A vocal portion of the Iowa fan base longed to replace offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe and bring in some new blood from outside the program. Those Hawkeyes fans got their wish but might be surprised at how similar the new playcaller is to the former one.
The 58-year-old O'Keefe resigned earlier this month after 13 years as Kirk Ferentz's offensive coordinator, moving on to an assistant's job with the Miami Dolphins. O'Keefe's conservative style was heavily criticized, though his offenses experienced major success behind star quarterbacks. Ferentz chose to replace him Monday with former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis -- a 60-year-old veteran assistant who spent 13 years calling plays for the Longhorns and who was criticized for being too conservative, though his offenses had major success behind star quarterbacks.
OK, it's far too simplistic to suggest O'Keefe and Davis are cut from the exact same cloth. But there are certainly some interesting parallels between the two.
Like O'Keefe, Davis probably weathered more criticism than he deserved. When he had it rolling, his offenses were some of the very best in the country. The 2005 Longhorns averaged more than 50 points per game on their way to the BCS title behind the singular talents of Vince Young at quarterback. He oversaw other prolific attacks led by quarterback Colt McCoy, as Texas beat Ohio State in 2009 Fiesta Bowl and earned a spot in the 2010 BCS title game. Davis also developed standout quarterbacks Major Applewhite and Chris Simms, not unlike how O'Keefe produced stars at the position like Brad Banks and Ricky Stanzi.
Yet for all of his successes in Austin, Davis never truly felt the love from the fan base. For the longest time, before Young blossomed into a superstar, the Longhorns stalled on offense against tough opponents, especially Oklahoma. After McCoy graduated, Texas struggled for two years to get back on track before Mack Brown finally showed his longtime trusted friend the door. The team struggled mightily to generate a strong rushing game once Jamaal Charles headed to the NFL after the 2007 season. To put it simply, Davis' offenses worked when he had a great quarterback and scuffled when they didn't.
While Texas used spread elements, particularly with Young and McCoy in charge, Davis often stuck to the basics and had a maddening tendency to play it safe in big spots. Sound familiar, Hawkeyes fans?
It must also be noted that Davis also benefited from some wildly impressive, blue-chip offensive talent that Brown recruited, like Young, McCoy, Charles, Roy Williams and Limas Sweed. While Iowa has done a great job under Ferentz of identifying and developing players, the Hawkeyes don't get the kind of five-star recruits that Texas brings in every year. Few teams do, so that's no knock on Iowa. Part of the problem in Texas the past couple years seems to be that the highly-rated recruits weren't as good as people thought. Can Davis succeed without top-notch talent?
Davis must also prove that he can design a consistent, competent running game, which has long been a hallmark of Ferentz's teams. He'll need to do so without any proven depth at the position after Marcus Coker's departure. The happiest man in Iowa City should be James Vandenberg, who should thrive under Davis in his second year of starting at quarterback.
Davis has been a coach for 33 years and has been a part of a lot of very successful teams. There is much to like about him and his résumé. There are also a lot of similarities between him and O'Keefe, for better and for worse. Ferentz has never had any other playcaller at Iowa besides O'Keefe, so it's little surprise that he stayed true to form with this pick.