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Hawkeyes Offensive Coordinator Ken O’Keefe Leaving
By Marc Morehouse, Reporter
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Ken O’Keefe worked with every shape and size of quarterback in his 13 seasons at the University of Iowa.
He built Brad Banks into a Heisman Trophy runner-up. He unleashed sophomore Drew Tate on the Big Ten and helped the Hawkeyes to a Big Ten co-championship in 2004. O’Keefe helped mold lightly recruited Ricky Stanzi into an Orange Bowl-winning QB and an NFL draft pick.
O’Keefe, 58, will take that expertise somewhere else.
Iowa announced Friday that O’Keefe, who spent 13 seasons as Kirk Ferentz’s offensive coordinator, is leaving.
There’s no official word on O’Keefe’s destination, but The Gazette and KCRG-TV9 have learned that O’Keefe will coach wide receivers for the Miami Dolphins. Miami head coach Joe Philbin was coached by O’Keefe in football and baseball at Worcester (Mass.) Academy in 1980. They also coached together at Iowa until Philbin left for the Green Bay Packers in 2003.
Philbin was named Dolphins head coach on Jan 21, after rising to Green Bay’s offensive coordinator. Officially, however, there has been no announcement from Miami.
“Ken O’Keefe has decided to leave our Iowa staff for another coaching opportunity,” Ferentz said in a Friday afternoon release. “Ken’s work contributed greatly to our program’s success during the past 13 years, and more impressively to the growth and development of the young men in our program. We wish Ken and Joanne the most success in this new chapter of his career.”
Iowa now has three openings.
Ferentz needs offensive and defensive coordinators. Norm Parker, after 46 years in football and 13 as Iowa’s DC, announced his retirement in Dec. 11. Parker and O’Keefe were Ferentz’s original coordinators hired at Iowa in 1999.
Iowa also is remains officially on the clock for a defensive line coach.
During Wednesday’s signing day news conference, Ferentz was asked if had settled on a hire for defensive coordinator.
“I think we’re on the right path, I feel pretty good,” he said. “Just in a nutshell, we moved like a tortoise again, kind of like ’99 [when he hired his initial staff at Iowa]. There were a lot of different scenarios I wanted to run through my mind. . . . Unless you have to do something, why do something?
“Give yourself some time to think the different scenarios out. I’ve been through a few of them. I think we’re getting to where we want to get.”
Ferentz wouldn’t confirm that LeVar Woods, the former administrative assistant who was promoted to interim D-line coach when Rick Kaczenski departed for Nebraska in December, is a full-time assistant coach. Woods was on the recruiting trail for Iowa this winter. A few recruits were told he is Iowa’s new D-line coach.
“Nothing is official right now,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz is scheduled for another news conference this Wednesday.
O’Keefe informed the Iowa staff Friday morning of his plans to accept the job in Miami. After 12 seasons on Iowa’s staff and no mentions of his name connected to other job openings, O’Keefe was linked to head coach positions at Indiana and Connecticut last year.
If Ferentz knew anything about O’Keefe’s departure Wednesday, he didn’t tip his hand. Ferentz will host Iowa’s junior day on Sunday and then head to the Super Bowl, where is son, Brian (a former Iowa offensive lineman), will be on the sidelines as the New England Patriots tight ends coach.
Offensive coordinators can often become lightning rods with fans. O’Keefe, who was the dean of OCs in the Big Ten, certainly took his share of strikes as Iowa’s primary playcaller.
O’Keefe, who was Iowa’s QB coach and coordinator for 12 seasons after starting in ’99 as OC and wide receivers coach, takes the brunt for Iowa’s conservative approach on offense, never mind the fact that head coach Ferentz signs off on every move Iowa makes. The online “Fire Ken O’Keefe” petition has been up since 2009 and is up to 113 cyber signatures. The “Fire Ken O’Keefe” Facebook page gets an entry a month. Same for the Facebook's “Fire Ken O’Keefe. He Ruins My Saturdays.”
Under O’Keefe’s direction, junior QB James Vandenberg passed for over 3,000 yards and had 25 touchdown passes in his first year as a starter in 2011. Vandenberg’s favorite target, WR Marvin McNutt, Jr., established Iowa single season and career records for receiving yards and touchdown receptions. McNutt was named the top wide receiver in the Big Ten Conference.
In 2002, Banks helped the Hawkeyes to an undefeated Big Ten season and finished second to Carson Palmer in the Heisman Trophy race.
Ferentz hired O’Keefe from Fordham, where O’Keefe landed after leading Allegheny College to a Division III national title in 1990.
During a 1999 interview, O’Keefe called Iowa’s emerging offensive philosophy a “melting pot.”
“(Iowa head coach) Kirk Ferentz spent six years in the NFL and nine at Iowa before that. Carl Jackson was with the 49ers. Chuck Long brings a wealth of knowledge with his professional experience at quarterback,” O’Keefe said. “It’s really been a blend of a lot of different types of thoughts. The trick is putting it together.
“I think if you turned on a tape from previous places we’ve been, I think you’d see some similarities, but there are a good many differences. We’ve had to go about it a little bit differently [in 1999] because of the growth we’re going through.”
In 2000, wide receiver Kevin Kasper set season records for receptions (82) and became just the third receiver in Iowa history to reach more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season (1,010).
“I’m not sure (the wide-open offense) is the way we want to go, totally,” Ferentz said then. “At times it may be, but that’s not your end goal. That’s not where you want to be in the end. You want to balance things.”
Even under the heat of the lightning, O’Keefe has always seemed like a balanced individual.
“Bigger stadiums, more noise,” said O’Keefe, who put up a 79-10-1 record at Alleghany, when he arrived at Iowa. “It’s louder, that’s the number one thing. The biggest crowd we’d get at Fordham was 8,000.
“This is a whole new world.”
O’Keefe came from a college football setting where his players went to med school. Iowa produces its fair share of professionals, but most recruits have eyes on the NFL.
“The players all have aspirations,” O’Keefe said. ”I like that atmosphere. This game is about players.”
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