IOWA CITY — Nine days after placing Iowa Hawkeyes strength and conditioning Coach Chris Doyle on leave amid allegations from some players that he made derogatory racial remarks, University of Iowa athletics Director Gary Barta announced Monday the UI will pay Doyle at least $1.1 million to resign and not sue.
Doyle, 51, was the highest-paid collegiate strength and conditioning coach in the nation at $800,000 per season and had been with Kirk Ferentz for all his 21 years as Hawkeyes head coach.
But within the last two weeks, many current and former players brought allegations against Doyle of bullying and disparaging comments and actions, especially against black players.
“Iowa City has been home for our family for 21 years,” Doyle said in a statement released as part of the separation agreement. “I am grateful Iowa football provided an opportunity to work with incredible players, coaches, and support staff. I have worked diligently to make a positive impact on the lives of student-athletes, support them as they speak out, and look forward to continued growth. I am confident that my record and character will be confirmed in the course of the independent review. 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 said at a lengthy and sometimes emotional news conference Monday that the school has hired the Husch Blackwell law firm in Kansas City, Mo., to conduct a review of the football program and alleged racial inequality in it. Barta said that review should be completed “in weeks, not months.” The results will be given directly to UI President Bruce Harreld.
“I came to the conclusion that a separation with Coach Doyle was a thoughtful and sensible thing to do,” Barta said. “Kirk and I talked, and we were both in full agreement that that was the case. ... This was not a decision that I made lightly. It is just one piece of the plan that is going to be needed for us to move forward.”
Doyle’s most recent contract, which he signed in 2017, allowed for one-year extensions that automatically start July 1 unless the UI submits written notice of nonrenewal by March 1.
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However, it says that “in the event such notice of nonrenewal is provided less than 90 days prior to the date of such anniversary, this Contract shall be extended for 90 days from the date of written notice of such nonrenewal.”
Under that proviso, it appears the UI could have been obligated to pay Doyle only three months worth of salary — not the 15 called for in the separation deal.
But the UI had to give him a “generous” buyout to avoid the possibility of a lawsuit that could lead to further repercussions, said an expert The Gazette asked to review Doyle’s contract and the deal announced Monday.
If the UI had used that 90-day option, it still would leave the door open to a breach-of-contract lawsuit, said Mark Conrad, director of Fordham University’s sports business program and associate professor of law and ethics.
“They may have been super cautious and didn’t take that chance, again because he would sue,” Conrad said.
And such a lawsuit “could embarrass both sides,” Conrad said.
The discovery process “could open up the door for all sorts of problems” for the Iowa athletic department and Doyle.
“It could be a long and lengthy and unpleasant thing,” Conrad said. “You don’t know what skeletons are going to be in that closet. You just don’t know. ... You really could just open up a can of worms.”
But Barta said Monday the Athletics Department wanted to break with Doyle now.
“What really became our area focus is coming up with a separation agreement,” Barta said during the news conference. “I decided that to move forward sooner rather than later, right now, let’s move forward.”
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Barta at times wept while talking about in-depth discussions he has had recently with current and former players and others about racism and social injustice. He vowed his department would successfully address those issues, not only in football.
Barta said in 2019 a task force he created to review a school and nationwide trend of black student-athletes graduating at lower rates than their white peers gave him a report that included interviews with anonymous black student-athletes who brought up feelings of not being able to be themselves in team settings. Barta said he created multiple initiatives to address the concerns, including hiring former player Broderick Binns as interim director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“The events of the past few weeks nationally, and then specifically the numerous comments that have been shared by former and current student-athletes in our football program, have made it clear to me, and I’m sure others in our department, that the changes we had been making weren’t enough and they weren’t happening fast enough,” he said.
Barta said he would wait until the independent review is completed before making judgments on other specific complaints on social media from former players against assistant coaches Brian Ferentz, Seth Wallace and Phil Parker. He expressed confidence in Kirk Ferentz being able to lead the football program moving forward, despite the controversy.
“I have observed him over the last week and a half, and I know how this is impacting him, I know what he is trying to do to move forward, I know the difficult conversations he is having, his willingness to change,” Barta said. “He knows as the leader of the program, he’s responsible for everything that occurs in his program. How much he knew or didn’t know (prior) ... He and I have had several conversations about that, and I believe him that he didn’t know all of the things that he has heard. I am confident that what he did know is that there were areas we can get better and needed to improve on, and they weren’t enough, the things we were doing.”
Barta applauded the courage of former and current players in bringing forth complaints.
“One of the things I want to do that is really important to me is say I’m sorry to former student-athletes, coaching staff, current student-athletes, anybody that has had a negative experience with Iowa football,” Barta said. “When I say negative, it’s 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.”
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John Steppe and Erin Jordan of The Gazette contributed.