IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa’s coaching staff this year will have a unified message and style of play. The ambiguity over the last five years has evaporated.
Former offensive coordinator Greg Davis’ short passing game flourished only with the type of receiver that rarely comes to Iowa. Head coach Kirk Ferentz’s power running scheme works better with a base passing route tree that Davis never seemed to incorporate.
While there was mutual respect and both styles can be effective, they fit together like a poorly set broken bone. It needed a reset and a recast.
Now Iowa’s offensive bone is all Ferentz. If Iowa’s offense struggles, it’s all on Ferentz. With Davis’ retirement, coupled with the ousting of wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy and running backs coach Chris White, this is Ferentz’s best chance to build the offense exactly the way he wants it.
Within a week of Davis’ departure, Ferentz elevated his son, Brian Ferentz, from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator. The head coach brought back former offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe as quarterbacks coach. On Tuesday, Ferentz officially hired Tim Polasek to coach the offensive line and Kelton Copeland to help with wide receivers.
The newest hires are young — Polasek is 37, Copeland is 36 — and have coaching experience at lower levels, where teaching is at its purest. As Iowa’s offensive coordinator from 1999 through 2011, O’Keefe can serve as the offensive consigliere during this transition period. He coached wide receivers with the Miami Dolphins for four years before serving as an analyst this season.
Brian Ferentz is ambitious with an unmatched pedigree for his age (33). He played for his father and O’Keefe, then coached tight ends in New England under Bill Belichick. Brian Ferentz returned to Iowa in 2012 and now has the ability reshape the offense. There’s no doubt he’ll be a college head coach someday, and it could be at Iowa.
The newest hires are perhaps the most intriguing. As North Dakota State’s offensive coordinator, Polasek crafted the game plan that beat Iowa last September. He set school records as a quarterback at Division III Concordia (Wis.) University and since has coached every other offensive unit except offensive line.
He’ll learn the Iowa blocking style from both Ferentzes. The elder Ferentz is regarded as one of the great molders of offensive linemen over the last 35 years. Brian Ferentz guided last year’s group to the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s top offensive line and coached Brandon Scherff to the 2014 Outland Trophy. If someone has insecurity issues, this isn’t the job for him. Polasek obviously doesn’t.
— Kelton Copeland (@CopelandKelton) February 14, 2017
Copeland also was a dynamic dual-threat quarterback in college and ranks fifth in all-purpose yards at Division II Emporia (Kan.) State. Copeland spent three years under Jerry Kill, first at Saginaw (Mich.) State and then at Emporia State. Copeland has coached at junior college powerhouse Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, FCS member South Dakota and spent the last four years at Northern Illinois. He coached wide receivers and special teams most recently with the Huskies, and also guided running backs.
There’s a pattern here. Both recent hires were productive, record-setting quarterbacks at lower-level colleges. They’ve enjoyed individual and team success as assistants in multiple roles at smaller schools. Both are known as diligent recruiters. They hail from key recruiting areas from which they can mine prospects — Copeland grew up in Miami, Fla., and knows the Kansas JUCO circuit; Polasek is from Wisconsin. Both appear appreciative of the opportunity to work at a Big Ten school and understand what Iowa is all about.
These are the final pieces of Iowa’s coaching puzzle until the NCAA approves the addition of a 10th football assistant in April. The hirings suggest Ferentz wants a uniform design on offense and more consistency in recruiting. This is an opportunity to better marry Ferentz’s running attack with a complementary passing attack and vice versa. It also offers a chance — with young, tenacious recruiters like Polasek and Copeland — to find more players who fit Iowa’s profile. Those are the same athletes they attracted to North Dakota State and Northern Illinois and developed, only with a slightly better skill set.
If all of this meshes as orchestrated, Ferentz’s final run has a chance to be his most productive at Iowa. If it doesn’t work, then it’s all on the 61-year-old coach. Either way, the final few chapters of Ferentz’s coaching career will be on his terms with his style of play. There’s no ambiguity, just the way he likes it.