Iowa athletic director Gary Barta talked with the Des Moines Register this weekend, addressing one of the weirder scandals of a scandal-ridden decade at the helm of Iowa athletics: Why he decided to extend Fran McCaffery's contract and then not tell anyone about it. The answer was classic Barta, in that it was flatly untrue:
“I don’t think I’ve ever announced extending a coach’s contract in the middle of the season. The reason I don’t like to do that: It distracts from playing the games, playing the season....
“Many times, when we announce coaches’ contracts, it’s for recruiting. In this case, we didn’t need an advantage in recruiting. Recruiting’s been going fine. So I made the decision to wait until the end of the season, knowing full well … it could get out during the season. I hoped that it would be after the season — not because I’m worried about how we’re playing. But I just did not want to have this conversation in the middle of the season. But it is what it is. And there was no conspiracy.
“I could’ve announced it. I chose not to. There’s really nothing in it to hide. It’s fair for people to criticize.”
Let's just break this down piece by piece. For one, Barta's claims that “I don’t think I’ve ever announced extending a coach’s contract in the middle of the season" are flatly false. In September 2016, Barta announced Kirk Ferentz's most recent extension four days after the season opener, in the middle of the season. He announced the previous Kirk Ferentz extension less than two days before opening kickoff (despite the fact that the contract was signed in June). Fran McCaffery's previous contract extension was announced on November 14, literally during the season-opening game. In 2013, women's basketball coach Lisa Bluder received an extension that was announced on December 26. At the time, Iowa was 11-2 on the season. Just this August, Barta announced the extension of volleyball coach Bond Shymanski on August 28, three games into the season. Aside from Rick Heller's recent extension, it's difficult to find a time when Barta didn't announce a contract extension during the season.
Second, there was a conspiracy. There are at least three people who knew of the new McCaffery contract: Barta, McCaffery and university president Bruce Harreld. The three of them had to all agree not to announce the contract extension. I'm not saying there was a sinister motive. But saying there was no agreement between them to keep this contract quiet is patently false.
Third, this was probably about how the team was playing. The first Ferentz and Bluder extensions are telling here. Iowa stalled three months on announcing the first Ferentz extension, dropping it hours before the opener for optimal impact. The Bluder extension was announced with Iowa in the top 25 but facing a particularly tricky opening to the Big Ten season (which did, in fact, drop the Hawkeyes out of the polls the following week). Even the most recent Ferentz extension, announced immediately after its signing, was disclosed immediately before an Iowa State game that (1) Kirk has a history of screwing up, and (2) a loss in which would have changed the narrative around the extension immediately.
And yet, after all of that, Barta finally fesses up: “I could’ve announced it. I chose not to. There’s really nothing in it to hide. It’s fair for people to criticize.” He's right. There is no reasonable explanation that holds any water beyond "I chose to hide this from everyone." This was a cover-up for no particular reason, obstruction without justification.
And that particular move -- rejecting transparency for secrecy's own sake -- is quintessential Gary Barta. This is the athletic director who told the field hockey coach her job was safe following an investigation, then fired the coach, tried to hide it in the middle of football media day, and refused to tell anyone why he did it. That led to the unjustifiable "transfer" of the coach's partner to another department, two lawsuits, a jury verdict against Barta individually and the unversity as a whole finding that they had discriminated against the coach's partner, and a $6.5 million payout. This is the athletic director who believed he could respond to a workout that put thirteen football players in the hospital with a one-paragraph press release, then hid while a football staffer took bullets from the press at a hastily-convened press conference. This is the athletic director that tried to quietly hide the Peter Gray controversy and was at the heart of the "internal" procedure following the Everson/Satterfield sexual assault allegations. Gary Barta has gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar more times than we can count. Hiding a perfectly reasonable, market-correction extension of a largely successful coach for a more politically opportune roll-out could be ignored if there wasn't such a history of Barta doing precisely this, getting caught, then issuing an outright untruth to justify his actions.
Iowa fans deserve the truth. Iowa taxpayers deserve transparency. Iowa athletics has deserved, does deserve, and will continue to deserve better than this.