Iowa's 2014 football season didn't meet athletic director Gary Barta's expectations, but his support for head coach Kirk Ferentz has not wavered.
"Without question he will be our coach next season," Barta said in an interview with the Des Moines Register Friday. "That being said, (myself), Kirk and others surrounding the program have very high expectations for Iowa football. My expectations are for us to compete for and win championships. Maybe that's a bowl championship. A Big Ten Championship. Maybe, someday, even beyond that. And because they are so high, in 2014 we didn't meet those expectations."
Iowa finished the 2014 season 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten in Ferentz's 16th season as head coach. The Hawkeyes will learn their bowl destination on Sunday.
"After that, we'll look to what we're going to do to make adjustments ... to make sure we can meet those expectations," Barta said. "And Kirk has shown in the past that he can do that. And I believe he can moving forward."
Barta's public support of his coach comes at a time when the fan base has become more outspoken about the direction of the program. Since an Orange Bowl victory to conclude an 11-2 season in 2009, Iowa has gone 34-29 overall and 19-21 in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes haven't been rated since late in the 2009 season. Iowa's last Big Ten title came in 2004. Should fans expect more?
"The answer is yes," Barta said. "But I look at it from a different perspective. I have to evaluate the program year to year, and then what I have to evaluate is whether the foundation is strong enough to go forward."
Barta was concerned about the direction of the program coming off a 4-8 season in 2012, but was encouraged after an 8-5 season in 2013 that ended with a loss to LSU in the Outback Bowl.
"We didn't win that game, so we didn't get all the way back, but we made progress," Barta said. "I think that's one of the reasons 2014 has been so emotional and so challenging. Because we saw progress from 2012 to 2013. We saw the team we had coming back in 2014. We took a step back. But I believe Kirk can still get it done in 2015."
Ferentz's contract, restructured after the 2009 season and worth more than $4 million annually through the 2020 season, has also become a target for public criticism.
"The money is not what I'm basing my decision on," Barta said. "If he was making half of what he's making, or he was making two times what he's making, I would be going through the exact same process. I'm trying to evaluate where we're at, and then trying to decide if the foundation is strong enough to go forward with the current coach. And I absolutely believe that it is."
Barta acknowledged that he's concerned about a potential dip in season ticket sales coming off this season.
"When I hear our fans are concerned, I don't blame people for feeling that way," Barta said. "Our fans have high expectations for this program. So do I. So does Kirk."
Iowa has had just one sellout crowd in 70,585-seat Kinnick Stadium over the past two seasons. Home attendance averaged 67,512 this season, a slight bump from 67,125 in 2013. But Iowa averaged better than 70,000 each season from 2004 to 2012.
"I believe Kirk is our best ... leader to get us back to where we all want to be," Barta said. "I know that can be controversial for some. But I think the vast majority of people believe that. Am I concerned that we'll lose some fan support? Yes. If they're frustrated to a level where they leave, my goal would be to work hard to get them back."
Other members of the coaching staff — offensive coordinator Greg Davis, for one — have been the target of public criticism as well. Barta said he would never demand that Ferentz shake up his staff.
"(Ferentz) and I have talked since the end of the regular season," Barta said. "He has not mentioned to me specifically that he's planning to change coaches. I don't anticipate that. But whether he did or did not, I would not micromanage."
But Barta said some adjustments will have to be made for Iowa to have a successful 2015 season.
"I believe the foundation is strong enough for (Ferentz) to make the adjustments offensively, defensively, special teams, all the things he's going to have to look at to make sure we meet expectations in 2015," Barta said. "And I believe he can do that. If I didn't believe that, I'd be having a different discussion."