IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa’s $1.3 million deal to obtain the resignation of former football strength coach Chris Doyle is “different” from the UI’s 2014 decision to fire Tracey Griesbaum as head field hockey coach, despite both coaches facing allegations of bullying players, according to Athletic Director Gary Barta.
Different is one way to describe it. Another is a double standard, said Griesbaum and other advocates for gender equity in sports.
“For him to walk away with a million dollars is about as double standard as you can get,” said Jill Zwagerman, a Des Moines lawyer who represented Griesbaum in her 2016 gender discrimination lawsuit against the UI, which ended in 2017 when the UI paid a $6.5 million settlement to Griesbaum and her partner, former longtime athletics administrator Jane Meyer.
Griesbaum, who hasn’t been able to get a paid college coaching job since 2014 despite having 12 winning seasons at Iowa, said she watched a June 15 news conference in which Barta defended the deal for Doyle.
She heard Des Moines Register reporter Chad Leistikow remind Barta of Griesbaum’s 2014 firing and ask if Barta would likewise fire remaining football coaches if an investigation reveals there’s been bullying in the program.
“I’m going to judge this situation on what comes forward in its unique sense,” Barta said. “What is in common, and this sounds simple: Student-athletes having an opportunity to have a great experiences academically, athletically and socially is critical. That’s the case whether it’s field hockey or football. I’m going to wait and see what comes back. I’m going to take that into account compared to other information I have and make decisions based on that.”
Barta said signing the deal with Doyle, before that independent investigation is complete, was the “thoughtful and sensible” way for the Hawkeye football program to move forward.
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Gender equity advocates say the disparities in how Iowa ousted Doyle and Griesbaum point to stereotypes in coaching and biases that hurt female coaches’ job opportunities.
“It’s very evident that Chris Doyle had an opportunity to coach differently than I did,” Griesbaum said. “Even to the very end, he was treated differently. I was not given the ‘thoughtful and sensible’ thing and that is completely riddled with gender bias.”
Allegations and support
When Griesbaum was fired in 2014, Barta said that he decided to make a “change in leadership” after a “comprehensive review of the field hockey program.”
A five-page summary of the investigation by the UI Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity said several field hockey players complained Griesbaum had been verbally abusive, pressured them to compete while injured and allowed a “call out” meeting that hurt team morale.
Investigators did not find evidence Griesbaum violated university policy. The complainants’ names were kept confidential and Griesbaum denied the allegations.
What followed was a groundswell of support for Griesbaum.
Griesbaum’s 2014-2015 team released a statement rallying behind her; a former field hockey coach complained to the Board of Regents; and Griesbaum’s supporters started a “Reinstate Tracey Griesbaum” Facebook page.
“The immediate response, both inside and outside field hockey at Iowa, was people absolutely rushed to Coach Griesbaum’s defense,” said Mary Jo Kane, a kinesiology professor and director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota.
In the Doyle case, 19 former players used social media and other means to call out racist or belittling comments they say Doyle made in his 21-year career at Iowa. Players said he imitated Black stereotypes and told Black players he’d send them “back to the street” or “back to the ghetto.”
“Coach Chris Doyle must think all Black people in America must come from the ‘streets’ and have no guidance,” said Brandon Simon, a Black defensive lineman in 2016-2017. “His statement exemplifies what he perceives of Black people and our culture! His belief is that they have to conform to a culture that looks like him in order to succeed. This attitude has led to the high transfer rate of many Black student athletes and some quitting football all together.”
Jack Kallenberger, a white former defensive lineman who said he struggled in school because of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, said Doyle once told him to “open a (expletive) book instead of watching movies.”
While some former Hawkeyes have said Doyle’s rigorous conditioning program helped them get into the NFL, few have defended him publicly.
Payout included promise not to sue
Doyle, who was executive director of football and head strength and conditioning coach, was paid $832,000 in fiscal 2019, according to the state salary book.
In exchange for his resignation and promise not to sue, the UI agreed to pay Doyle $1.1 million, or 15 months of salary. He also gets 15 months of health and dental benefits and $211,300 for unused vacation time.
When the UI fired Griesbaum, whose salary in fiscal 2014 was nearly $130,000, the school honored her contract. It called for a one-time payout of $200,000 for a not-for-cause termination.
“What struck me between these two cases was, quite frankly, the attitude of the athletic director and university writ large was that, if anything, Doyle had the upper hand,” Kane said. “He got a big payout. Griesbaum got a payout as well, but she didn’t make as much money.”
Mark Conrad, director of Fordham University’s sports business program and associate professor of law and ethics, said earlier this month the UI had to give Doyle a “generous” buyout to avoid the possibility of a lawsuit that could lead to further damages.
Griesbaum sued the university in 2016, after several attempts to get the UI administration to talk about gender disparities in sports and beyond, Zwagerman said. Griesbaum and Meyer ultimately won a settlement, but it took nearly three years and involved a high-profile trial.
Different outcomes for job prospects
When Barta fired Griesbaum, he said in a statement “she had a successful career as our head field hockey coach. I am appreciative of her service.”
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But since it was clear he wanted a leadership change and news stories revealed there had been allegations of verbal abuse, Griesbaum found herself without job prospects. She did serve as a volunteer coach for Duke University for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
“I commend them (Duke) for giving me an opportunity,” she said. But “it’s not financially sustainable. It’s not paying my bills. I had to kind of shift away from that opportunity. I am coaching, on my own, helping athletes develop and grow, but I’m not able to get a job at the collegiate level.”
Doyle’s public statements have indicated he may look to coach football elsewhere:
“The University and I have reached an agreement and it is time to move on from Iowa football. My family and I are looking forward to the next chapter.”
Barta may have helped Doyle’s job search with this public statement: “We wish Chris the best moving forward in his career.”
Doyle’s job outlook might depend on the findings of Husch Blackwell, a Kansas City, Mo., law firm hired to investigate allegations of racism and bullying against Doyle and others in Hawkeye football.
Barta said June 15 the inquiry would take “weeks not months” but there is no deadline.
Many successful male college coaches, including Bobby Knight, Rick Pitino and Bob Huggins, landed other college coaching jobs after scandals. This hasn’t always been the case for female coaches, such as the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s Sylvia Hatchell and Georgia Tech’s MaChelle Joseph, both fired after allegations of bullying or demeaning comments, according to a 2019 opinion piece in MinnPost.
“Male coaches get a handshake and a ‘sorry it didn’t work out,’ and female coaches get blasted,” Zwagerman said. “I’m sure Chris Doyle will probably have a job in a year or two, unless the landscape changes. Unless we make some changes.”
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