Moving Forward

Aug. 31, 2012

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Monthly presented by Transamerica. HTDM digs a little deeper and provides a little more color — think photography — for fans of the Hawkeyes.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The words energized and invigorating are synonyms; so are the words win and victory.

University of Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz’s program received a stimulating shot in the arm when it replaced its coordinators for the first time since 1999; whether more triumphs result remains to be seen.

Former Hawkeye defensive coordinator Norm Parker announced his retirement Dec. 11, 2011, as Iowa prepared for the Insight Bowl — its fourth consecutive postseason appearance. Offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe left for a position with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins on Feb. 3, 2012. Both assistants were stalwarts on the Hawkeye staff since Ferentz arrived 14 years ago, and both were adept and successful at their craft. So a program that became known for coaching stability suddenly became a program with a smidgen of uncertainty.

“It’s kind of energizing and invigorating,” Ferentz said. “We were probably at a point where maybe we needed to go back and look at some things again. We’ve had some success, but there are always things you need to get better and look at, and I think we’ve done that.”

On Feb. 7, Ferentz replaced Norm Parker with UI defensive backs coach Phil Parker, who played for Norm at Michigan State. On Feb. 27, Greg Davis was hired as offensive coordinator. Davis spent 1998-2010 as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Texas Longhorns.

“Replacing coordinators is significant and important. I didn’t see any benefit in rushing and making any decisions, and I’m glad I didn’t. Once we got into January, things started looking a little differently to me overall, and gave me time to think and reflect a little bit. At the end of the day, we ended up with one outsider coming in and then elevating a guy.”
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz

“Replacing coordinators is significant and important,” Ferentz said. “I didn’t see any benefit in rushing and making any decisions, and I’m glad I didn’t. Once we got into January, things started looking a little differently to me overall, and gave me time to think and reflect a little bit. At the end of the day, we ended up with one outsider coming in and then elevating a guy.”

What does it mean to the look and feel of a football program that has won 96 games and been invited to 10 bowl games in the past 13 seasons?

“We added some things, threw some things out and kept some things the same,” Ferentz said. “A lot of things will look like what we did, but there will be some things that are different, too.”

Two of the best offensive seasons at the UI came during the Orange Bowl season of 2002 and the Outback Bowl season of 2005. In ’02, the Hawkeyes finished seventh of all FBS programs with a scoring average of 37.23 points a game, and 13th with 424.46 total yards a game. In ’05, they averaged 432.42 yards and 30 points a game; that yardage total is the best during the Ferentz era.

Under the direction of Davis, the Longhorns had an 11-year average of 441.81 yards per game and 38.6 points per game. Texas led the nation in points per game in 2005 (50.15) and was third in the NCAA that season in yards per game (512.08).

Davis grades the success of an offense with one word: wins.

“Wins start it. I’m not trying to be wise, that’s our job,” Davis said. “I don’t know if it’s 400 yards of offense or 34 points a game. I do know that the No. 1 factor in winning and losing ball games is scoring points. What we’re going to try to do, regardless of whether it’s run or pass, is score points.”

A trademark for Davis-coached teams is ball security and big plays.

“What we talk to the offense about is winning the turnover margin on this day against this opponent,” Davis said. “Win explosive plays on this day versus this opponent.”

Davis inherits a veteran quarterback in James Vandenberg, who in his first full season as a starter, completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 3,022 yards (234.8 per game) and 25 touchdowns. Vandenberg was intercepted just seven times.

“He has a younger spark to him,” said Vandenberg of the 61-year-old Davis. “He has a lot of spunk and has a lot of fun in practice. Guys feed off that, and I know there was a spark in spring ball because of that.”

Davis is the new guy; Parker is the old hand.

Parker, 49, was a three-time first-team All-Big Ten defensive back at Michigan State, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1986. He was a graduate assistant coach for the Spartans in 1987 before coaching the defensive backs at Toledo from 1988-98. Parker coached defensive backs for the past 13 seasons for the Hawkeyes before earning the promotion to defensive coordinator.

“As a defensive backs coach you’re looking at the secondary, the passing game, and you’re involved in run support,” Parker said. “Now it’s an overall picture of what the defensive line is doing up front, what the linebackers are doing — it’s a little more administrative. There’s a little more to it than being the secondary coach.”

For the past three seasons, Parker was position coach for cornerback Micah Hyde. Hyde speaks glowingly of Parker’s aggressiveness and attention to detail.

“At first you wonder why he is even talking about those little things and why is he nit-picking,” Hyde said. “After a while you realize this guy knows what he’s talking about. Everyone who knows coach Parker knows he’s a go-getter, and he’s not going to sit back and wait on anything. He’s the defensive coordinator for a reason.”

Iowa’s defense returns five starters from a 2011 group that ranked 46th in the nation in scoring defense (23.85 points per game) and 60th in yards allowed per game (378.92). The scoring defense mark is the lowest for the Hawkeyes since 2000, when they went 3-9 and gave up 27.5 points a game.

Parker aims to get Iowa back to years like 2009, when the Hawkeyes were 10th in the nation in total defense (276.54 yards a game), or 2008 when they were fifth in scoring defense (13 points a game). He will do it by stressing aggressiveness, intensity and passion.

“Football is for tough-minded people,” Parker said. “You need to be physically tough, but the biggest thing is being mentally tough; being able to handle the pressure and situations when you have to make a quick decision and battle through it.

“I’m an aggressive guy and the intensity will be there. I want these guys to have a passion to be great. If they have a passion to be good football players, then we’re going to have a good team.”

While Davis and Parker demand most of the preseason attention as coordinators, there are several other twists and turns within the coaching staff. In fact, running backs coach Lester Erb and wide receivers coach Erik Campbell are the only two UI assistant coaches who had the same responsibilities before last season’s opener against Tennessee Tech.

Reese Morgan moved from offensive line to defensive line, Darrell Wilson moved from linebackers to defensive backs, LeVar Woods was hired as linebackers coach and Brian Ferentz was hired as offensive line coach. Woods was a team captain for the Hawkeyes in 2000, Ferentz was a team captain in 2005.

“Hiring a former Iowa player was not a requisite or on my list as something we had to do, but I’m glad we had a chance to do it,” Ferentz said. “Both guys had distinguished careers at our place and both were leaders in our program. The whole idea is for us to grow, move forward and get some new ideas and maybe look at things differently than we had in the past 13 years.”

The result is a blend of veterans and newcomers on the 2012 Hawkeye coaching staff. New ideas are being shared, making for an energizing and invigorating preseason camp.