NCF Nation: LeVar Woods

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Reporters and fans aren't the only ones who struggle to squeeze information out of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.

Ferentz's son, James, a senior center for the Hawkeyes, didn't fare much better this past winter.

When Iowa announced in early February that offensive line coach Reese Morgan would move to the defensive line, speculation immediately increased that Brian Ferentz, Kirk's oldest son and James' big brother, would return to his alma mater and coach the offensive front. James Ferentz heard the rumors, too. So he did some recon.

"I was trying to squeeze some information out of my mom, but she wasn't talking," James told ESPN.com. "Obviously, neither was my dad. He wasn't going to crack at all, so I knew my best chance was going to my mom. And when she wasn't talking, I knew I wasn't going to get any information."

[+] EnlargeJames Ferentz
Rick Scuteri/AP ImagesJames Ferentz provides Iowa with stability at center, having started the past 26 games.
James didn't discuss the situation with Brian, not wanting to put his brother "in an awkward position." But when their mother, Mary, clammed up about the situation, James knew there was a decent chance his brother would be leaving his post with the New England Patriots to return to Iowa City.

James ended up getting the scoop, but only a day before Kirk informed the rest of the team.

"I was really excited to finally hear the news," James said. "It's going to be good for Iowa football and selfishly good for me."

It's not unusual to see FBS coaches having their sons on the roster. Ferentz has coached his two oldest sons and his youngest, Steven, might walk on at Iowa.

There are also examples of coaches hiring their sons as assistants, like Frank and Shane Beamer at Virginia Tech or Steve Spurrier Sr. and Steve Spurrier Jr. at South Carolina.

But for a head coach to have one son on staff and another on the roster -- and to have the older son directly coaching his younger brother -- is unique. Brian played guard and center for the Hawkeyes. Kirk coached Iowa's offensive line from 1981-89.

"It's been great on two fronts," Kirk Ferentz told ESPN.com. "On a personal level, it's been interesting and neat, not something I ever envisioned happening. So that worked out beautifully. But more importantly, he's doing a competent job, and that's what we brought him here for, to do a good job coaching the line.

"He's off to a great start."

Brian's hiring has been scrutinized because of his relationship to his boss. The University of Iowa has a policy against nepotism that states familial relationships should be avoided whenever possible during the hiring process. According to documents obtained by the Associated Press, Iowa considered more than 100 candidates for two assistant positions before hiring Brian Ferentz and promoting LeVar Woods to linebackers coach.

From the AP report:
Athletic director Gary Barta has said it was his decision to hire Brian Ferentz, he will act as his supervisor and that Kirk Ferentz recused himself from the interview process. The claim was undercut earlier this month when Brian Ferentz said he had spoken about the job with his dad and took it because "you can't say no to your father."
The documents released Friday do not mention the relationship between Ferentz and his son, or any special steps taken during the hiring process. In fact, they show Kirk Ferentz was a member of the search committee for both positions along with other assistants and athletic department officials. A department spokesman had no immediate comment Friday, and university spokesman Tom Moore said the school had "followed its policies throughout this process."

Asked about the response, Kirk Ferentz said, "Not surprised, especially in Iowa, you kidding me? Anything that happens, you have to consider it to be news."

Ferentz noted how Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands hired his twin brother, Terry, as associate head coach.

"That was a pretty good thing for the wrestling program," he said. "I wouldn't have brought Brian back here if I didn't think it would be a good thing for our program. That was the first priority."

James hasn't struggled to view Brian as a coach, first and foremost. He has been impressed by Brian's knowledge and his ability to connect with each offensive lineman.

"I don't if he's harder on me than most guys," James said, smiling. "He's probably a little quicker to point out my mistakes, but I make plenty of them, so I leave the door open a lot."

Iowa is young up front. While Ferentz has started the past 26 games at center, left guard Matt Tobin is the only other lineman with significant starting experience.

Ferentz sees the need for the line to prove itself and come together. He's excited to do so with his older brother and father calling the shots.

"If you can't appreciate the uniqueness and the incredible opportunity," he said, "I think I'd be missing out on a lot. I'm really fortunate to be in this position."

Q&A: Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
10:11
AM ET
Change is in the air this spring at Iowa. The Hawkeyes have two new coordinators for the first time in Kirk Ferentz's tenure, one from the outside (OC Greg Davis) and one from within the program (DC Phil Parker). Ferentz also hired two new assistants, offensive line coach Brian Ferentz and linebackers coach LeVar Woods, and moved offensive line coach Reese Morgan to defensive line. For an Iowa staff built on continuity, this represents a a major shakeup. The coaches also will be working with a very young roster, as evidenced by the pre-spring depth chart issued this week. It all should make for an interesting spring in Hawkeye Country.

[+] EnlargeIowa coach Kirk Ferentz
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallCoach Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa Hawkeyes will enter the season with a revamped coaching staff.
The Hawkeyes opened practice Wednesday, and ESPN.com caught up with Ferentz on Thursday.

Here are his thoughts.

What is the atmosphere like this spring being on the field with this group after all the changes?

Kirk Ferentz: Certainly we have a lot of learning to do for two reasons. Number one, our youth and inexperience, and secondly, with some of the staff changes. We have a lot of different elements involved. It's certainly different than when we finished up in December. It's a lot of positions, and some of it's schematically and that type of thing. We're all on edge a little bit, and that's good.

You made some of your hires fairly recently. How do you feel about where the offensive and defense schemes are at this point?

KF: We're pretty well down the road that we need to be on. We've had some really good meetings over the last several weeks. A little bit more intensive on the offensive side with Greg being hired at the end of February, but I think we've had good meetings. He certainly has a good grasp of what he likes to do and what he's comfortable with. We've been able to blend and mesh things. I think we're pretty much on the same page right now. It's been fun actually, just invigorating to re-examine some things. And the players, they always pick it up faster than the older guys.

When you sat down and talked with Greg, how close was your offensive philosophy to his?

KF: One of the things that really impressed me so much is his experience with various styles of offense. He's been with a lot of different types of players, quarterbacks, going back to Eric Zeier at Georgia, the guys he worked with at North Carolina, and at Texas, they ran several styles of attack. There was a lot of evolution when they got Vince Young. The thing is, he has a system that's been proficient and that he's comfortable with. It really is very flexible and adaptable. That part has all been good.

Very impressed with Greg, starting with all the recommendations I got, people who I have a lot of respect for in football who spoke so highly of him as a coach and so highly of him as a human being. And after a month of being with him, I can see why all of those things were said. He's really been tremendous. We've been fortunate to have great coaches here. You're always a little nervous when you lose somebody as good as Ken, but Greg has been outstanding.

I read your comments from the other day and wanted to clarify something. Did you expect to make some changes even if you didn't have the coordinators leaving?

KF: Absolutely. I was entertained a bit reading the reports of the press conference. The headlines were a little bit overstated. But that was something Ken and I had talked about, and Norm [Parker] and I had talked about as the year went on last year. You're 13 years into it, and we're all feeling good about being here such a long period of time. The great thing about stability is we all know each other.

But the other point, too, and every year you look back at things, but I remember specifically in Cleveland one year in '94 where we looked back and went through our playbook step by step. Steve Crosby had become our coordinator after the '93 season. We went through everything. The advantage of doing it is if you've been somewhere for a while, you add this one year and then you add that, and things don't always mesh or make as much sense as they should, so there's a cumulative effect there. So it's a good exercise to do, and I think it was time for us to do that regardless. And in the case of getting new coordinators, you have to do that anyway. It's been really healthy, it's been invigorating, and hopefully we'll be a more efficient operating group here moving forward.

You've talked about wanting to see better execution. What can you stress in the spring to help you execute better as a team?

KF: That's always the challenge in football. There were complaints about us. The perception is we're a conservative offense, and we threw the second-most amount of passes we had in 13 years last year, so I said they must have been conservative passes because we didn't get any credit for that. But overall, that's the name of the game, whatever you're doing, offensively, defensively or special teams, the key is how you execute those things. Certainly what you call can affect that, but at the end of the day, it's about the team that executes the best. That's the never-ending battle.

You have some guys out on the defensive line, but it's definitely one of the younger groups you've had there. With Reese Morgan moving over to that side, how do you see that group shaking out in the spring, and how will Reese's experience help there?

KF: It's maybe not identical, but it's similar to what we went through in 2005. We graduated four guys that were all in NFL camps after that season. Three of those guys are still active players -- Jonathan Babineaux, who's done a good job in Atlanta; Matt Roth's had a nice career; Derreck Robinson continues to be rostered; and Tyler Luebke is the other guy, was with the Redskins as a free agent. That's the price you pay when you graduate some good players. The last two years we've had a high number of seniors go out both years, and some NFL players in that group. It's something we anticipated, we knew it was going to be a challenge, but all that being said, we're optimistic.

One of my motivating factors for moving Reese over to that spot is Reese is just a tremendous teacher. That's the No. 1 thing I saw in him when we hired him here. He took Pat Flaherty's spot. He's a real builder, and he's done that with the offensive line. You look at last year, we had Riley Reiff, who people are talking about, but we also had Markus Zusevics and Adam Gettis, who both I think are going to get drafted here. They were both roughly 225, 230 [pounds] when they came out of high school and built themselves into players. Reese was a key component of their development, and that's what he does a great job of. I think we've got the right guy with the right group. We've got a lot of work to do, but at the end of the day, that group will be fine, just like in '05.

What would you like to see out of James [Vandenberg] during the spring?

KF: Just continued improvement. We expect him to play his best football next year and lead even better than he did. He played well last year and he led well, but he's going to have to do better. With a young team like this, it's going to be imperative that our most experienced guys play their best and lead our football team. It sure helps when you're playing better. And he's totally capable. We have confidence in James.

Is Keenan [Davis] another guy who fits into that category, needing to play his best as an older guy?

KF: Most definitely. If you look at the improvement Marvin McNutt made throughout his career, from making a move [from quarterback] in the middle of the '08 season, to the records he set, it didn't happen just by accident or just by him hanging around. He worked hard, he got better each year, and his hard work and effort, certainly in production and yardage, that's what we need from Keenan. Marvin's not here, quite obviously, so Keenan has to be the guy and take a very prominent role as a receiver. And he's certainly capable, so we expect to see that growth from him.

What would you like to see from the running back group by the end of the spring?

KF: Development and maturation. We have three guys that are working at that position who are talented enough. They're all capable, but they're young. Jordan Canzeri missed a significant amount of time last year with a hamstring issue. Damon Bullock, we moved him around enough that it probably rendered him ineffective. We'll let him settle at the running back position. And we think De'Andre Johnson has potential as well, but he's got to mature. He missed his first year because he was coming off an ACL injury from high school, so he's a little bit behind that way. But he's got every opportunity to develop and be a good player. It sure would help our football team.

When you're this young, are you more tempted to play freshmen if they come in and show that ability, or do you have to work with the guys who have some experience?

KF: We'll have a better grip on where we are at the end of spring practice. We're going to need some help at some spots, that's a given. Bottom line is for the most part, the guys that demonstrate they can play and help us, they're going to get that opportunity. We had the case with Allen Reisner. Back in '07, we had to throw him in. He was a true freshman. He wasn't necessarily ready to go, but we ran out of guys, so he had to go in there. We hopefully won't be in that situation. But anybody [who] can help us win next year, if it's special teams or on offense, defense, we'll give them an opportunity.

Greg came in from the outside, while Phil Parker has been there. What's it been like seeing him in this role? Do you see him putting his personality on the defense?

KF: We're early into the process right now. To the casual fan, it's not going to look a lot different, probably, but there will be some subtleties and some things not only Phil, but the entire staff talked about. It's like anything else, you're always trying to evolve and progress, move forward a little bit without losing your identity. That's probably what you'll see from that group. Phil's a veteran coach. He's had several chances to leave here for BCS coordinator positions and has chosen to stay here, so I don't think there's any question he's ready to go. He'll do a great job. He's very detailed and he's a good leader.

From a leadership standpoint, do you have some guys in mind, especially on defense, who you could see moving into those roles this spring?

KF: Most definitely. The guys that we're really counting on, you start with Micah Hyde. He's probably our most experienced player on defense, most proven, so we're counting on that from him. James Morris and Chris Kirksey, they're only third-year students next year, but they've played a lot of football, too, and good football. They're playing a leadership position at linebacker. And up front, I'd say Steve Bigach's a guy we're really counting on to really help set the tempo of the group. He's already been doing that, and I think he'll do a good job.
Iowa fans grew antsy while waiting nearly two months for head coach Kirk Ferentz to name successor to Norm Parker at defensive coordinator. But Ferentz said Wednesday that he wanted to take his time with the decision, which resulted in defensive backs coach Phil Parker (no relation) being promoted on Tuesday.

"I just didn't see any advantage to moving quickly," Ferentz said at a news conference. "Unless you have to, there's no real advantage to that. So I just wanted to kind of sift through it, and I'm really glad that I did because my mind was in a couple different places. ... You want to take your time and feel really good."

Ferentz said he eventually settled on Parker -- who has spent the past 13 years coaching the Hawkeyes secondary -- as the best fit for the program. He said Parker has had opportunities to leave to go to other BCS teams, including a top-10 program that offered him a coordinator spot.

[+] EnlargePhil Parker
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireIowa coach Kirk Ferentz, after some deliberation, promoted longtime assistant Phil Parker, seen here in 2010, to defensive coordinator.
Ferentz did not announce a new offensive coordinator or any specific plans to fill the role vacated when longtime playcaller Ken O'Keefe left for the Miami Dolphins last week. He said he knew about O'Keefe possibly leaving as soon as Joe Philbin -- a friend of O'Keefe's -- got the Dolphins job. Expect Ferentz to take his time with this hire, too, even though current assistant Erik Campbell looks like a strong candidate to become another in-house promotion.

In some ways, it's understandable why Ferentz isn't making these decisions quickly. After all, O'Keefe and Norm Parker were the only coordinators he'd had at Iowa until this point.

"We probably cheated time here a little bit," he said. "I don't think anybody envisioned the head coach or two coordinators making it for 13 years. ... Right now, I'd settle for 10 out of the next two guys. That would be great if we could get 10 I'll be, what, 66. I'll have to figure that out then. Somebody will feel sorry for me and come join us at that point."

Some other notes from Ferentz's press conference:

  • He explained his surprising decision to move offensive-line coach Reese Morgan to the defensive line by saying Morgan is an excellent teacher. The Hawkeyes will be very young on the D-line next season, and Ferentz felt Morgan was the right guy to get that group up to speed. He pointed to Morgan's excellent work of developing offensive linemen, including projected 2012 NFL first-rounder Riley Reiff, who came to school as a defensive end prospect.
  • With the offensive line job open, speculation is rampant that Ferentz will hire his son Brian, currently a New England Patriots assistant, to coach that position. The elder Ferentz addressed that by saying he's "open to anything" but added that his son has a pretty good job right now.
  • LeVar Woods was elevated from administrative assistant to a temporary coach during recruiting, and most expect him to be named the full-time linebackers coach. "He's still the interim coach as far as I know, at least," Ferentz said. "He's certainly interested in working here, and we'll let him go through the process. Hopefully he'll do well in the weeks ahead here and we'll find a seat for him."
  • Ferentz said he didn't think the athletic department's budget would be an issue in hiring new assistants. But he also added, "I don't think we're going to try to sign a superstar coach or anything like that."
  • A lot of Iowa fans wanted some change in the staff and many criticized O'Keefe's conservative game plans. Ferentz didn't rule out a major change with the new offensive coordinator, but odds are more likely that Iowa's style of play will look mostly the same. Ferentz said his next coordinator has to "believe in blocking" first and foremost. "As a head coach what I'm interested in is we've got to block. We've got to make the make-able plays and make sure we're doing a good job in turnover ratio. I think that's really critical if you're going to try to get somewhere."
  • Iowa will move the start of its spring practice back a couple of days, and Ferentz would like to have the staff complete before the Hawkeyes get going in late March. But, again, moving fast is not his top priority. "Right now I think we've just got to make sure it's the right guy, certainly before we leave on spring break. ... Spring ball to me is about teaching the basics. It's about executing basic plays and just getting things taught. We have a very young team right now so it's not like we can be on page 7 anyway, so we really have to start at the beginning. So I think that gives us a little wiggle room there, too."
Iowa waited nearly two months to promote a position coach to a coordinator role. And that's not even the surprising part of the Hawkeyes' announcement Tuesday.

Phil Parker is Iowa's new defensive coordinator. After spending the past 24 seasons coaching defensive backs, the past 13 at Iowa, Parker now will lead the Hawkeyes' defense. He replaces Norm Parker, who announced his retirement in December. Although Phil Parker, who isn't related to Norm, had been mentioned as a top candidate when Norm announced his retirement, the likelihood of a promotion seemed to decrease as the days went on with no announcement from Kirk Ferentz.

Some Iowa fans had been gearing up for a big-splash hire, whether it was Mike Stoops back in December or former Michigan defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann in recent days. The big splash never happened, and Phil Parker gets the job. Expect him to maintain a similar defensive philosophy after working under Norm Parker for so long.

OK, so here's the surprising part: Reese Morgan, Iowa's offensive line coach for the past nine seasons, is moving to defensive line. He replaces Rick Kaczenski, who left in December for the same post on Nebraska's staff. Morgan has only coached offense at Iowa, working with the team's tight ends from 2000-2002 after serving as a high school coach in Iowa City.

Morgan's move is, well, odd. Defensive line is Iowa's biggest question mark entering 2012 -- yes, even bigger than running back -- so we'll see early how Morgan fares with the transition.

Ferentz also announced that Darrell Wilson will move from linebackers coach to defensive backs coach. Iowa has one defensive staff vacancy to fill, and administrative assistant LeVar Woods, a former Hawkeyes linebacker, likely will be named the team's linebackers coach. Woods' appointment makes a lot of sense.
"Phil, Darrell and Reese have all done an outstanding job in our program for a significant period of time," said Ferentz. "I am confident they will have a very positive effect on our team as we transition forward."

Ferentz, who has a news conference scheduled for 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, still must name an offensive coordinator to replace Ken O'Keefe, who left last week for a post on the Miami Dolphins' coaching staff. He also must name an offensive line coach to replace Morgan.

Tuesday's announcement increases speculation that Brian Ferentz, Kirk's son and a New England Patriots assistant coach, will return to Iowa City in an assistant role. Don't be shocked to see Brian Ferentz named Iowa's offensive line coach.

That leaves the coordinator role, which could go to wide receivers coach Erik Campbell, if Ferentz once again promotes from within.

Should Ferentz go that route, he would be reaffirming faith in his guys rather than outsiders. The moves likely won't go over well with Iowa fans, who have seen the same two coordinators throughout Ferentz's tenure. Many fans naturally want big-splash hires from the outside. Phil Parker certainly isn't, and Campbell would fit into the same category. I think promoting Campbell makes a lot of sense, as he has paid his dues as a position coach.

We should learn more about Iowa's coaching plans Wednesday, so stay tuned ...
If I made a list of Big Ten coaches most likely to jump in freezing water outside a casino in Iowa in late January, Kirk Ferentz wouldn't be near the top.

Ferentz and Johnny Knoxville don't have much in common.

But the Iowa head coach on Saturday will step outside his comfort zone and into some very cold water. Ferentz and several others from Iowa's athletic department will take the arctic plunge around noon ET Saturday as part of a fundraiser for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. Proceeds go to help wrestlers with living expenses and costs as they prepare for events like the Olympics and the World Championships.

Here's more information on the event, which takes place at the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort in Riverside, Iowa (something tells me Ferentz would prefer a golf fundraiser in June, but this is how those wrestlers roll).

Ferentz talked about the arctic plunge last month while in a much warmer location (Arizona).
"How do you say no to those guys?” Ferentz said Thursday after his Insight Bowl press conference. "They'll break my arm or dislocate my shoulder. I’m a huge fan, obviously. I think that involves cold water if I remember. But how do you say no to those guys?"

Hmmm, broken arm or hypothermia? Tough call.

Iowa assistant coach LeVar Woods and strength coach Chris Doyle are also among those taking the plunge. Ferentz's appearance already is helping generate pledges for the event.

Kudos to Ferentz for doing this. I can't imagine too many other 56-year-old college football coaches would do the same, and certainly not those pampered, sun-tanned coaches from SEC country.

I'm looking forward to the photos and videos of the event.

And who knows? Maybe jumping in freezing water will help Ferentz pick a defensive coordinator.

SPONSORED HEADLINES