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Overhaul starts with developing staff chemistry

[ 0 ] February 26, 2013 |

Putting new coaches in place is easy.

Getting the Iowa football staff in sync, with spring practices set to kick off a month from today, is an entirely different matter.

Kirk Ferentz, who enters his 15th season as the Hawkeyes’ head coach, completed a major overhaul last week by hiring his sixth different assistant in the past 14 months.

How long will it take them to mesh?

“I think the important thing is what you do with what’s in front of you,” Ferentz said, “and what steps do you take to move forward.”

Ferentz wants to accelerate past last season’s 4-8 record, but one of his initial tweaks contributed to the debacle.

In Greg Davis’ first year as offensive coordinator, the Hawkeyes went from scoring 27.5 points in 2011 (which ranked to 58th nationally), to 19.3 in 2012 (placing them 111th out of 120 major college programs).

Of course, change is bound to bring a few glitches.

This spring, Davis will be reunited with receivers coach Bobby Kennedy. They spent seven seasons together at Texas.

That’s good, right?

Then again, you can’t help but wonder, why aren’t they still coaching with the Longhorns?

“One thing about Iowa this time is, they’re not changing their coordinators,” said Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network. “I’d like to think Davis and Kennedy having a working relationship would bode well for a smooth transition.”

Ferentz isn’t the only one facing an exasperated fan base.

Texas coach Mack Brown, winner of a national title in 2005, also replaced half a dozen key assistants the last two years.

For the Longhorns, a shakeup came amid mixed results. After going 8-5 in 2011, they went 9-4 in 2012.

Bret Bielema replaced six Wisconsin assistants a year ago. The Badgers dipped from 11-3 in 2011 to 8-6, and Bielema left to coach at Arkansas.


“You need time to develop chemistry,” Dienhart said. “I guess if you hire people who are familiar and know what you do, know how to coach what you want to run, the learning curve would be smaller.”

Continuity used to be a cornerstone of Ferentz’s philosophy.

As of Tuesday afternoon, a link to Ferentz’s staff at Hawkeyesports.com (the school’s official site) includes the following paragraph: “Continuity is king, particularly in college football. Those who do their homework quickly realize that continuity is one of the keys to success.”

While former UCLA coach Karl Dorrell was averaging three new assistants a year from 2003-06 — finishing 10-2 in 2005, only to be fired two years later — Lester Erb and Darrell Wilson were Hawkeye mainstays.

Erb, a running backs coach, and Wilson, who coached defensive backs, are no longer in Iowa City.

You get the feeling Ferentz, once loyal to a fault, is being forced to take a more pragmatic view of his profession.

“Every guy that’s been here has done a great job and given their all for the program,” he said. “And that’s something I’m very appreciative of.”

Coaches, especially those with a couple Orange Bowl appearances on their resume, can be steamrolled by the expectations they set.

If rebuilding a staff doesn’t lead to a turnaround, sooner or later, fans start clamoring for a new mechanic.

E. Scott Adler, a political science professor at the University of Colorado, spearheaded a study on the results of college football’s coaching carousel.

From 1997 to 2010, there were 155 performance-based coaching changes. Adler’s research found losing programs typically continued to struggle even with a new coach, and mediocre teams often struggled more than before.

“One of the things we were trying to do was see what the performance was several years out,” Adler said. “What we found, on average, was teams that were very bad and replaced their coach didn’t see a huge jump in performance over teams that didn’t replace their coach, but were in similar conditions.”

In other words, when it comes to coaching changes, there are no quick fixes.

Andrew Logue has covered college football for the Register for 12 years. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLogue


Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Andrew Logue: Andrew has been with the Des Moines Register for 19 years, covering everything from preps to Hawkeye and Cyclone sports, as well as the Drake Relays. View author profile.

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