CEDAR RAPIDS — Calling it a “defining moment for the Iowa Hawkeye football program,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz and athletics director Gary Barta announced Saturday that the school will conduct an external, independent review of the program after social media posts from multiple former African American players over the last two days alleged a culture of racial inequality.
Strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, who has been with Ferentz over his 21 seasons as head coach, has been placed on administrative leave. Doyle, the highest-paid strength and conditioning coach in the nation at $800,000 a year, has been at the center of former player allegations.
“Over the past 24 hours I have seen some difficult and heartbreaking posts on social media,” Ferentz said in a statement and via video posted on Iowa’s Twitter account. “I appreciate the former players’ candor and have been reaching out to many of them individually to hear more about their experiences in our program.
“I am planning on talking to all of them in the coming days. This is a process that will take some time, but change begins by listening first.”
Iowa athletics directory Gary Barta said he and Ferentz agreed to put Doyle on paid administrative leave. This is not the first controversy surrounding Doyle, as extreme offseason workouts the coach conducted in 2011 caused 13 players to have to be hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of muscle tissue that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the blood.
“I’m concerned about the recent comments being voiced by several former Hawkeye football players on social media,” Barta said in a news release. “It is important that we reach out and listen to both current and former student-athletes. We must be willing to improve and change.
“I have been in contact with both Kirk Ferentz and Chris Doyle during the last 24 hours. Kirk and I have agreed to place coach Doyle on immediate paid administrative leave and begin an independent external review of the program. Assistant football strength and conditioning coach Raimond Braithwaithe will assume leadership of the Iowa football strength and conditioning program during this period.”
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Ferentz acknowledged in his statement that most of the complaints from former players have centered on Doyle.
“I have spoken with him about the allegations posted on social media,” Ferentz said in the release. “They are troubling and have created a lasting impact on those players. Therefore, coach Doyle has been placed on administrative leave immediately while there is an independent review.
“He and I agree that all parties will have their voices heard and then a decision about how to move forward will be made.”
Ferentz announced he already had made changes in the program, based on the social media posts from former players. That includes lifting the program’s ban on current players’ ability to tweet.
“There has been a call for a cultural shift in our program,” he said. “Therefore, I am creating an advisory committee, chaired by a former player and made up of current and former players as well as department staff.
“This will be a diverse group that will be able to share without judgment so we can all examine where we are today and how we can have a better environment tomorrow.
“Football is a game of discipline and sacrifice. In our program there are high standards and accountability — we have a good team of players, coaches and staff members. But it is clear we can do more to create a welcoming and respectful environment where every player can grow, develop and become the best version of himself.”
Barta noted the a diversity task force was established in 2018 to “specifically address African American male student-athlete graduation rates. As part of the process, the task force interviewed current and former student-athletes to better understand our department’s climate toward diversity and the experiences of student-athletes.
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“It was evident at that time we needed to improve as a department. While we have taken several steps to address these issues, there is more to do.
“Ultimately, our success will be defined by our actions. Our greatest victory won’t be found on a box score but a willingness to speak out against racism, and to make sure every student-athlete, coach and staff member feel safe, supported, and that they have a voice that is empowered.”
Ferentz addressed his team earlier this week about national events in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis at the hands of white police officers.
“As I told the team earlier this week — I am a white football coach,” he said. “Teaching is what I do best. But it is also important to know when to be the student.
“Several days ago the players asked permission to post on social media so they could participate in the national discussion around injustice, racism and inequality. As a team we agreed last Thursday to lift the long-standing ban of players on social media and so you will be seeing them enter the now broader conversation.
“These are painful times. As a leader you can learn a lot by listening but then you must take action. Finally, I told the team that change begins with us, but truly change begins with me.”