Next man in

IOWA CITY – Former Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe wore many hats of perception during his tenure with the Hawkeyes.

O’Keefe was oftentimes labeled boring. Predictable. Vanilla. He was the weak link. A punching bag. A scapegoat.

Fair or not, the O’Keefe debate is over. Greg Davis sits on the hot seat now as Kirk Ferentz resets his right-hand men for the first time in 14 seasons at Iowa.

Davis was hired to replace O’Keefe, who left for a position with the Miami Dolphins. The long-time University of Texas offensive coordinator joins Phil Parker, who is taking over for the retired Norm Parker on the defensive side of the ball.

”It’s definitely not the same old thing on two,” Ferentz said of the Hawkeye offense. ”I think the guys have really learned and progressed well so far. I just saw Norm Parker in the locker room – he’s been out there a couple of times, and he was impressed with the ball not being on the ground and guys being in line with the cadence, knowing what to do for the most part.

”Greg is a veteran coach. He has great expertise, and has a great ability to teach. He’s been excellent with the staff, and I think the players have taken to his style.”

Despite Davis’ well-documented track record – he’s been a coach at the collegiate level for well over 30 years – Ferentz believes he will be able to freshen up an attack that often sputtered on O’Keefe’s watch.

”Any time you’re 13 years into something, you need to take a look and see what direction to go,” Ferentz said. ”We’ve met in a lot of different areas, had a lot of discussions, and are just really pleased with what we’ve talked about (with new coaches Davis, Parker and offensive line coach Brian Ferentz). So far, so good.”

Davis has very little balance to work with in his inaugural campaign calling the offensive shots. With Marcus Coker and De’Andre Johnson off the team for disciplinary reasons and Jordan Canzeri lost to a torn ACL, quarterback James Vandenberg (78 carries, 61 yards) is now the program’s leading incumbent rusher. Iowa has 98 carries and 129 yards of experience returning on the ground this season.

Vandenberg, a senior, threw for over 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2011. He will likely push the 31.1 pass attempts per game he averaged as a junior under Davis’ guidance – especially given the uncertainty in the backfield.

”James was paying pretty close attention to what was going on during the coaching search,” Ferentz said. ”Then when Greg got here, nobody was closer to Greg right from the start than James.

”This is James’ senior year. He obviously wants to play his best football this season, so part of that equation certainly is for him to develop a close relationship with Greg. And flipping it over on Greg’s side, how do you not love James Vandenberg. He’s just an outstanding kid. It’s been a pretty good marriage already.”

How long the honeymoon will last with Hawkeye fans, though, remains to be seen.

Ferentz, for one, isn’t fazed.

”I’m not a big one on expectations. We’re going to try and make the most out of the opportunities in front of us daily and weekly, and with the season they all add up.

”We feel like we have a chance right now. I think we have certainly outlived what the norms are (given the preseason predictions for the program over the last 13 years). I look at this as an opportunity. (O’Keefe and Parker’s departure) gave us the opportunity to bring some really good people in, and I think that’s what we’ve done. It’s been a different offseason certainly, but it’s been enjoyable.”