IOWA CITY — If the core of who and what you are is sound, you shouldn’t change it much.
Iowa’s football program has a good core, and has had a good core through the entire 13 seasons Kirk Ferentz has been its head coach. But it got too predictable on both sides of the ball, too easy a preparation for opponents.
Too often over the last couple years — and maybe we were paying closer attention because the Hawkeyes were going 7-5 in the regular-seasons of 2010 and 2011 instead of 10-2 in 2009 — we heard opposing players say they knew what Iowa was going to do, that the Hawkeyes didn’t show them anything they didn’t expect.
That’s not good. But it’s probably unavoidable when both coordinators had been in charge for 13 years.
You can reach some pretty lofty heights with capable coordinators who get to let their philosophies plant roots, and can tailor the talent to their beliefs. Iowa had that with Ken O’Keefe and Norm Parker. They carried out Ferentz’s visions and earned the trust and respect of the vast majority of their players.
At some point in nearly any organization, though, you need some fresh eyes. You need a tweak of your culture to inject some new vigor into your program. You need to rethink the way you do business in the present, and future.
Parker retired. O’Keefe took an assistant coaching job with the Miami Dolphins. Just like that, change was thrust on Ferentz. That isn’t to say he wasn’t ready to do more tinkering than usual this offseason, but the two departures mandated it. A third opening came with Rick Kaczenski leaving Iowa’s staff for Nebraska’s.
For some programs like Wisconsin’s, assistant coaches moving out and moving in is business as usual after a season. For Iowa, it was significant change. Jarring, in fact.
Today, however, it’s hard to find an Iowa player or fan who isn’t enthused by the new landscape. That’s with no disrespect whatsoever for the coaches that came before. But Greg Davis brings different things to the offense, things opposing defensive coaches will have to spend some time examining or even guessing about.
New defensive coordinator Phil Parker won’t be Norm Parker. Iowa won’t overhaul its defensive ways of life. But Parker II is his own man with his own ideas on how to adapt to today’s offenses, which are perhaps more diverse and imaginative than ever.
Whether Davis and Parker prove to have been the right hires will take more than one season to judge with any fairness. Davis simply won’t have the kind of running backs/wideouts talent he may have taken for granted at Texas, at least not this season.
Parker will lead a defensive unit this fall for the first time after being a position coach over his 24 years at Toledo and Iowa. He became the new DC just as the defensive line appears to be at one of its lowest ebbs for Iowa in the last quarter-century.
But new coordinators combined with four other staff changes (holdover Reese Morgan to defensive line, holdover Darrell Wilson to defensive backs, newcomer Brian Ferentz to offensive line, newcomer LeVar Woods to linebackers) force most returning players and coaches to open their minds to different approaches.
That extends all the way to the head coach. Maybe it’s ultimately meaningless, but the Iowa program has held seven press conferences since March 2 with almost every assistant coach trotted out at least once. That’s unprecedented here.
For one thing, this hasn’t been the most transparent of programs. For another, Kirk Ferentz has shielded his assistants from the media about as much as possible.
Iowa? With all these QandA sessions? Well, no state secrets were shared, of course. This is still Ferentz’s program, after all. And it may be just a one-year deal because of all the staff changes.
But at least it put faces and voices to names, and made Hawkeye football seem less insular. Which is smart. Insular never seems to work out, long-term.
So, this may be one of the most-encouraging offseasons here in a long while. It’s not an overhaul. But it may prove to be a thorough tune-up that sets up this program to be stronger in years to come.