games and bench your quarterback.”

A good trick if you can pull it off. Having been the head man at LSU one coach removed from Nick Saban, DiNardo has some insight.

When it comes to offense, he’s tried them all. At Indiana, he went with the West Coast offense.

In the end, style didn’t matter as much as substance. DiNardo didn’t have the players, and there’s no schematic fix in football that can overcome that kind of deficit.

It’s fun speculating about Iowa’s offensive and defensive coordinators, and it’s not that they don’t matter. They most certainly do.

But it still boils down to talent, no matter who’s calling the plays.

Register sports columnist Marc Hansen can be reached at (515) 284-8534 or mahansen@dmreg.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/marcdmr.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Marc Hansen: Marc Hansen is a sports columnist for The Des Moines Register. View author profile.

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