In California to celebrate along with thousands of Hawkeye faithful the team’s trip to the Rose Bowl, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld said Wednesday that head football coach Kirk Ferentz and Athletics Director Gary Barta aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
“They are long-term members of our family, and I intend to keep it that way,” he said.
During an interview with The Gazette, Harreld addressed the preseason skepticism around Ferentz and Barta’s future with the university before he officially began the presidency Nov. 2. He said the two have “never been on thin ice with me.”
After last football season ended with a disappointing loss in the TaxSlayer Bowl, the Hawkeyes dropped to a mediocre 34-30 record over the last five seasons. Ticket sales foundered and fans and analysts began asking whether a change was due.
But, Harreld told The Gazette, Ferentz deserves credit for this season’s “phenomenal turnaround,” citing his emboldened play-calling and energetic leadership. He praised the standards with which the program is run, and said the Hawkeyes win “with Iowa integrity.”
Although Harreld said a trip to the Rose Bowl provides significant benefit for the university in recruiting, fundraising, reputation and revenue, this week is about celebrating a “remarkable group of young men.”
Since starting as president, Harreld said he has received numerous letters and emails from people who’ve encountered members of the football team.
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At least two were mothers who inadvertently ended up at the same hotel as the squad during away games in Indiana and Nebraska.
One told Harreld her daughter booked her in the same Indiana hotel as the Iowa football squad, and she desperately tried to move her family. But she wasn’t able to and — after bumping into some of the players in the halls and elevators — found herself surprised.
“She said they weren’t loud,” Harreld said. “They were true gentlemen.”
Another woman sent a similar message after staying in the same hotel with the squad in Nebraska. And, Harreld said, one faculty member sent an email about the night she had car trouble and received help from two men on the side of the road.
Turns out, he said, they were on the football team.
“That’s our Iowa,” he said.
Harreld said he has been thrilled to see all the Iowa fans in and around Los Angeles this week, likening the abundance of black and gold to a swarm of bumblebees.
“It’s a love-in — that’s the only way to describe it,” he said. “It’s a lot of Iowa-ness, and it’s great.”
Harreld said he arrived Tuesday on a private plane with his wife, Mary. Three of his four children and all six grandchildren also arrived Tuesday on commercial flights. None of the travel expenses were paid for with UI or UI-related funds, he said.
Since arriving, Harreld said he has been booked solid with meetings and events connecting him with alumni, donors and potential Hawkeye recruits. Wednesday afternoon, Harreld said, he was lined up to meet with specific groups of alumni, including those who graduated in dentistry, business, engineering and law.
“There is a whole contingent of Iowans who live out here now,” Harreld said.
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Although UI donors don’t typically increase their giving based on football wins, he said, this 12-0 season and Rose Bowl appearance are “huge” in terms of outreach.
“We can live in our own little bubble,” he said, “and this breaks us out in a lot of ways.”
Harreld spent Tuesday night dining at an event with UI physicians and celebrating the Hawkeyes. But he admitted to being not totally focused on the football program. He and those around him were keeping tabs on the Hawkeye basketball squad as it took on No. 1-ranked Michigan State.
“We were passing the cellphone under the table,” he said.
When the Hawks clinched the victory, Harreld said, he stood up and announced the win to the crowd, which broke out in the traditional I-O-W-A chant.
And although Harreld doesn’t take credit for the athletic success, he told The Gazette it has helped smooth what started as a rough transition amid controversy around the presidential search process that ended with his selection.
“It doesn’t hurt,” he said. “This is a new page and a new year, and we are going forward, not back.”