IOWA CITY, Iowa — Casual Iowa fans will gravitate to Brian Ferentz’s name as a reason for his possible elevation to offensive coordinator. But in reality, it’s because he has the game.
Brian Ferentz, 33, carries the same last name of 61-year-old head coach Kirk Ferentz, but if you’ve met either one, there’s a world of difference in their public personalities. Sure, they’re both articulate and intelligent. However, Kirk Ferentz is measured with most of his comments; Brian Ferentz tends to be unscripted and unfiltered.
That’s at times a joking matter around the Kinnick complex, especially from the head man. A little over a year ago, Kirk Ferentz was asked about his oldest son’s influence and ability to connect with players. He then cracked about Brian Ferentz’s past days as tight ends coach in New England.
“He’s always been opinionated, in case you haven’t noticed,” Kirk Ferentz said. “He gets that from his mother. And I was half tempted to call his boss in New England and just find out, like you know, does this guy do any work, like is he doing anything other than watching our films because he had a lot of opinions about what we were doing. I thought maybe it would be good if he just kind of paid attention to what was going on up there.”
If nothing else, that speaks to Brian Ferentz’s passion about Iowa football. He was 15 years old when his father was hired from the Baltimore Ravens to replace Hayden Fry in Hawkeyeland. After a stellar career at Iowa City High, Brian Ferentz played guard and center from 2002-2005 at Iowa. The Hawkeyes were 38-12 those four seasons and he was a team captain in 2005. He nearly lost his leg to a staph infection after knee surgery one year. He and the head coach also brought home an argument that resulted in a family policy of leaving issues at the football facility.
It’s convenient to evaluate Brian Ferentz based on his last name instead of his resume. But make no mistake: Brian Ferentz has earned the right to become Iowa’s offensive coordinator. He will become a head coach of a college football program — possibly even at Iowa — and a successful one. Part of why I believe it is because Brian Ferentz had to start at the ground floor in the world’s greatest football factory and he worked himself into a prized position.
After two attempts at landing with an NFL squad as a player, Brian Ferentz joined the New England Patriots as a scouting assistant in 2008. His boss was Scott Pioli, who was a low-level personnel assistant in Cleveland under Bill Belichick. Kirk Ferentz served as Belichick’s offensive line coach with the Browns for three seasons. Pioli hired Brian Ferentz at the lowest possible level, and it was up to the younger Ferentz to learn the football trade or forever use his history degree at Iowa.
“There were two things that I was pretty sure of,” Kirk Ferentz told Landof10.com. “One of the things about working up there in the role that he started, you’re going to find out if you really like it or not because it’s not real glamorous. The work you do is not real glamorous, the hours are bad, the pay is really bad. That’s how I started out with Bill, too. I had a different title, but I was the lowest-paid line coach in the league. There’s nothing easy there. But I knew the education you would get would be first class and part of that education with him is it’s hands-on.
“Once you demonstrate you can do something, he’s going to let you go.”
Brian Ferentz worked up to an offensive assistant in 2010 and befriended then-Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. In 2011, Brian Ferentz became the Patriots’ tight ends coach. He coached Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to a combined 169 receptions and 2,237 yards, the most by a pair of tight ends in NFL history, according to the Boston Globe. The Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl that year, and Brian Ferentz had an impact on the season.
In a September story for Sports Illustrated, the massive Gronkowski — possibly the best tight end in NFL history — credits Brian Ferentz for teaching him how to block correctly.
“He taught me it’s always about keeping your feet running and keeping your hands inside,” Gronkowski told SI. “Like when you’re pushing a car. What are you going to do? You’re not going to push like a one-legged duck paddles. You’re going to run your feet, just like you’re running.”
When Brian Ferentz assumed control of the tight ends informally in 2010, he was 27 years old. The next year he was directing tight ends at the NFL scouting combine.
“You could argue he wasn’t prepared to take those tight ends, either,” Kirk Ferentz said. “But when he did, he figured it out and got it done. That’s what good coaches do.”
“Brian is very mature for his age, and he has a lot of football experience,’’ Belichick told the Boston Globe in 2012. “I think that the whole life experience of growing up in a coaching family, growing up with a coach and having football in your blood almost from the day you were born, you pick up some things by osmosis. I know that is the case with him, as it was with me and many others who have lived the life in a football family.’’
Brian Ferentz still wanted to come back home to Iowa. In 2012 he left the Patriots to become Iowa’s offensive line coach. He was hired amid 102 applicants, and Reese Morgan shifted from offensive line to defensive line. A nepotism policy was introduced, and Brian reports directly to athletics director Gary Barta for evaluations. In an introductory news conference, Brian Ferentz addressed his role immediately and confidently.
“The head coach is my father so certainly that’s a unique situation,” Brian Ferentz said in 2012. “But I played here and my head coach was my dad as a player, and I think as an assistant coach, it’s not much different.
“It’s our job as assistant coaches to make sure that the head coach’s vision reaches the players, and I don’t view my job any differently (at Iowa). That’s basically my job, and I’m going to do it. Sometimes it may be easy to disagree with the vision as a gut reaction, because I’m more familiar here with the head coach than coach Belichick, but my job description I don’t think has changed.”
A year after joining the Hawkeyes, Brian Ferentz turned down O’Brien’s offer to join the Houston Texans as their offensive line coach. In 2015, Brian Ferentz became Iowa’s run-game coordinator alongside his offensive line responsibilities. In Iowa’s three most recent seasons, Brian Ferentz has coached the Outland Trophy winner (Brandon Scherff in 2014), directed a myriad of backs to 35 rushing touchdowns (2015) and helped shape two 1,000-yard running backs for the first time in a single season. This year, Iowa’s offensive line won the Joe Moore Award, which is given to the nation’s top offensive line.
With Greg Davis retiring as offensive coordinator last week, the opportunity is there for Brian Ferentz to continue making a mark. He won’t change Iowa’s identity, that’s for sure. Chances are, he’ll overstep some boundaries, like in 2013 when he tweeted, “I know that the stadium experience is lacking but this team needs your support — do it on your own. Best fans in the country!” But nobody else matches his football intellect, experience and cultural understanding for the position. He and his father will spar — Brian is more aggressive — over situations, but over time he will push Iowa to evolve on offense. He will build his own mark and enhance his father’s legacy in the process.