Quieter, happier days for Barta, Iowa football

Andy Hamilton

LOS ANGELES – The circumstantial differences surrounding his football program and its head coach are apparent each time Iowa athletic director Gary Barta logs into his email account these days.

The vitriol that poured into his inbox last winter has been replaced by a few admissions of mistake and perhaps also some suggestions that Barta extend coach Kirk Ferentz’s contract rather than find his replacement.

“Let’s just estimate last year that 3,000 or 4,000 people told me what I ought to do and gave me advice,” Barta said Wednesday morning during an impromptu state of the program address. “Of those, maybe two or three came back and said, ‘I was wrong.’ But that’s OK. That’s the nature of sports.”

From Barta’s standpoint, it’s quite all right, too, that he’ll have to fork over a pile of bonus cash to Ferentz and his assistants after the Hawkeyes collected 12 victories, a Big Ten West Division title and earned a spot in Friday’s Rose Bowl against Stanford.

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A victory against the Cardinal could lock up a top-five finish for the Hawkeyes in the national rankings and earn Ferentz another $350,000 – plus an additional $50,000 for a Rose Bowl win – and push his 2015 bonus total up to $1 million.

Ferentz picked up another extra Wednesday when he was named the recipient of the Bobby Dodd Trophy as college football’s coach of the year.

“There’s a lot of coach of the year awards, but in my opinion this one is probably the most prestigious, no offense to any others,” Barta said. “I’m thrilled for him. He deserves it. I think it’s a great choice. The Bobby Dodd is about winning, but it’s about much more than that. It’s really what Kirk represents – the winning, the graduation rates, the student-athlete well-being.”

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Iowa’s resurgence this season has sparked another discussion about Ferentz’s contract status. The conversation, though, has taken a different direction than the one that occurred in January after Iowa finished 7-6 after a 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

At the time, Barta fielded questions about Ferentz’s job security. On Wednesday, he heard inquiries geared toward a possible extension for the 60-year-old coach whose contract runs through the 2019 season.

“The circumstances are different, but the process is exactly the same,” Barta said. “We’ll sit down and say, ‘What went well?’ Obviously, a lot of things did. Where can we get better? Where do we go in 2016? I’m not trying to make light of the fact the feeling is completely different, but the process is similar. Kirk and I will sit down, he’ll sit down with his program, we’ll talk about what went well – there’s a lot of things on that list – and how can we continue to get better?”

That might be a difficult proposition for a program that just moved into a $55 million state-of-the-art training facility and set a school record for victories in a season.

“Last year, I know it rang empty with a lot of people, but one of the things I said was the foundation is really strong, and I believed it, I meant it,” Barta said. “The foundation means the people are terrific, the facilities are terrific, the historical approach is terrific, the student-athletes are terrific. The foundation is strong, it’s as strong as it’s ever been. The margin for error can be slim. This year, a lot of things went our way, and that’s a credit to the players.”

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