One major name missing in inquiry into Iowa football: Brian Ferentz
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Brian Ferentz’s name does not appear in the 28-page investigation of the Iowa football program that was released Thursday.
Neither his father, Kirk Ferentz, nor his boss, Gary Barta, were eager to discuss Brian Ferentz at a subsequent news conference, either.
But what, if any, transgressions Iowa’s offensive coordinator might have committed in his dealings with Hawkeye players were perhaps the biggest mystery hanging over the proceedings on a unique and sobering day for the program Kirk Ferentz has led since 1999.
The report by the law firm Husch Blackwell revealed that three members of the Iowa coaching staff were singled out by current and former Iowa players for abusive and bullying actions. One was presumably Chris Doyle, the longtime strength and conditioning coach who was let go June 15 with a $1.1 million buyout of his contract. Doyle was the person most often singled out for racially derogatory language by Black former Hawkeyes on social media posts. His name was mentioned frequently in the Husch Blackwell report.
Who were the other two coaches? They have apparently had documentation of their behavior placed in their personnel files, but their identity is being kept confidential by the university.
Brian Ferentz, Kirk’s oldest son, was the second-most frequent target of criticism from former players. He has already been reprimanded once for a profanity-filled tirade launched at a game official in the pressbox during a 2017 contest at Kinnick Stadium.
“If there's anybody in our program right now that's not changed from two months ago, then they're just not paying attention,” Kirk Ferentz said when asked about what his son had learned, never mentioning him by name.
“I think we have a really good staff, and we've got a good coaching staff, support staff. I'm appreciative of the support we've gotten institutionally, and I have every confidence we're going to move forward and do fine. But I'd like to think everybody has been affected.”
Barta, Iowa’s athletic director, said it was ultimately his decision not to remove any staff members other than Doyle. He cited confidentiality laws in explaining why there wasn’t more information provided about allegations concerning any current coaches.
As for his relationship with Brian Ferentz: “We really do have personnel discussions. We really do have performance evaluations. I really do have conversations with Brian because of the fact that his dad is the head coach. But beyond that, again, we'll take anything in those files and we'll react to them,” Barta said.
It has long been believed that Brian Ferentz harbors dreams of becoming a college head coach, perhaps following in his father’s footsteps at Iowa when Kirk Ferentz, 64, retires.
Barta, who technically supervises the younger Ferentz under the university’s nepotism policy, declined to address whether whatever was revealed during the Husch Blackwell investigation has changed his mind on Brian’s ability to lead a program one day.
“I've watched Brian grow from being an offensive line coach. I've watched him grow into being an offensive coordinator. And I have appreciated a lot of that growth. But that's probably as far as I'll go right there. But he and I have talked a lot about his future over the years,” Barta said.
“I'm just going to continue to move forward and have conversations with him privately about what his career goals are and any way that I can help as he's working toward those goals.”
On July 1, Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley saw his salary cut in half and his designation as head-coach-in-waiting rescinded after a Husch Blackwell investigation into a racist slur he used in 2013.
Here's other observations from Thursday's news:
Kirk Ferentz says Akrum Wadley's comments 'surprised' him
Kirk Ferentz said he was “surprised” to hear former star running back Akrum Wadley claim last month that he now regrets ever playing for the Hawkeyes.
"I felt like playing for Iowa football was a living nightmare," Wadley wrote in a social media post June 29.
“As recently as May 26, his mom (Sharonda Phelps) and I were having good conversations,” Ferentz said of Wadley, who was a 1,000-yard rusher for the Hawkeyes in 2016 and ’17.
Ferentz took issue with Wadley’s claim that he once rescinded the player’s meal card as a form of punishment. Ferentz has never taken that step, he said.
The coach also said he never said derogatory things about Wadley at his news conferences, another one of the player’s allegations.
“Those are a matter of record. I’ll stand behind what I said,” Ferentz said.
In December 2017, at a preview of Iowa’s trip to the Pinstripe Bowl, being played in New York near Wadley’s New Jersey hometown, Ferentz said: “Probably the scariest thing right now is to think that Akrum Wadley might be our tour guide during this trip. That's a little frightening to me.”
Ferentz also said he helped arrange for Wadley to get a spot with the Atlanta franchise in the XFL, indicating that this occurred this winter after Iowa returned from a Holiday Bowl victory. Wadley actually signed with Atlanta of the AAF in February 2019; the league folded two months later.
Kirk Ferentz didn’t address Wadley’s repeated claims that Brian Ferentz on several occasions jokingly asked him if he was on his way to commit a robbery when Wadley was leaving the football practice field while wearing a team-issued wool hat that covered his face in cold weather.
“I had no sense” that Wadley harbored ill feelings toward the Hawkeyes, Ferentz said.
Ferentz declined to say if Wadley was one of his former players that he’s been in contact with since allegations first surfaced that some ex-Hawkeyes felt demeaned during their time in Iowa City. Any such conversations have been private, he said.
'Systemic racism' in Iowa football program? Barta won't go that far
The term “systemic racism” has been a national talking point for two months, ever since George Floyd died while in the custody of Minneapolis police, an event that has launched ongoing demonstrations in dozens of U.S. cities. It refers to a type of bias against minorities that has become part of the fabric of an organization or society, thus preventing equality from being achieved.
Barta was asked Thursday if the term applied to his football program. He said his understanding of what systemic racism wasn’t deep enough to answer that question.
“Did we have a culture that was not fair? Yeah,” Barta said. “I'm not ready to use a term for it, but we have to have an environment where everybody feels like they're being treated fairly and equitably, and we've learned that that wasn't happening across the board.”
Barta believes that the current leadership at Iowa, minus Doyle, can root out whatever racial bias exists in the football program. He has worked with Kirk Ferentz for 15 years.
“I've watched him make changes when he's needed to make changes during my time. I've listened and we've had several conversations about his desire to change, and so in this case immediately took responsibility, immediately started working through and finding out where we needed to head,” Barta said of Ferentz.
“I was very pleased to see that the conversations with former and current players (in the Husch Blackwell report) confirmed what I believed, that Kirk is a leader that can move forward with this program.”
NOTE: A previous version of this story misstated the professional football league Akrum Wadley was set to play in in 2019. It has been changed to the AAF.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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