The Chronicles of Gary Barta

By Patrick Vint on November 29, 2018 at 12:00 pm
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
86 Comments

Gary Barta suspended Gary Dolphin yesterday, and did so in typical Gary Barta fashion: By botching the public relations and turning a minor, one-day story into a week-long disaster for the UI athletics department.  This is not the first time he has done this, not by a long shot.

In discussing Dolphingate on social media, it has become clear that few have a true understanding of the full scope of Barta's disastrous tenure as UI athletics director.  And so, as the official online repository for Gary Barta screwups, it becomes our duty to lay them out for you, in their entirety.

Here, then, are the Chronicles of Barta:

 August 1, 2006:

Gary Barta is named athletic director at the University of Iowa, replacing Bob Bowlsby.  Barta had previously served as the athletic director at the University of Wyoming.  Key point: Big Ten Network had launched 41 days before he took over.  His entire tenure has been built during the period of BTN financial largesse.

March 22, 2007:

Barta puts Steve Alford in the backseat of his car, drives out to a nice spot in the country, opens the door and lets Steve run free.  Steve somehow runs to New Mexico.  It is the last good thing Gary Barta does as athletic director at Iowa.  Of course, Barta sort of botched the whole thing: He somehow let Alford leave the facility with the keys to his company car, and Steve took his sweet time returning it to UI.

April 3, 2007:

After a thorough search, Barta hires Todd Lickliter as the new head basketball coach.  This was not Barta's fault; Lickliter was the reigning NABC National Coach of the Year.  On paper, he was the best candidate for the job.  Anyone with a modicum of knowledge of basketball would have hired him for that spot.

October 2007 - September 2008: 

Two Iowa football players allegedly sexually assault a female student-athlete at Hillcrest Dormitory on October 14, 2007.  The details of what happened were eventually the subject of a trial.  That trial is not the issue here.

That there was a trial at all is a small wonder.  The fact is that, according to the victim and her family, UI Athletics actively worked to keep the police from investigating the alleged assault.  The details are lost to the langoliers of the internet, but a letter from the victim's mother to the UI on November 19, 2007, detailed the following allegations: The day after the alleged assault, UI assistant athletic director Fred Mims met with the victim and her father.  Also in attendance for meetings with the victim and her father that morning were Gary Barta, Kirk Ferentz, the victim's coach and other UI Athletics staff.  The victim was told that she could opt for criminal (i.e. call the police), "formal" (i.e. a Title IX investigation), or "informal" (i.e. internal athletic department) action, and that UI Athletics would act "swiftly and effectively" to remedy the issue in the event she chose the informal process.  The victim's mother indicated that the victim was "really encouraged to try the informal route first."  This was, quite obviously, an inappropriate response to an allegation of sexual assault.

After more than a month, UI had taken no action beyond suspending the players involved (which is basically all the "informal process" would allow because nobody with any actual authority had been brought in).  One of the accused players continued to live three rooms down the hall from the victim.  Basically, Iowa promised her quick, quiet resolution, and then quickly and quietly did nothing.  That prompted the victim to go to the authorities, and the mom's letter.  Barta's office buried the mom's letter.  When that was still ignored, the mom went public with the letter -- a letter that Barta and Mims had failed to give to the Board of Regents, in what regent David Miles called "a serious breach of trust" -- and all hell broke loose.

Then-UI President Sally Mason first hid behind FERPA.  When that didn't work, she hid behind Barta.  For about a week in July 2008, it looked like this was going to take down the President, the athletic director, the assistant athletic director, and the football coach, at the very least.  But Barta successfully negotiated an "independent investigation" that somehow pinned the issues on a non-athletics dean and a UI attorney, the dean and attorney got fired, and everyone else got by, and it all just went away.  Barta had saved Mason's job.  And until you understand the Barta-Mason dynamic from that point forward, you cannot properly understand how in the world he is still the athletic director.

Fall 2008:

Freshman crew team member Margaret Krusing allegedly suffers career-ending leg injuries as a result of an "excessive training regimen".  The resulting injuries made it hard for Krusing to walk and required numerous surgeries.  Iowa placed Krusing on full scholarship for a year, before she transferred to Marquette.  She sued in 2010, and Iowa eventually paid $300,000 to settle the dispute.

November 9, 2008:

Iowa field hockey, led by coach Tracey Griesbaum, wins its third consecutive Big Ten tournament title and makes a run to the NCAA Final Four.  This is what we call foreshadowing.

March 2010:

After three sub-.500 seasons, Todd Lickliter is fired as head basketball coach.  This was the right move, as Lickliter had combined horrendous recruiting, lack of on-court success, and a style that resembled drying paint to empty Carver Hawkeye Arena of fans. 

Of course, Barta screwed this up, too: Lickliter had missed a portion of the regular season due to health issues, and Iowa leaked to some press that Lickliter was going to resign due to those issues.  As rumors circulated, Barta issued a noncommittal statement, then left Lickliter dangling in the wind and rumors filling the remaining air for three days while he attended conference meetings.  Lickliter was forced to issue a statement denying that he would resign; only after that did Barta actually fire the guy.  Barta eventually hires Fran McCaffery as basketball coach.

September 2, 2010:

Fresh off an Orange Bowl win and a new set of NFL rumors surrounding Kirk Ferentz, Gary Barta hands the longtime Iowa football coach the most ridiculous contract in the history of college athletics, a ten-year, $42 million agreement whereby Iowa would be required to pay 75 percent of the full contract value as a buyout in the event Ferentz was fired.  The agreement also allowed Ferentz to leave at any time without penalty, in the unlikely event that someone would pay him more.  Ferentz's team, the most talented of his tenure, promptly tanks; two years later, Iowa is 4-8 with a loss to Central Michigan and Greg Davis as offensive coordinator, and Ferentz would have been owed a staggering $26 million had that mattered to anyone.

January 2011:

Thirteen football players land in University Hospital following an offseason workout administered by strength coach Chris Doyle.  Iowa tries to keep it under wraps until one of the hospitalized players, linebacker Jim Poggi, posted something to Facebook about "brown wizz," and we were off to the races.

First local, then national, media seized on the story.  Iowa first tried to issue a press release and state that no further comment would be forthcoming.  When that didn't work, they convened a press conference.  In attendance on behalf of the UI: A doctor who hadn't treated the players, a football staffer and Jim Poggi's dad, Biff Poggi.  Not in attendance: Chris Doyle, Kirk Ferentz or Gary Barta.  We didn't hear from any of them until after Signing Day, more than a week later.  And then Ferentz gave Doyle the "Assistant Coach of the Year" award, an award that had never been given before or since.  One of the injured players eventually sued and settled with the UI for something like $20,000.

May 15, 2011:

Iowa wins the Big Ten men's track championship.  It would be the last non-wrestling title won by any Iowa athletics program for more than six years (baseball won the Big Ten Tournament in 2017).  That's 132 Iowa athletic seasons without a conference title.  But hey, it's not like Barta ever said winning was important or anything.

October-November 2012:

Iowa cryptically announces that Peter Gray, an academic advisor for the athletics department who had been on the payroll since 2002, has resigned for "personal reasons."  As anyone following the news this week understands, cryptically citing things without further explanation is kind of Barta's stock in trade.

What Barta does not disclose is that Iowa conducted an internal investigation of Gray which found that he (1) made sexual comments to recruits and parents during a presentation; (2) touched students in a manner that was creepy at best and sexual assault at worst; (3) had been repeatedly cited as a creep by student-athletes during the previous decade; (4) had inappropriate photographs on his work computer, including some straight-up pornography, and (5) had traded tickets to UI sporting events for nude photos.  Oh, also, he had been let go from his previous job with a recommendation that he never be hired again.  When asked for details, Barta called Gray's resignation "a personnel matter" and refused to comment further.

January 2012:

Kirk Ferentz hires his son, Brian Ferentz, as an offensive line assistant.  The younger Ferentz had spent two years with the New England Patriots as an assistant before that, and had enough qualifications for the job.  Nevertheless, the hire did breach UI nepotism rules and guidelines.  In response, Barta comically claimed that he, not Kirk Ferentz, had made the decision to hire Brian for the job.  This was almost immediately contradicted by Brian Ferentz at his introductory news conference, where he stated that his dad had "reached out" to him about the job.  Barta then instituted a management plan wherein he would act as the younger Ferentz's boss, rather than the head coach that Brian Ferentz would work for.  The whole thing was an amazing bureaucratic sham.

June 2013:

Back in 2012, Iowa had lost a female track assistant.  After the UI struck out on two candidates -- the administration rejected hiring a man for the job, and a woman candidate took another job during the delay -- it filled the position on a one-year appointment with Mike Scott.  The following year, the job was re-posted, with the posting alleged by Scott to have been rewritten to take him out of contention so that Iowa could hire a woman.  Internal email from coach Larry Wieczorek indicated that the eventual hire, a relatively less-qualified woman, was driven by the administration's mandate to hire a female candidate.  Scott sued for gender discrimination, and settled for $200,000.  Total settlements paid by Barta's department now exceeded $500,000, and we're nowhere near done.

August 4, 2014: 

In the middle of Iowa football media day, and just weeks before the field hockey season is to begin, Barta announces that he has abruptly fired field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum.  Rumors quickly surface that the firing was due to complaints by players of mistreatment, specifically verbal abuse.  

Two weeks prior to Griesbaum's firing, Barta held a meeting with staff to discuss the findings of an internal review of the program, prompted by those player allegations.  At that meeting, he assured attendees (including Griesbaum) that Griesbaum would remain field hockey coach.  Barta specifically stated that Griesbaum had not violated university policy, and apologized to her for the internal review.  Then he fired her, and in classic Barta fashion, wouldn't tell anyone why.  "My decision to terminate Coach Griesbaum was based on the results of a comprehensive review of the field hockey coach and her program," Barta stated.  He told current and former players that the firing was due to the results of the internal review "and other factors."  Griesbaum was, of course, far more successful than Ferentz, McCaffery, or any other coach at the university not named Tom Brands.

The Iowa -- and, soon, national -- field hockey community rallied to Griesbaum's side, especially given that yelling has never been grounds for dismissal in men's sports.  The national media, particularly Kate Fagan at ESPN, got into the story and FOIA'd Barta's email correspondence.  The double standards were obvious: Iowa men's coaches (particularly McCaffery, who had been reprimanded by the school and conference for his sideline tirades) had made a career out of screaming at anyone within earshot.  Women's coaches were apparently not allowed to do that.

But when Barta cited "other factors," it opened the door to rampant speculation (sound familiar) as to what he meant.  And what Griesbaum, her partner Jane Meyer (a UI athletics administrator, at least at that time) and her attorneys believed was that "other factors" were Griesbaum's sexual orientation.  And so Griesbaum sued.  And when Barta moved Meyer to a non-athletics department without any stated rationale or documented poor performance, Meyer filed her own lawsuit for retaliation.

January 28, 2015:

Four field hockey players supportive of Griesbaum file a Title IX complaint with U.S. Department of Education.  The Feds launch a Title IX investigation of Iowa athletics in May 2015, based largely on the Griesbaum firing and Barta's tendency to fire female coaches.  The investigation ends two years later without any significant penalties against Iowa.

February 17, 2016:

Barta signs a five-year contract extension originally negotiated by his benefactor, Sally Mason, and signed by new president Bruce Harreld.  This is despite the Title IX investigation, the Griesbaum and Meyer lawsuits, and his general ineptitude, as detailed in the preceding 2,200 words.

May 4, 2017:

Barta's takeaway from the Mike Scott thing and the Tracey Griesbaum thing is that FOIA was the enemy and email was a ticking time bomb, so he basically just stopped making a paper trail of anything he was doing that might be controversial.  Among those things was moving Griesbaum's partner, Jane Meyer, out of the department without reason or warning.

And so Meyer's lawsuit went to trial in Des Moines in late April 2017, with Barta openly confident in victory.  But the jury balked at complaints of Meyer's ineptitude by a panel of male coaches, found that UI -- Barta, really -- discriminated against her based on her sexual orientation, and awarded Meyer $1.43 million in damages.  Within three weeks, Iowa had settled any appeals of the Meyer verdict and Griesbaum's claim (and rapidly upcoming trial) for a total of $6.5 million.  A jury of Iowans found that Gary Barta discriminated against at least one woman based on her sexual orientation, and Iowa paid over $5 million to avoid having a second jury do the same.  And yet, Gary Barta somehow, inexplicably, remained employed.  When asked about the verdict, Barta basically said they lost because he didn't write enough stuff down.

August 31, 2016: 

Barta extends the Ferentz contract for another ten years, on basically the same absurd terms.

November 29, 2017:

Barta extends Fran McCaffery's contract, doubling his buyout to more than $10 million and increases his pay, on the heels of a lackluster 19-15 season and second-round NIT loss.  In impeccable Barta fashion, the extension is signed in secret and not disclosed publicly, until Scott Dochterman FOIA'd some documents and found it in late January 2018.  When asked why he offered and executed a secret multi-million dollar contract extension, Barta said, “I could’ve announced it. I chose not to. There’s really nothing in it to hide. It’s fair for people to criticize.”


The Gary Dolphin suspension is a relatively small matter in comparison to the dystopian level of ineptitude and bad faith exhibited by Barta in the past.  Nobody is in the hospital, or in jail, or injured in any meaningful way.  Nobody has lost a job.  Nobody is suing for millions of dollars, at least not yet.

But this most recent issue only shows that Barta hasn't learned a thing from his previous missteps.  Faced with some questionable behavior from an employee/contractor, Barta conducted some sort of investigation.  He issued a public statement that included a cryptic allusion to other behavior, an allusion on which he will almost surely refuse to further elaborate.  He took disciplinary action against an employee in a protected class -- in Dolphin's case, age -- without clear public explanation or, we have to assume from previous conduct, a documented paper trail.  And he excused the behavior of Bobby Hansen, who was sitting next to Dolphin and agreeing with every word.  It's a PR disaster, a legal conundrum, and a human resources nightmare, all rolled together and presented in a way that makes it the story of the week.  Only Gary Barta can be this incompetent, and if the past is any indication, he will be Iowa athletic director the next time he's given the opportunity to botch a similar response.

86 Comments
View 86 Comments