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Tim Lester's New Iowa Hawkeye Offense

Tim Lester'
© Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

With the midseason news of Iowa's former offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz being let go from his position, the biggest question surrounding Hawkeye football this offseason was who his replacement would be. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa's head coach, answered that question on Jan. 28th, naming Green Bay Packers Senior Analyst and Former Western Michigan head coach, Tim Lester, as the team's new offensive coordinator.

Lester's History

Lester was a college football and XFL player. During his time in the XFL, Lester got his coaching start as the offensive coordinator at his high school alma mater. Lester made the jump to full-time coaching in 2002 when he was the offensive coordinator for Elmhurst. After a short tenure as head coach at Saint Joseph's (IN), he became the quarterbacks coach for Western Michigan in 2005. After stints at North Central and a return to Elmhurst, Lester was hired by Syracuse to be the quarterbacks coach and then shortly promoted to offensive coordinator. After a season as the Purdue quarterbacks coach in 2016, Lester was hired as the Western Michigan head coach from 2017-2022 compiling a 37-32 record. In 2023, Lester was hired as a Senior Analyst for the Green Bay Packers, having been college teammates with Packers head coach Matt LaFleur.

Offensive Philosophy

Lester's offensive scheme has been described as a West Coast passing scheme with an emphasis on downhill running. During Lester's time at Syracuse, there was a strong focus on a new style of position that essentially is the modern-day tight end. The position at the time was labeled as the hybrid position, which has the ability to line up at four different spots and on any given play; can be a runner, receiver, and blocker. A scheme that Lester once used during his time in Elmhurst. At Western Michigan, Lester finally got total control of his offense, utilizing the hybrid position and adding extra installs on run-pass options (RPO). Lester created new route concepts for receivers to attack the secondary on base run plays. Basic RPOs have receivers running slants or bubbles, in Lester's system, they were being pushed more vertically with posts and corners. Safeties were targeted vertically forcing them to decide to come down into the box or assist the corner away from the play. The new vertical RPO puts receivers in better positions to win their one-on-one match-ups and limit the turnovers by always having a run be the base play. The result had Lester's offenses at Western Michigan putting up consistent production with a 42nd-ranked offense in total points and helped dominate the time of possession. Something Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes have always tried to game plan for is controlling the time of possession and controlling field positioning. Through RPOs, the defense is going to have to honor the pass as a legitimate threat for the Hawkeyes instead of being able to stack the box outnumbering the blockers.

The Brian Ferentz Era

The infamous "coach's son" hiring caused conflict within the Iowa fan base. Iowa's offense can be described in three plays, stretch run left, dive run to the right setting up a third and medium. On third down, play-action boot to the quarterback's weak side with a backside tight end on a climb, the backside receiver running a post and the play-side tight end doing a check at the line then an under at the line of scrimmage. Iowa's offense felt more like a recipe than an attacking scheme. The offensive line got noticeably worse as Brian's time as offensive coordinator went on. During Brian Ferentz's tenure as the offensive coordinator, Iowa's offense ranked 84th out of the current 133 FBS schools. In 2023, Iowa was last in FBS for yards per play at 3.94 with no other school below 4.3. Iowa averaged 14 points per game which ranked 130th in the FBS. The team's record over that span was 51 wins to 27 losses with two Big Ten Championship game appearances and four bowl game victories. Iowa was able to achieve this level of success due to the defense and special teams being ranked eighth and 43rd respectively during Brian Ferentz's time as the offensive coordinator. Brian Ferentz's last game for Iowa was a 35-0 loss to Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl.

Tim Lester'
© Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Can Lester Fix The Offense

Kirk Ferentz thinks Lester is the answer to get the offense back on track.

"In my mind, he's a good fit for us," Ferentz said. "Similar, in a lot of ways, to the way we've operated, yet a lot of different perspectives, new perspectives. That's part of moving forward, is getting different ideas, different views, and try to implement in a way we all believe will work for us."


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