Opinion | Complacency at QB, offensive coordinator could keep Iowa football out of national conversation

The Hawkeyes’ offense, which ranks last in the nation, will likely keep Iowa from competing at a high level this year and beyond.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz speaks with reporters during an Iowa football press conference for the team’s coordinators at the Hansen Football Performance Center in Iowa City on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. Reporters asked Ferentz if a more mobile quarterback would benefit the system. Ferentz explained the passing game operates in a system and it would not. “I don’t know that the mobility — just having a guy running around, I’m not sure that’s going to solve any of our issues,” Ferentz said. “You’re not going to be any more open just because a guy is running around.”

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

Iowa football has reached an impasse. That much became clear over the course of head coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s last two press conferences.

The Hawkeyes are struggling on offense, yet no major changes are on the way. To put it in terms Kirk Ferentz has used this season, the cavalry ain’t coming.

Through six weeks of the season, the Hawkeyes rank last in the 131-team FBS in total offense. They don’t crack the top 120 in team passing efficiency, rushing offense, scoring offense, or passing offense, either. Iowa is the only Power Five team that ranks outside the top 120 in all those categories. Still, it remains complacent and averse to switching things up.

Where is the line drawn in the sand? If having an offense that ranks last in the nation isn’t enough evidence to compel Kirk Ferentz to swap out his quarterback and offensive coordinator, nothing will be.

In a recently released Big Ten Network video, Ferentz said offensive yardage is the most overrated statistic in football. Perhaps that’s the basis for his thinking. Maybe he isn’t concerned with Iowa’s poor performance, yardage-wise.

In the same video, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald offered the same answer as Ferentz, but with a caveat.

“It’s not about yardage, it’s about points,” Fitzgerald said. “I think that’s pretty important.”

I can get on board with Fitzgerald’s sentiment. Granted, taking the teachings of a 1-5 football coach that’s lost to two non-Power Five schools this season as gospel is dangerous.

Even if Kirk Ferentz values points over yardage, there should still be some cause for concern. Iowa’s offense has scored about 11 points per game this season. The Hawkeyes were held to seven points or fewer in three of those contests.

Iowa ranks 127th in the nation in scoring offense, just above New Mexico State, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Colorado State.

After each of the three games Iowa scored seven points or fewer in, Kirk Ferentz said he knows his team has to score more points.

“We are who we are right now,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said after his team’s 9-6 loss to Illinois last week. “We can’t change dramatically, but hopefully we can find more ways to be effective. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that we need to score more points.”

If Kirk Ferentz knows his team has to score more points, why is he doing nothing to try to put up better numbers on offense? He hasn’t tried changing quarterbacks or giving somebody else control of the play calling.

“I’m not interested in making a change for change’s sake,” Brian Ferentz said of a change at QB. “What I’m looking at is, I’m saying, ‘what’s the upside?’”

If rock bottom isn’t the point where you change something just for the sake of doing something different, then you’re never going to get to that juncture.

Iowa has handcuffed itself into this situation with no way out until Kirk Ferentz’s contract expires in 2029. It seems like a system of back-patting and protection exists for the Ferentzes and starting QB Spencer Petras.

Kirk Ferentz has built a solid reputation at Iowa. He’s 181-110 overall with 19 bowl appearances — counting the 2020 Music City Bowl that wasn’t played because of COVID-19. During his 23.5 years at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz has achieved almost untouchable status — even though he’s just 9-9 in bowl games (1-2 in New Year’s Six).

If Kirk Ferentz is untouchable, so is his son Brian. I know Brian reports directly to athletic director Gary Barta. But if Barta believes in Kirk Ferentz’s decision-making, will he actually take the initiative to make a change at offensive coordinator by himself? In a regular situation at a different institution, it’d be strange for an AD to shake up a coaching staff without getting the head coach to sign off on it.

If Barta isn’t going to switch up the football team’s coaching staff, then nothing will change. Kirk Ferentz isn’t going to fire Brian Ferentz or bench Petras, and Barta isn’t going to terminate either part of the father-son duo. If Kirk Ferentz and Barta are fine with the way things are, and that appears to be the case, Iowa’s problems will persist.

A mid-season coaching change wouldn’t be unprecedented in the Big Ten. Wisconsin fired its head coach, Paul Chryst, on Oct. 2. Rutgers dismissed its offensive coordinator, Steve Gleeson, on Oct. 9.

Both Rutgers and Wisconsin rank higher than Iowa in several offensive categories. The Badgers are currently 65th in the nation in total offense.

If Iowa views itself as being on the same plane as Wisconsin and Rutgers, shouldn’t it be making changes to its staff too? Its offense is worse than both Rutgers and Wisconsin’s.

The only thing that’s fundamentally different in both situations is familial ties. Chryst isn’t related to Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh. Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano doesn’t have a connection to Gleeson by blood.

Chyrst was 67-26 during his near-eight-year stint at Wisconsin. He won the Big Ten West three times and appeared in seven bowl games, including the Cotton, Orange, and Rose. Chryst was even a Badger football alum before he was named head coach.

All of that still wasn’t enough to keep him afloat at Wisconsin. If Iowa thinks it is, or wants to be, in the national conversation like Wisconsin, it needs to have the stomach to make major changes at quarterback or offensive coordinator.

As I’ve said before, I’m not one to call for a person’s job. Iowa fans have already made their displeasure with their favorite team’s quarterback and offensive coordinator clear. Anything I write would just be another blip on the already overwhelmed radar.

Former Iowa head coach Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz have carved out a place for Iowa in the national conversation. If the Hawkeyes want to keep that seat, they’ll need to find a way to jumpstart their offense. And at this point, it seems clear that sticking to the formula they’ve been using won’t make anything better.