IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz got right to it.
The Iowa Hawkeyes head football coach, going into his 22nd season, thought he had a healthy culture within his football program. On June 4, that changed.
Black former players unleashed raw emotions about their standing and treatment in the program. The University of Iowa engaged an independent review, and results were released Thursday. The findings punctuate what already was out there — but added an exclamation point with new details of racial bias enabled under the rubric of “the Iowa Way” philosophy of coaching.
“As the review explains, many of our Black players felt like they were not treated the same way as their white teammates. I was saddened and disappointed to learn of those feelings,” Ferentz said Thursday during a news conference. “Before June 4, I would’ve said we have a healthy program. The stories I’ve heard in the days and weeks that followed have changed that.”
Husch Blackwell, a law firm from St. Louis, conducted interviews with 111 individuals, including 45 current and 29 former players and 36 current and former employees. Its report raised questions about the longtime “Iowa Way” philosophy — which was alternately described as meaning “do the right thing” and “do not speak up about things.”
The report found that the philosophy “mandates uniformity and discourages individualism. Many Black players expressed difficulty adjusting to the program’s culture as a result, explaining that they were required to conform to a ‘mold’ that appeared to be built around the stereotype of a clean-cut, White athlete from a Midwestern background.”
The 28-page report concluded: “In sum, the program’s rules perpetuated racial or cultural biases and diminished the value of cultural diversity. The program over-monitored players to the point that they experienced heightened anxiety and maintained a culture that allowed a small group of coaches to demean players.”
Ferentz and Iowa athletics director Gary Barta talked Thursday about power and authority and how that oftentimes came down to former strength coach Chris Doyle, who also was Iowa’s executive director of football and the main liaison with visiting NFL scouts.
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Last month, the university struck a $1.1 million deal with Doyle to resign after several players cited him in their criticism — allegations Doyle has denied.
“At one point in the report, he (Ferentz) acknowledges he gave too much responsibility and maybe too much unchecked authority to one individual, but beyond that, it’s broader than one person,” Barta said.
“To have one person with that much responsibility, in retrospect, was probably a mistake,” he said. “As we move forward, those will be diffused out a bit, so the players aren’t being corrected by the same person time and time and time again.”
According to the report, however, “several former players commented that Coach Doyle should not be a ‘scapegoat’” for other problems in the program.
In addition to the public report, Husch Blackwell provided the UI with four personnel reports on current and former employees that will be a part of those individuals’ personnel records.
Those four people were not publicly named and the reports, which Barta said stemmed from allegations made toward individuals, were not released to the public.
“We will and have begun the process of internal follow-up, that that internal follow-up will occur privately and it will involve university (human resources) policies and procedures,” Barta said.
He said no more personnel changes were planned.
Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s name came up often in the social media complaints. Ferentz and Barta were questioned about the head coach’s son and nine-year staff member.
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Asked specifically about Brian Ferentz and linebackers coach Seth Wallace and whether they could move forward as Iowa staff members, Kirk Ferentz said, “There will be cases where, yeah, some special attention will be given, whether it’s mentoring, counseling, whatever, whatever steps we deem to be appropriate, to make sure that everybody is doing what they need to do to help our whole program move forward.”
Because of the father-son relationship, Barta has been Brian Ferentz’s official supervisor since he took the offensive line coach position in 2012.
“We really do have personnel discussions, we really do have performance evaluations,” Barta said. “I really do have conversations with Brian because of the fact that, you know, his dad is the head coach. But beyond that, again, we’ll take anything in those files and we’ll react to them based on what was written in those letters and react.”
Barta also said he had a conversation with UI President Bruce Harreld early on. Harreld and Barta haven’t wavered in their belief that Ferentz can fix the culture.
“I have read the report, and it is clear that the climate and culture must and will change within our football program,” Harreld said in a statement. “Our student-athletes must have the ability to be true to themselves, and we cannot and will not tolerate a systemic process that inhibits authenticity.”
One point of contention brought up by Black players was the frequency of drug tests — that Black players were tested more often. Ferentz denied this in the report. He reviewed the 2019-20 numbers and three players were tested three times, two of whom were white, the report said.
Barta has started a review of drug testing protocols and will work with an outside vendor to improve the process.
“We have reviewed our policies, protocols and procedures,” Barta said. “We feel those are where they need to be. We want to make sure that they’re transparent and consistent. We have not audited them on an annual basis, but for the next several years and maybe ongoing, from somebody outside of athletics, and moving toward that goal of transparency.”
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