6 Options to Replace Brian Ferentz as Iowa’s Offensive Coordinator

6 Options to Replace Brian Ferentz as Iowa’s Offensive Coordinator article feature image

Matthew Holst/Getty Images. Pictured: Iowa offensive coordinator Brin Ferentz.

Iowa’s interim athletic director, Beth Goetz, made an announcement this week that has the potential to shake up the Big Ten in 2024 and beyond.

The football program in Iowa City is moving in a new offensive direction. Iowa’s embattled offensive coordinator, Brian Ferentz, will not be retained at the end of the season. That opens the door for a whole host of possibilities.

Ferentz began serving as the Hawkeyes’ offensive coordinator in 2017. In his 6.5 years of service, the Iowa attack has been anemic. If you include this season, Ferentz has presided over seven Hawkeye offenses, and those attacks have earned an average ranking of 97th in scoring and 111th in total offense.

The Iowa offense has become a punchline, and fans are more likely to be spotted in jerseys of punter Tory Taylor than any skill position player.

But what makes Iowa’s offensive coordinator search so fascinating is the fact that its defense has succeeded so spectacularly in spite of its dysfunctional offense. Since 2017, the average finish for the Iowa defense in terms of points allowed per game has been ninth nationally.

Phil Parker has been an exemplary defensive coordinator for more than a decade and has been named a Broyles Award semifinalist three years running.

If Parker were paired with a top-30 offense, the ceiling for the program would jump from the likes of the Outback Bowl to regular appearances in the newly expanded College Football Playoff.

Can Kirk Ferentz, the sport’s longest-tenured coach (25 years), and the Hawkeye athletic department finally embrace the modern game?

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This scenario actually played out 18 years ago in the Big Ten when stuck-in-his-ways Joe Paterno finally opted to open up his offense. After a 7-16 two-year run in which the Nittany Lions failed to average 20 points per game, Paterno gave offensive coordinator Galen Hall more flexibility and freedom to modernize their attack.

Hall took his staff to the University of Texas in the summer of 2005 to see what the Longhorns were doing with Vince Young in their spread option attack. Hall then handed the keys of his offense over to Michael Robinson, an instinctual leader and dangerous dual-threat passer.

The result? A seven-win improvement, a share of the Big Ten title, an Orange Bowl win over Bobby Bowden and Florida State and an offense that was the envy of the entire Big Ten.

The Nittany Lions doubled their points-per-game average and took the college football world by storm. If it weren't for the legendary 2005 showdown between USC and Texas, everyone would still be talking about that Penn State turnaround.

So, who should Iowa be targeting to make a similar jump in 2024? I’ve broken down six candidates in the coaching carousel by star level.

Five-Star Hiring Options

G.J. Kinne, Texas State Head Coach

Kinne is an offensive savant who has recently performed a drastic turnaround.

Before arriving in San Marcos to take over the floundering Texas State program, Kinne was the head coach of the Incarnate Word Cardinals. In his lone season as an FCS head coach, his team led the nation in scoring and finished second in total offense at a mind-numbing 51.5 points and 580 yards per game.

Now at Texas State, he’s turned a perennial Sun Belt punching bag into the highest-scoring team in the conference at 35.1 PPG.

He accomplished this by expertly leveraging the transfer portal. He hit home runs by plucking players from major programs like Auburn and minor programs like Utah Tech. A similar strategy would be needed to revamp the Iowa roster in short order.

Contractually, Kinne only makes $800,000 per year plus incentives at Texas State, and his buyout stipulates that he would need to pay the university 50% of his remaining contract were he to resign. Given his five-year deal, he’d need to pony up $1.6 million to break his contract.

If Iowa wanted to make a competitive offer, it would need to cover his buyout and make him one of the highest-paid OCs in the game. The average salary of a top-10 OC in 2023 is $1.59 million.

Some would say moving down from a head coaching job to a coordinator job at the FBS level would be a mistake, but I believe he can do more for his career by turning around Iowa’s offense than he could competing for Sun Belt Championships.

If Iowa were suddenly dangerous on offense en route to a CFP invite, Kinne would be fielding head-coaching offers from Power 5 schools overnight.

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John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: G.J. Kinne.

Casey Woods, SMU Offensive Coordinator & TEs Coach

There are two sides to the Iowa rebuild on offense: The Xs and Os and the Jimmy’s and Joe’s. Woods can help with both.

He’s done a wonderful job on The Hilltop as the Mustangs’ OC. This season, SMU ranks seventh in points per game (40.5), fourth in passing explosiveness and second nationally in plays of 60-plus yards from scrimmage.

The man can flat-out scheme people open.

But the reason I rank this would be a five-star hire is his recruiting chops. As Missouri's recruiting coordinator, he reeled in the program’s highest-rated class in school history. His 2021 class ranked 20th by Rivals.

And before he left for the SMU job, he helped close Luther Burden III. Burden is the program’s second-highest-rated recruit to ever sign on the dotted line.

The man could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves. And it’s that kind of salesmanship that Iowa needs given its recent history on offense.

Four-Star Hiring Options

Brennan Marion, UNLV Offensive Coordinator

Marion has been a rising star in the coaching ranks for years.

As a position coach, his fingerprints were all over Pitt’s Peach Bowl season in 2021, and he personally coached that season’s Biletnikoff winner, Jordan Addison.

He has four years of experience as an offensive coordinator at Howard, William & Mary and UNLV, worked as both a wide receivers' coach and passing game coordinator in his stops at Pitt and Texas, and rubbed elbows with great offensive minds including Steve Sarkisian, G.J. Kinne and Mark Whipple.

He has the pedigree for a job like this and then some.

This season — with a backup quarterback — he’s helped elevate the UNLV offense. The Rebels are scoring a touchdown more per game and racking up 73 more yards than they did in 2022.

His famed Go-Go Offense balances the run and pass and makes the most of his perimeter weapons. UNLV’s top two rushers both average over five yards per carry, and its top two pass-catchers both average over 15 yards per reception.

Iowa doesn’t need to hire a search firm; this guy should be among its very first calls.

Joe Moorhead, Akron Head Coach

JoMo is 3-17 in his first 20 games at Akron. He gave it his best shot at one of the most difficult places to win in all of college football. In the end, he simply didn’t have the horses.

When he does have above-average line play and interesting perimeter weapons, he’s proven to be an elite play-caller and OC. He has been nominated for the Broyles Award at three separate schools — UConn, Penn State and Oregon — and was a finalist for Coach of the Year in the FCS ranks while at Fordham.

He can flat-out coach, and if he has any gas left in the tank, this is a perfect bounce-back spot for him.

For starters, his offenses shine when he’s working with strong lines and dynamic running backs, and Iowa has historically had the former and should be able to recruit the latter in the portal. Show a potential recruit Oregon’s highlight reel from 2021 when the Ducks scored 36 rushing touchdowns (sixth) or Saquon Barkley’s highlight tape with Moorhead calling the plays. That should seal the deal for any recruit on the fence.

Now, Akron extended Moorhead in the offseason, which means that his buyout is likely bigger than Kinne’s. But Iowa’s boosters should be eager to replace Brian Ferentz with a splashy hire.

And if they need to raise $2 or $3 million to do it, I have a feeling they’ll be willing to set up a bake sale or two, so to speak.

Three-Star Hiring Options

Jim Zebrowski, Kansas QBs Coach

Coach Z has been in the Midwest for the majority of his career and has served under one of the finest coaches in college football.

He’s been responsible for coaching up Lance Leopold’s quarterbacks at Buffalo and Kansas, and he’s done incredible work.

He helped turn a project like Tyree Jackson into the MAC Offensive Player of the Year. At Kansas, he’s done a fantastic job not only helping Jalon Daniels reach star status but also coaxing above-average play out of backup Jason Bean.

Without his work with the quarterbacks, Saturday's historic upset of undefeated Oklahoma would never have happened.

He’s been a coach for over 30 years and has finally earned a major opportunity like this one.

If Kirk Ferentz wanted to opt for a pick that feels a bit more “Iowa” than some of the other splashier names on this list, Zebrowski is the guy.

Kliff Kingsbury, USC Senior Offensive Analyst & QBs Coach

Speaking of splashy hires, how about the man who coached up Johnny Manziel and Patrick Mahomes?

Kingsbury has always been able to stay one step ahead on the offensive side of the ball, at least in the college ranks. And after he flamed out spectacularly in the NFL, he’s already begun the career rebuilding process by laying low, as much as one can, in Los Angeles.

He can help with recruiting, and understanding the nuisances of the transfer portal thanks to his apprenticeship with Lincoln Riley, and he’s a big enough name to really fire up the fan base.

He would be a rental, but this is about maximizing your potential improvement over a two-year window.

Kingsbury also wouldn’t completely break the bank, given his current agreement with USC. Iowa would still need to pay him in the $1.5 million-plus range per year, but there's no hefty buyout hanging over him.

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