Doyle's Departure Doesn't Ensure Soft Landing For Iowa
The first sign of problems came in an anonymous survey a year ago.
The diversity task force within Iowa's athletic department asked athletes in all sports about their concerns in a survey in which the participants weren't identified.
“The key theme in that report," Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said during his press conference on Monday, "indicated that many of our African American student athletes did not feel comfortable being their authentic self."
Barta cited two comments:
• “I felt like I had to put a mask on and check my identity at the door.”
• “I was told by my coach to change my hairstyle because it didn’t fit the Iowa culture.”
Both comments were from football players.
It's been two weeks since football coach Kirk Ferentz had that video conference with his team, when they told him he needed to speak louder, and sooner, in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis and the protests and anger that rose from that.
It's been 10 days since former offensive lineman James Daniels posted on Twitter that there were "racial disparities" within Iowa's football program.
It's been seven days since Ferentz, Barta, and the rest of the Iowa football staff held a meeting with players that Ferentz described as "raw and powerful," with emotions and frustration so heavy that another meeting had to be called the next day.
We were just a couple of hours away from the announcement of the separation agreement between strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who had been the focus of many of the allegations by the former players, and the athletic department when Barta spoke in an emotional press conference.
At times, the AD choked back emotions as he talked about racism and the impact it had on friends who had faced it.
And early on in the press conference, Barta apologized.
"It’s to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ to former student-athletes, coaches, staff, current student-athletes, anybody who has had a negative experience with Iowa football," he said. "When I say ‘negative,’ if you felt mistreated, misled, discriminated against, whatever the case, I truly am sorry. We want everybody who participates in our program to have a great experience academically, athletically and socially."
There is still much to explain, and it starts with why there wasn't more done when those first anonymous comments were heard.
Barta, like Ferentz, thought the steps they had taken — Ferentz said last week that players were allowed to wear hats, earrings and hooded sweatshirts when in the Iowa football building — were enough.
"The stories I’ve heard for the last week and a half caught me off guard, because I hadn’t heard specifics," Barta said. "We certainly learned some things when the university task force interviewed some student-athletes, so that was sort of an eye-opening experience.
"I was lulled into thinking that these were good steps, and that it was improving. I was convincing myself that the changes we were making were making a difference. My eyes were wide-open in the past week and a half when I heard the stories that I heard."
Eyes are open now. Ears are open — Barta, like Ferentz, says he will listen more to the complaints now. Minds certainly need to be open.
The checkbook was definitely open. With the agreement, Doyle parachutes out of this with a little more than $1.1 million, which appears to be a price Iowa was willing to pay to stay out of the legal world where it certainly hasn't had much success in lately.
The decision to reach the separation agreement with Doyle was a step that Barta had no choice but to take. Keep him on staff, even on administrative leave while an independent review is conducted, and the anger inside and outside the football program remains. The allegations were too numerous, and too severe.
His departure is just one of many, many steps that need to be taken.
The problems, of course, aren't going away. Barta wants the diversity task force to keep working, and maybe add more responsibilities. The independent review, Barta said, would last "weeks, not months."
Whatever the results, they must be fully transparent. Whatever the results, the actions to repair the wrongs, which may mean more actions against other coaches, and move forward must be swift.
There have been allegations made against offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, Kirk's son. Assistant coach Seth Wallace's name has come up. Those, too, must be investigated.
Barta wasn't interested in looking at the past when asked if, now, he thought should have handled the situation better when 13 football players going through Doyle's offseason workouts were hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis in 2011.
He would rather move forward. That's something Ferentz has been stressing as well.
One step forward happened on Monday. So many steps still remain.
Doyle got a soft landing. The turbulence still remains for everyone else.