With the season opener against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field just eight days away, Voice of the Hawkeyes began a series on Friday examining eight reasons why Iowa will - or will not - win the B1G in 2012. Be sure to stay tuned, as we will be revealing one reason every day leading up to the opener.
Will the arrival of Greg Davis and departure of Ken O'Keefe help or hurt Iowa's offense in 2012?
REASON NUMBER TWO WHY IOWA WILL - OR WILL NOT - WIN THE B1G IN 2012: CHANGES AMONG THE COACHING STAFF
Until this past offseason, Iowa had been a model of coaching stability from top to bottom. For a variety of reasons, that changed between the end of the 2011 regular season and the beginning of spring practice. The only coaches on this year's staff returning to the same role they held in 2011 are Kirk Ferentz, Erik Campbell and Lester Erb.
Former offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe was often the subject of criticism from Hawkeye fans for some of Iowa's struggles on offense, and former defensive coordinator Norm Parker was seen by some Hawkeye fans as being too conservative as a play-caller. How much Greg Davis and Phil Parker, the two new coordinators, will differ from their predecessors remains to be seen.
Another frequent target of criticism from Hawkeye fans was former defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski, as he was often blamed for Iowa's problems with attrition and under-performing among the defensive line. Reese Morgan hasn't exactly been dealt a stacked deck, as Iowa is noticeably inexperienced up front this season.
Will: Change isn't always good, but one common benefit of coaching changes is a heightened sense of focus and increased energy and competition among the players. With new coaches, there is less of a guarantee that returning starters will retain their spot, and players that had previously been on the outside looking in often feel they have a better chance of getting a serious look. Thus far, this appears to have been the case for the Hawkeyes this offseason. With most games ultimately being decided by a handful of plays, maybe that extra focus, intensity and competition from spring practice and the offseason will make the ever-so-slight difference between Iowa losing a heartbreaker and winning a thriller in 2012.
Greg Davis has led some high-powered offenses in his career, most recently at Texas, and he showed an ability to develop a scheme that fits the talents of his players, rather than force the players to fit into his system. If he can devise an offensive scheme that takes advantage of that unit's strengths, while minimizing the burden of its weaknesses, the Hawkeye offense could take that next step in 2012. This holds true not only at the macro level with the entire unit, but at the micro level with James Vandenberg. The senior struggled with his pocket presence in 2011, so a scheme designed to get the ball out of his hands a split second earlier will enable his strengths to shine through. Maybe past Iowa teams were too reluctant to change the system they had run for so many years, and Davis is just the guy to provide a spark.
Defensively, with Iowa's inexperience up front, a more aggressive approach may become an absolute necessity if the Hawkeyes want to generate more pressure on the quarterback this year. If Phil Parker employs a more aggressive scheme, this may enable the Iowa defense to take advantage of its strengths while attempting to cover up its weaknesses.
Additionally, in order for Iowa's defense to succeed in 2012, multiple defensive linemen absolutely must emerge with a breakout year this season. Considering the youth and inexperience up front, and Morgan's reputation as being an outstanding teacher of the fundamentals, he may be the perfect coach to lead those players to breakout years.
Will not: At some programs, players come to expect some sort of change on the coaching staff from year to year. But not at Iowa. How will players like James Vandenberg, Keenan Davis, Micah Hyde and Steve Bigach, among others, adjust to the relative overhaul among the coaching staff when that has never happened since the day they arrived in Iowa City? When things have been done one way for their entire careers, how comfortable will they be with the schematic changes when the bullets are flying in the fourth quarter in East Lansing?
While new to the role of defensive coordinator, Parker obviously has a solid grasp of what Iowa's players can do, and vice-versa. But on the offensive side, it may take some time for Greg Davis to develop some chemistry with the players. If the offense suffers some growing pains early in the season, will that lead to an even more conservative approach as the season progresses?
In terms of play calling, while O'Keefe and Norm Parker received their share of criticism, at the end of the day, it is - and always has been - Kirk Ferentz's team. So despite the coaching changes, we may not actually see a major difference when it comes to which plays are called and when they are called, or in terms of clock and game management issues.
As far as Kaczenski's departure goes, I've always felt that if a defensive lineman can't handle a coach getting in his face, then best of luck making it in the NFL. I have no reason to believe that Reese Morgan won't thrive in his new role, but at the same time, I don't think Kaczenski was the problem.
Lastly, when an entire coaching staff has been together for as long as Iowa's had been, they develop a level of chemistry that will likely exceed that of the opponent's coaching staff nearly every week. This may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but in the heat of battle on Saturday afternoons, it is extremely valuable to have an entire coaching staff that can finish their colleagues' sentences. With this year's changes, will that cause the Hawkeyes to lose that edge over their opponents?