JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gary Barta hasn't seen this kind of climate surrounding the football program in his nine years as Iowa's athletic director.
He said about a month ago that 7-5 wasn't acceptable. The same is true for 7-6, which became reality after a 45-28 loss to Tennessee in Friday's TaxSlayer Bowl.
"The expectations were higher," Barta said. "Because we didn't meet those expectations, people are disappointed. I'm disappointed. My gut churns when we lose a game like this. It's felt like that a couple of times during this season."
Barta stood front and center after Friday's game and fielded tough questions about 16th-year coach Kirk Ferentz's future.
He hasn't backed down from the questions, and he reiterated his support for the coach in 2015.
He also understands that the fan base is upset after last season's 8-5 team that went to the Outback Bowl wasn't matched or exceeded this season.
"I haven't seen it this intense," Barta said. "Even when we were 4-8 (in 2012), it didn't get to this level of angst. At the same time, that's because the expectations were higher. I think people went into this season because we had eight wins a year ago, because we had a good returning nucleus."
Iowa's fan base demonstrated its disappointment dressed as empty chairs. Tennessee fans dominated Friday's crowd of 56,310. That's not the norm at bowl games. A year ago, black-and-gold clad fans took up the majority of seats in last year's bowl game in Tampa, Fla.
This year, Iowa's ticket sales were slow — it sold only half of its allotment of 8,000 tickets.
"There was about 5,000 fans, based on what I heard," Barta said. "We're thankful for the folks who came."
What's next? The evaluation process begins for 2015.
Barta remained positive that the right guy is in the head coach's office. Ferentz is under contract through 2020.
"What I do see is student-athletes who are still 100 percent behind their coach," Barta said. "I see a group of coaches who are still 100 percent behind each other. That's important, because I've been around programs where a coach loses a team, and that's not the case at Iowa."