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O'keefe keeps Iowa offense on the move

Ken O'Keefe has come a long way from the trees and rolling hills of Meadville.

The 55-year-old has mastered Big Ten defenses, international relations and Division III football.

This week, he takes on the Pitt Panthers.

O'Keefe, who won a NCAA Division III national championship at Allegheny College nearly two decades ago, will be calling the plays when Iowa (3-0) travels to meet Pitt (1-1) at noon Saturday at Heinz Field.

"He's done a wonderful job," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

O'Keefe, in his 10th year as the offensive coordinator at Iowa, spent 12 seasons at Allegheny College, the final eight as the head coach from 1990-98.

He built the Gators into a D-III football power, going 79-10-1 and winning the 1990 title and national coach of the year honors in his first year at the small liberal-arts school.

All eight of his teams finished ranked in the top 12 in the nation, and for a while, O'Keefe rivaled Sharon Stone as the best thing to ever come out of Meadville.

He even coached a group of college all-stars in an exhibition football game in Moscow that helped spur the sport in Russia. Later, he helped form the Friendship Bowl, which brought youth football teams from Moscow to Meadville.

"He had a tremendous run there," said Ferentz, who hired O'Keefe a decade ago. "We've been good friends for life."

Ferentz and O'Keefe were each other's boss at one time. Ferentz, a graduate of Upper St. Clair High, and O'Keefe's brother, Jim, played football at Connecticut in the 1970s.

A couple of years later, O'Keefe hired Ferentz at Worcester Academy, a Boston area private school.

Then, the two went their separate ways for nearly two decades.

O'Keefe left Allegheny College to become the head coach at Fordham in 1998, but after one season in the Bronx, he departed for Iowa City to join newly-hired Ferentz's staff.

"When I had the opportunity to put a staff together," Ferentz said on this week's Big Ten media conference call, "he was at the top of the list."

It's been an up-and-down decade with the Hawkeyes, with the successes and problems seemingly inextricably linked to O'Keefe's offense.

When the Hawkeyes were finishing in the top 10 in the nation each year from 2002-04, O'Keefe managed to solve Big Ten defenses despite breaking in a first-year starter at quarterback each year.

But last year, the offense fell apart. Iowa ranked last or next-to-last in the Big Ten in virtually every offensive category. It was at the bottom in scoring, total yards, passing efficiency and first downs.

O'Keefe was sharply criticized, even after Ferentz gave him a public show of support and said firing his long-time friend was out of the question.

This season, Iowa, thanks in part to an early schedule that included Florida International and Maine, ranks in the top six in most offensive categories in the Big Ten

"Kirk looked at every aspect of everything we were doing," O'Keefe told the Iowa City Press Citizen last month. "We feel like things are there. We just need to improve."

O'Keefe is one of the reasons Iowa has been able to land some high-profile Erie-area players from PIAA District 10, including safety Bob Sanders, now an NFL star with the Colts, and wide receiver Ed Hinkel, a former Iowa MVP.

O'Keefe tried to sign Pitt tight end Nate Byham out of Franklin High School, but Byham, who calls O'Keefe a "great guy," picked Pitt because it was closer to home.

"I thought about them at first, because they were the first school to offer me a scholarship," Byham said. "They have a good lock on D-10 schools, and they come up to Western (Pennsylvania) and the WPIAL and get a lot of kids up there."

Additional Information:

Ken O'Keefe

Age: 55

School: Iowa

Position: Offensive coordinator

Notable: Went 79-10-1 in eight seasons as head coach at Division III Allegheny College

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