Not Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Todd Brommelkamp/1600 ESPN

Fair or not, first impressions carry a lot of weight.

If Tuesday were an episode of ABC’s reality TV juggernaut “The Bachelor,” Tim Lester would have received a coveted First Impression Rose from the assembled media and the multitude of Iowa Football fans watching his introductory news conference online.

Lester came across as affable with an undercurrent of confidence, not surprising given his experience in front of cameras as a head coach at his alma mater of Western Michigan. Lester stood in stark contrast with new co-worker Seth Wallace, who seemed uncomfortable during his turn at the lectern as he spoke for the first time as Assistant Head Coach.

Personality will only get Lester as far as spring practice. After that, all that will matter to most are the results his unit puts forth on the field.

The job of turning Iowa’s offense into even a middle-of-the-road performer will be easier said than done, especially given Kirk Ferentz’s propensity to want to reign in his top play-caller.

“In my mind he’s a good fit for us, and that’s first and foremost,” Ferentz said. “Similar in a lot of ways to I think the way we’ve operated, yet a lot of different perspectives, too, new perspectives. That’s part of moving forward, obviously getting different ideas, different views, and trying to implement them in a way that we all believe will work for us.”

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of Ferentz at least paying lip service to something most anyone who has watched a down of Iowa Football in recent years realized long ago, and that is his tried-and-true approach was no longer effective.

Enter Lester, who name dropped Steve Spurrier, Kyle Shanahan and Sean Payton among his many influences.

“It’s going to be a process,” Lester said. “We’re excited to get started as soon as possible.”

Whether or not he’ll need the majority of the 600-plus passing plays he referenced having at his disposal will depend on his evaluation of quarterback Cade McNamara and the supporting cast of linemen, receivers and running backs that will take the field next fall.

“One thing I’ve learned in my time as a former quarterback, quarterback coach, offensive coordinator, head coach at pretty much every level, it’s about putting your players in the best position to succeed,” he said.

Lester could have taken the podium Tuesday and claimed to have all the answers for what has ailed the Hawkeyes. He didn’t. In fact, he went so far as to admit he hasn’t had time to even meet all of the Hawkeyes yet.

His down-to-earth demeanor was a welcome change from his predecessor who, at the start of his final season as Iowa’s offensive coordinator, all but sneered at questions about personnel and play-calling. Who could forget the “we’re going to do the same things we do, and we’re going to do them better” bravado from Brian Ferentz last spring.

The Hawkeyes somehow managed to do things worse and still win the Big Ten West, but by season’s end he had long since been out of a job. He was ousted by then-interim Athletics Director Beth Goetz in late October, remaining on staff to publicly ride out his days in all black attire as if he were a brooding, logoless Johnny Cash avatar.

Despite the fact the ‘Help Wanted” sign was hung in Iowa City with a month left to play in the 2023 season and not surprisingly there was a lack of coaches clamoring for the gig. Kirk Ferentz went in to detail Tuesday about the timeline in filling the role, sharing how he went from a dozen phone calls to six candidates to four and then finally the man standing in the room with him yesterday.

“The bottom line is this, the whole key to this thing was to ensure that we got the best person and the right person for this position, and that was the goal from start to finish,” he said. “The bottom line is I want to do what’s best for our team and best for our program, and I’m confident that we landed the mark there.”

Give Kirk Ferentz credit for not trying to sell everyone a bill of goods with typical coach-speak about eyeing Lester for the gig from Day One and getting his man. Among the available candidates, Ferentz did his due diligence and settled on (not for) Lester.

Both Ferentz and his new coordinator (who will also serve as the team’s quarterbacks coach) seemed to caution those listening to not read too much into prior results – both good and bad – at places like Western Michigan, Purdue and Syracuse.

I think that’s fair.

It doesn’t matter that Lester was tasked with trying to fit a square peg in to a round hold with the Orange or that a few of his team’s in Kalamazoo put up strong numbers against MAC-level competition.

Tim Lester will be judged on what he does in Iowa City and Iowa City alone.

As for first impressions, if you’re familiar with “The Bachelor” you know the person who gets that initial rose usually has a 50-50 chance of remaining as the last one standing at the end of the season.

Maybe Lester will succeed long-term where Ken O’Keefe, Greg Davis and Brian Ferentz couldn’t.

Perhaps he’ll find Kirk Ferentz’s talk of being open to trying anything at this point was merely lip service.

Time will tell, but for at least one day things seemed less thorny inside the Iowa Football complex and that’s a promising start.

Todd Brommelkamp is the host of “The Todd Brommelkamp Show” and can be heard weekday mornings on 1600 ESPN from 6:30-9:00 AM.