Iowa parts ways with football strength coach Chris Doyle, days after players raise racism allegations
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Chris Doyle's tenure with the Iowa football team ended after 21 years Monday, when he agreed to step aside after widespread accusations that the longtime strength coach used his position to bully and disparage former players, particularly those who are Black.
The university reached a separation agreement with Doyle, the school announced in a press release. Per the agreement, Doyle's buyout will include two payments of $556,249.50 — one on Aug. 1, the other on Jan. 1, 2021 — for a total of $1,112,499.
Iowa athletics director Gary Barta, appearing at a news conference and making his first remarks since the former players made their accusations on social media, said that the separation was finalized on Sunday.
"This was not a decision I made lightly," Barta said. "It is just one piece of a plan that is going to be needed for us to move forward."
Additionally, the university announced that it has hired Kansas City law firm Husch Blackwell to review the allegations of racial bias within the football program.
Barta said he expects the review "will take weeks, not months."
"We don't need an independent review to tell us that we have issues. We know we have issues," Barta said. "And we have begun taking steps to improve and move forward. However, the independent review is important in order to look into specific concerns that have ... arisen."
Doyle, 51, had been placed on administrative leave by the university June 6, after former Hawkeyes took to social media to point to him as the largest impediment to fostering a racially inclusive atmosphere within the football program. It had been announced that Barta would lead a review of Doyle's behavior.
Doyle issued a defiant statement on social media on June 7, admitting he had made mistakes but denying ever using racist language.
Doyle had been a pillar of Kirk Ferentz's staff since he became head coach in 1999. A Massachusetts native, Doyle was credited with helping develop scores of lightly recruited athletes into high-performing Big Ten Conference football players. Ferentz valued him so much that he consistently referred to Doyle as his third coordinator (along with the offensive and defensive coaching leaders) and paid him accordingly. Doyle's most recent contract called for him to make $800,000, the highest of any collegiate strength and conditioning coordinator.
Ferentz, entering his 22nd season, is the longest-tenured head coach in college football's highest level, the Football Championship Subdivision. Barta said he believes Ferentz has the ability to continue coaching Iowa.
"I do remain confident that Kirk Ferentz can lead this team moving forward," Barta said. "And many of the attributes that we're all familiar with over the last 20 years — the on-field success, the community service, the personal development of players, providing NFL opportunities and access, dedication, perseverance, the (Hawkeye) Wave, the Kid Captain program — all of those things are still there. And they're still all a part of the foundation and who Kirk is.
"Again, that doesn't excuse what we're focused on or what we're talking about. But the foundation is still strong."
In early June, as demonstrators across the country took to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in the custody of Minneapolis police, former Hawkeye players started to question whether there needed to be a reckoning in their football program about race relations.
Doyle was often singled out as the biggest problem. Many Black players accused him of telling them he was going to "send them back to the ghetto" if they didn't meet his standards. Others said Doyle criticized their attire or the way they wore their hair.
“What happens with Coach Doyle is huge,” former Iowa standout Marvin McNutt told The Athletic. “The black community right now and the guys that I know I went to school with are very upset. They do remember how it felt to be berated by somebody.”
Doyle previously came under fire in 2011, when 13 Hawkeye players were diagnosed with a condition called rhabdomyolysis — a breakdown of muscle tissue that can lead to lasting kidney damage — after strenuous offseason workouts. The school paid out one $15,000 settlement as a result, conducted an investigation and pledged that the specific workout would never be used again.
Three months later, Ferentz gave Doyle an assistant coach of the year award that had never previously existed.
As Hawkeye players in recent days raised allegations of racially biased treatment, a few players also said offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, Kirk Ferentz's son, was guilty of similar behavior.
Jaleel Johnson, a standout defensive lineman who now plays for the Minnesota Vikings, said previously on Twitter: “Coach Doyle is the problem in that building. And so is Brian Ferentz. Things won’t progress until those two fix themselves.”
Brian Ferentz has not been placed on leave. Kirk Ferentz told reporters June 7 that was because the number of complaints against his son were not as numerous as those lodged against Doyle.
Barta said Monday that additional action could be taken depending on the independent review's results.
During Monday’s news conference, Barta said a university diversity task force had conducted a study throughout the athletics department and produced a report in 2019 that surfaced concerning comments from athletes. Barta said that “while no teams or individuals were singled out in the report, it was reported verbally that many of these comments were coming from (the football program).”
Barta read off several examples from Iowa student-athletes that were included in the report, such as:
“I felt like I had to put a mask on to check my identity at the door.”
“I was told by my coach to change my hairstyle because it didn’t fit the Iowa culture.”
Barta said that the athletic department worked to improve its culture following that report. Steps included leadership councils, training sessions for staff on diversity and inclusion, and various outreach opportunities for Iowa student-athletes.
"I had convinced myself that we were doing enough," Barta said. "And, frankly, the past few weeks has been a wake-up call."
Ferentz, 64, has formed an advisory panel of former players, led by Mike Daniels, a former Hawkeye defensive tackle and NFL veteran, to offer suggestions for improving the culture of the team. Ferentz also said he is determined to listen to all of the stories of his current and former players in an attempt to understand the scope of the problem and lead his program in a better direction.
Raimond Braithwaite, in his 16th season with Iowa's strength and conditioning program, has taken over for Doyle on an interim basis. He is leading the players in conditioning drills this month.
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