- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Iowa is now in the market for both an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator.
The school announced Friday that Ken O'Keefe, the only offensive coordinator Kirk Ferentz has ever had with the Hawkeyes, is leaving the program. According to multiple reports, he is taking a job with the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
This easily qualifies as the most tumultuous turnover to hit Ferentz's staff, as Norm Parker retired as defensive coordinator after the season after working in that role for all of Ferentz's 13 seasons in Iowa City.
O'Keefe, 58, was known for tutoring quarterbacks and helped develop Heisman Trophy runner up Brad Banks, Drew Tate and Ricky Stanzi before handing the reins to James Vandenberg this past season. Vandenberg threw for over 3,000 yards and had 25 touchdown passes
But he also had become a target for increasing fan criticism because of Iowa's often buttoned-down style of play. Few days went by this season when I didn't get a question or comment from a Hawkeyes fan asking if Ferentz could just please fire O'Keefe and bring in a more wide-open style of play.
Fact is, though, Ferentz is very comfortable employing a more classic Big Ten offensive system and is unlikely to bring in someone who will deviate much from that approach. If you're expecting the next Gus Malzahn to stroll into Kinnick Stadium, keep dreaming.
And few folks were complaining about O'Keefe when Stanzi led the Hawkeyes to an Orange Bowl win or when Banks guided the team to the Rose Bowl in the 2002 season. Iowa averaged 27.5 points per game in 2011 and 28.9 points per game the year before, finishing in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten both times.
Still, some new ideas could freshen up a program that has seemingly stagnated since that Orange Bowl run. Ferentz has shown loyalty to his assistants over the years through thick and thin, and these are the most changes he's ever had to make. Highly respected defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski left for the same position at Nebraska this offseason, too.
Ferentz hasn't talked much about his staff since the Insight Bowl loss to Oklahoma, so we're not sure if he anticipated this move by O'Keefe. Given the close relationship between the two, it's hard to believe O'Keefe completely blindsided Ferentz with this news.
Yet this comes at a difficult time for Iowa, as many of the would-be attractive candidates are already locked into other jobs. Would Ferentz be interested in promoting from within? Assistant coach Erik Campbell, who has done a great job developing receivers and tight ends and knows the Big Ten inside and out, could be an interesting choice if the Hawkeyes look to go that route.
And then there's the small matter of hiring a defensive coordinator, a position that's been vacant for more than a month now. Iowa has given indications that it will announce Parker's successor next week. The Hawkeyes will certainly need to accelerate that hiring process for an offensive playcaller to get ready for spring practice.
One thing's for sure: it will be a fascinating offseason to follow in Iowa. Many Hawkeyes fans wanted big changes to be made with this program, and for better or worse, that's what they're getting.
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