Has Brian Ferentz Finally Arrived?

Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz and his son Brian Ferentz as Brian is announced Hawkeye’s new offensive coordinator

As they say, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. The expression certainly has application to the Buckeye v. Penn State game on October 28th where the Buckeyes mounted perhaps their greatest come-from-behind victory in the football-rich history of Ohio State. There is a euphoric feeling throughout Columbus the night of the big win. At the nearby Hudson 29 bar, the bar was crowded with people celebrating the stunning win. The hopes were so dismal for the Buckeyes that there was one couple at the bar who left the game in the third quarter thinking victory was impossible.

There was rain through Columbus mostly the following week. The temperature got cold and it even snowed briefly day morning when I was walking my greyhound Genna. The talk in Columbus media was a perpetuation of this feeling of awe for the feat of the #6 Buckeyes accomplished #2 Penn State. A come from behind showing for all of history. One could one think about the incredible emotions of the Buckeye players in this game. The incredible feeling that they gained from this particular game. At home, in front of over 105,000 in the Shoe.

The city was upset when the Buckeyes remained at their #6 ranking when the Tuesday polls came out. Yet, they could feel good because they had a higher ranking in the Coaches Poll at #3. Yet there was always the big question about the easiness of the OSU schedule. It was somewhat the grand elephant in the room. It was the major statistic keeping them from dropping to a lower ranking in the polls.

The next opponent of the Buckeyes was the Iowa Hawkeyes. One can only attempt to put oneself into the emotions of the Buckeye players going into the away game with the Hawkeyes. Especially, coach Kirk Ferentz’ team. One does not have to watch a lot of games of OSU against Iowa to realize that the programs don’t exactly match up. Iowa uses a pro-style quarterback. Not only this, but they must have flown out to Iowa full of emotions – teenagers and young 20’s – emotions must have been in such a different state after the Penn game. There was also another factor that should be considered in all of this … the fact the Buckeyes had not played Iowa for three years.

Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City – Scene of OSU’s Humiliating Defeat

The OSU v. Iowa game put the nations #6 rated against a relatively unranked national team. In the Big Ten League West, it was ranked #4 behind Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska. Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State are at the top of the Big Ten East. But one could argue that the recent wins or close wins of Iowa have shown a slow, steady movement forward.

The day of the game is the first Saturday of November in Ohio. The leaves have exploded in their brightest colors of the year. I turn my 60-inch flat screen on to watch the 3:30 game. It starts out bad for Barrett and the Buckeyes with an interception and touchdown for Iowa within 8 seconds from the start of the game. One if reminded of the run-back of Saquon Barkley in the Penn game against the Buckeyes.

* * *

The television camera of the game focuses in the head coach’s booth of Iowa high above the field. The game has just started but there is Head Offensive Coordinator for the Iowa Program, Brian Ferentz, coach Ferentz’s son in the control booth. He wears headphones and holds a pad of paper in front of him. Top Iowa assistant coaches are on both sides of him.

The younger Ferentz had been serving a role on the Iowa coaching staff as offensive line coach and run game coordinator. He was also a three-year letterman at Iowa and has been on the Iowa staff for the past five years. Under his leadership in 2016, Iowa’s offensive line won the Joe Moore Award, which is presented annually to the top offensive line in the country (Alabama won the inaugural award in the 2015 season).

“Brian has been an integral member of our offensive coaching staff for five years, bringing national recognition to our offensive line and new levels of success in our running game,” said Kirk Ferentz.  “Brian’s coaching experience here at Iowa, coupled with his time in the NFL, has prepared him well for his new responsibilities as the offensive coordinator for Iowa football.”

* * *

Born in 1983, he is a former offensive lineman in the NFL. He played football as an offensive lineman for Iowa from 2001 to 2005. During this time, his father Kirk Firenze was coach of Iowa. After going undrafted in the 2006 NFL Draft, Ferentz signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006 and was released from the Falcons September of 2006. He spent the season on the Falcons’ practice squad and was finally waived by the Falcons on May 14, 2007 and signed by the New Orleans Saints on in August of 2007. He was released by the Saints in September of 2007.

After bouncing around the NFL for a few years in the part of a player, not staying longer than a few months with the few teams he was on, Brian Ferentz began a new phase of his life. He decided to change from being a player to a coach. He joined the New England Patriots in 2008 as a scouting assistant. His father Kirk was a former assistant coach under Patriots head coach Bill Belichick when Belichick coached the Cleveland Browns in the 1990s. In 2009, when Ferentz was twenty-seven, he became an offensive coaching assistant. Before the 2010 season, Ferentz’s title was changed to offensive assistant coach, working primarily with the Patriots’ tight ends. He was officially promoted to tight ends coach in 2011. That season. the Patriots’ tight end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski set NFL records for receptions, yards, and touchdowns by tight ends. And, Gronkowski became the first tight end in NFL history to lead the league in touchdown receptions.

Brian and Kirk Ferentz

Brian returned to a wintery Iowa in February 2012 and took the position of offensive line coach for the Iowa Hawkeyes. On January 3, 2014, Bill O’Brien was announced as the new head coach of the Houston Texans where Brian was rumored to be joining the organization as the offensive line coach. Instead, the Texans choose to hire Paul Dunn, the former Atlanta Falcons’ Offensive Line Coach. On January 9, 2017, Ferentz was named the new offensive coordinator for Iowa.

There are a lot of other things a reporter could dig up on Brian but it seemed the above was enough to know during watching him. I got so inspired by his brilliant coaching during the game, I ended up looked up and reading his history on Wikipedia and then mixing it up with what I already knew. More than anything, one could see that Brian had done many things as both a player and coach in the NFL. Most jobs were far from career moves for him. Most lasting little more than a few years at the most. He seemed to still be in search of that particular “niche” in life.

The change from NFL player to coach was a move few in football transition into successfully. Many former players move to sports media rather than coaching so those who know the game from both a player and coach perspective are rare. Especially, in the ranks of college football. Yet Brian was one of the few that wanted to go from playing and coaching in the NFL to coaching in college. Particularly, coaching under one’s father.

But on this cloudy day in Iowa, five years after he returned back to his father’s team and Iowa, he seems a self-assured in the booth. At least in the telephoto shots into the booth by the television camera. His experience is highly tied into the ideas of the NFL teams he has interfaced with during his years in the NFL. Belichick was certainly one of Brian’s hero’s in life. As was his father Kirk Ferentz, the long-time coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

* * *

Things went pretty much back and forth in the first quarter of the game but Iowa began to pull away from OSU in the second quarter. By the third quarter, the Iowa Hawkeyes were running up massive points against the Buckeyes and by the fourth quarter Buckeye fans were watching the game in stunned silence. The final score of 55 to 24 was the worst loss of Buckeye Coach Urban Meyer’s career. The points were the most Ohio State allowed in a game since 1994, when it surrendered 63 points to number one ranked Penn State. During the next few days there were many post mortems of the game. Barrett threw more interceptions than any other game at OSU. Bosa was thrown out of the game in the second quarter for targeting. Yet few discussed the big elephant in the room: OSU was simply out-coached in the game.

During the game, there were television shots of Brian Ferentz in the control booth, the strategist for the offense that let was scoring all sorts of ways against the powerful Buckeyes. Watching the plays that Brian Ferentz ordered against the Buckeyes, I realized more and more that I might be watching the arrival of the era of a new type of college coach. One of the greatest games in Iowa’s history, the field is filled with the stands almost immediately. Urban Meyer attempts to give the traditional handshake to Ferentz after the game but there is no way he can get to him with all the fans on the field so he heads for the locker room while Ferentz is hustled off the field under guard of a number of burly Iowa police officers. And, there is a brief shot of Brian Ferentz after the game. He has come down from the control booth and walks amidst the huge crowd, a big smile on his face. He has accomplished the seemingly impossible. His team, ranked 99th in offense in the NCAA standings, has put up one of the biggest offensive showings in college football history.

* * *

Columbus is stunned by the loss. One of the worst losses in the Buckeye’s history. On Saturday night, a commentator on a Columbus station says that it was not that the Hawkeyes were good. It was simply that the Buckeyes were bad. I couldn’t disagree with him more. The Hawkeyes offense was great against the Buckeyes. It was brilliantly run by Brian Ferentz and nothing can reduce this coaching performance. It was one of the most brilliant offensive strategies I’ve seen in college football.

One has to wonder to a certain extent whether this game represents a certain infiltration of NFL offensive ideas into collegiate football? Might this be the real explanation as to why Iowa beat OSU by such a great score? Does it represent NFL ideas coming into the college ranks? Does Brian Ferentz represent a new pipeline of NFL pro-quarterback formations and style into college football?

Yes, Brian Ferentz has won an incredible football game. A game that is already going down in history as one of the great wins of all time. But perhaps more than this, he has finally found a fit for all of his experience and skills. It has been a long road for him and has taken him from a football player in college for his father  to a player and then coach in the NFL and then back to a coach for the team he played on under his father. Now, as a coach for this time. After all his travels, he is back to working with his father again. He has come home after all of his travels. The fact he might have finally found his true home became evident one November Satruday in Iowa City.

 

(Read more on Brian Ferentz from Iowa’s sports blog, Land of Ten)

 

 

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