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IOWA CITY — Hawkeye Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, former strength coach Christopher Doyle, and other University of Iowa defendants recently have piled on requests that a judge dismiss a federal discrimination lawsuit against them — calling it too vague, too broad, and too late.
But former players suing them for discrimination, retaliation, and systemic racial hostility are firing back — accusing the coaches of dodging, delaying, and hiding behind attorneys to avoid producing court-compelled records and participating in the legal process.
“Brian Ferentz is a key defendant in this matter who has direct allegations asserted against him for his overt conduct,” according to the players’ recent request the court delay any decision on motions to drop their case and compel UI cooperation.
“Plaintiffs respectfully request that this honorable court defer considering the summary judgment … or deny the relief requested by defendant Brian Ferentz, allow plaintiffs to obtain production of documents from defendant Brian Ferentz, and take defendant Brian Ferentz’s deposition.”
Players, who in November 2020 filed a lawsuit accusing the Hawkeye program of fostering a racially discriminatory culture and committing specific racist offenses, through their attorneys this month said the Hawkeye program continues to refuse to turn over all court-ordered documents.
“The court ordered the defendants to produce the documents relating to the Husch Blackwell investigation by July 11, 2022,” according to the players. “When defendants produced documents related to the Husch Blackwell investigation in accordance with the court’s order, a review of those documents revealed that defendants had withheld documents the court ordered them to produce.”
UI Athletics in early 2020 hired Husch Blackwell to conduct an “independent and external review” of the Hawkeye football program, which faced allegations of racism and discrimination from numerous former players. That review produced several reports — including on specific coaches like Kirk and Brian Ferentz and Doyle, with whom the UI signed a $1.3 million separation agreement.
Although the UI publicly shared a summary report confirming the football program “perpetuated racial or cultural biases and diminished the value of cultural diversity,” it withheld Husch Blackwell personnel reports on coaches — asserting privacy laws.
Over the summer, a judge ordered the UI turn over all materials the former players requested related to the review — despite claims of attorney-client privilege.
“It is uncontested that (the Husch Blackwell law firm’s) investigation was not made, and the report was not prepared, because of any prospect of litigation,” according to Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Helen Adams’ June 24 order for release.
In addition to those outstanding records, the UI and its attorneys also have not made individuals available for deposition — which involves taking sworn, out-of-court testimony for use in court — including Brian Ferentz.
While players awaited the requested documents and depositions, the UI and its coaches this month filed their motions asking a judge to dismiss the case and rule in their favor — having already conducted depositions of the players who are suing them.
“In what appears to be a public relations move in advance of the 2022 college football season, defendant Brian Ferentz prematurely filed the summary judgment and summary judgment brief after evading document production and depositions for nearly a year,” according to the players. “Discovery remains outstanding as to Brian Ferentz as to both document requests and his deposition testimony.”
‘Must be dismissed’
In addition to Brian Ferentz’s August motion for a summary judgment in his favor, he -- along with Head Coach Kirk Ferentz, Seth Wallace, Gary Barta, UI, and the Board of Regents -- this month filed motions asking the judge to dismiss certain counts against them.
Kirk Ferentz in his Sept. 2 filing accused some of the suing players of failing to allege any specific acts against the coaches — “let alone K. Ferentz, within the two-year look back period.”
Throughout the coaches’ requests, they cite records and recordings the players have produced and depositions they sat for, poking holes in changing stories and unfounded accusations.
They also argue the players — having been with the Hawkeye program as far back as 2015 — are time-barred from making legal claims. And that they’ve failed to offer supported specific allegations.
“Several of the claims of plaintiffs must be dismissed because plaintiffs have failed to plead sufficient facts,” according to a UI request for dismissal.
Hawkeye Linebackers coach Seth Wallace — added to the lawsuit in the spring, more than a year after the original complaint — in his request for dismissal argued the players can’t just attach him to allegations that originally excluded him.
“Plaintiffs originally sued several Iowa football coaches whom they believed were liable and omitted Wallace. Plaintiffs knew the identity of Wallace but ignored him,” according to Wallace’s request. “There was no mistake here as to plaintiffs naming a ‘wrong party,’ in the sense of a misnamed or wrongly named party, and absent such mistake there can be no relation back of claims against a new party to the time of the filing of the original petition.”
Doyle dismissal ask
Former Hawkeye strength coach Doyle on Monday filed a separate request for summary judgment, arguing — among other things — the lawsuit came too late and failed to make sufficient arguments.
“Plaintiffs cannot properly identify any similarly situated comparators to demonstrate that Doyle disparately treated them on the basis of their race,” according to this motion, which was filed by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office — as opposed to personal attorneys who filed the other coaches’ motions.
In making his case, Doyle said until the morning on June 5, 2020 — when social media exploded with allegations against the UI football program — no one had ever made a complaint against him “that was in any way related to racial discrimination, racial slurs or treating anyone differently because of their race.”
“Doyle has consistently received exemplary performance evaluations during his time at the university,” according to his motion. “Former players and coaches, including those involved with the University of Iowa strength and conditioning program at the same time as plaintiffs, have never witnessed Doyle engaging in any racially discriminatory behavior.”
Throughout his motion, Doyle cites the players’ depositions — which they sat for in the spring — like from Akrum Wadley, a star UI running back from 2015 to 2017.
“Mr. Wadley acknowledged under oath that Doyle never used the ‘n’ word, and never said anything about his hair, jewelry, tattoos other than Wadley’s belief that neither Doyle nor Coach Kirk Ferentz liked players wearing hoodies,” according to Doyle’s argument.
Trying to ‘hide’
Players in responding to the coaches argue they don’t have the information they need to argue their case.
“As has been widely and thoroughly discussed in multiple status conferences before this honorable court, defendants’ counsel did not respond to plaintiffs’ attempts to obtain deposition dates for defendants, including Brian Ferentz, and other key witnesses,” according to the players.
Instead, the players accused Ferentz of trying to “hide” by prematurely moving for dismissal, making “highly objectionable” legal conclusions on disputed facts — saying, simply, he did no wrong.
“Brian Ferentz stated, ‘I deny that I asked Wadley if he were going to rob a liquor store, gas station, bank, or any other place,’” according to the players request the court deny his motion, calling that an example “of the many, many assertions lodged and addressed in defendant Brian Ferentz’s affidavit that he must address in a deposition taken under oath and subject to cross examination.”
“Defendants cannot be afforded the opportunity to refuse to respond to requests to depose witnesses, including Brian Ferentz, and then seek summary judgment in a case involving conduct that this honorable court has referred to as ‘vile,’” the players argued.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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