Howe: Hawks are Broken

Howe: Hawks are Broken

Iowa heads to Michigan this week riding a four-game losing streak. Only an upset this week or next against Nebraska might be able to stop the bleeding of a program headed in the wrong direction.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - Kirk Ferentz won't say it publicly but he knows he's coaching a bad football team. The Iowa coach also realizes that he and his staff's performance this season is subpar.

Hawkeye fans can be upset with Ferentz. They even can say that he's not earning his $4M annual salary. Heck, they can wish him gone if they want.

It's not going to happen anytime soon, nor should it. Ferentz has accomplished quite a bit in his career. He's given a lot to Iowa football, the university and the community. He's done it with dignity and class.

It's not luck. Ferentz is well organized and intelligent, especially when it comes to football. That's why he understands the state of his football team.

The Dean of Big Ten coaches has stated before that you are what your record says you are. At 4-6 overall, 2-4 in the conference and on a four-game skid, the Hawkeyes are among the league's worst teams after being one of its best only three seasons ago.

Iowa didn't just become bad. The slide started in 2010 when the team underperformed, lacked effort at times and endured some coaching paralysis (Wisconsin's fake punt, for one). The Hawkeyes took another step back last season and the current group might be the worst one since Ferentz's first season in 1999.

The head coach said in March that coaching changes and a review of the program after the last two seasons was "invigorating." He couldn't have foreseen these results when making that comment.

Ferentz has succeeded by living in the moment. He, strength coach Chris Doyle and the program have twice broken the rock with persistence. This team has shown that a third ascension is farther away than the coach thought it to be earlier in the year.

Ferentz hasn't forgotten how to coach the game or lost his desire to win. He just hasn't recruited enough talent or developed it the way he had earlier in his tenure here to win at a high level. He and his staff also haven't improved enough in terms of clock management and strategy to overcome it.

When Ferentz hired Greg Davis last offseason, he said he liked his new offensive coordinator's ability to adapt his attack to fit the strengths of his players. That hasn't happened. Quarterback James Vandenberg has looked lost after a standout junior year. His regression can't solely be placed on his shoulder pads.

In fairness to Davis, he must work within the parameters of the Ferentz philosophy of a conservative offense with a bend-but-don't-break defense. And the disparity between Iowa's talent on that side of the ball and with what Davis worked with at Texas is cavernous. He noticed and said publicly that the team lacked speed shortly after taking the Hawkeye gig.

Ferentz needs to focus on the positives at the risk of losing his team completely. Saturday's atrocious first-half against a Purdue team on life support serves as evidence that this group might be slipping away from him.

The Hawkeyes played better after a halftime chewing out from Ferentz. They couldn't have played much worse than they did in the first 30 minutes. Purdue also performed sloppily, finishing the day with three fumbles lost and 10 penalties for 100 yards. That magnified the colossal failure of Iowa.

Maybe it would help if Ferentz and the coaches become less rigid schematically and find ways to put their athletes in better position to succeed. They can stay true to their beliefs and still mix it up a bit.

Iowa radio analyst Ed Podolak said on Saturday that the Boilermakers looked like they were in the Hawkeye huddle. It was painfully obvious that the visitors knew what plays Iowa was running at the line of scrimmage. It made things a lot easier for a defense that had been abused during a five-game losing streak.

It was nothing new. As Ferentz has said repeatedly, it's about execution of the game plan. Teams have known for years what Iowa likes to do.

This incarnation of Iowa football had not executed consistently at any point, however. It fell on the coaches to guide them to perform better through teaching or altering the plan to keep the opposition off balance more often.

While the Hawkeyes have been competitive most weeks this fall and have brought in some solid talent in the last few classes, recruiting from their current state will be hard. Strong coaching and development will be as crucial as ever in the Ferentz Era.

It's painfully obvious that this program has regressed significantly since beating Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl after the '09 season. It's fallen down the Big Ten hierarchy to a point that recovery won't be easy or fast. More than have a few things have broken.

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