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Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta Announces Retirement

While change rarely comes to the Iowa athletics department, Gary Barta’s retirement is a big one.

Syndication: HawkCentral
After 17 years in Iowa City, Gary Barta is set to retire.
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen

The University of Iowa is known for many things, but near the top of the list is the longevity and stability of its athletic department. The Hawkeyes have had two head football coaches in more than four decades. There have been just four men’s basketball coaches in more nearly four decades. On the women’s side, just three coaches in four decades. Iowa wrestling, like football, has had three coaches for nearly five decades. Stability and longevity across the board.

A big part of that has been the longevity and stability at the top with athletic director Gary Barta taking over the reins in 2006 from former AD Bob Bowlsby, who held the position for 16 years. Bowlsby, of course, took over the role from College Football Hall of Fame inductee Bump Elliott, who was at Iowa for 21 years. Now, after 17 years of his own as University of Iowa Henry B. and Patricia B. Tippie Director of Athletics Chair, Gary Barta is officially retiring at the age of 59.

With the announcement coming on Friday, Barta is set to remain on at Iowa through August 1st. An interim AD will be announced next week with current Deputy Athletics Director and COO Beth Goetz the most likely candidate to earn the interim title, and perhaps become a permanent replacement for Barta.

During his tenure in Iowa City, Barta has certainly had his ups and downs. The athletics department has raised more than $650M in donations for non-capital projects with $380M raised for facilities upgrades under Barta’s watch. That includes the Kinnick Stadium North End Zone project, the addition of the Hansen Football Performance Center, Gerdin Athletic Learning Center, Carver-Hawkeye Arena Howard Family Pavilion, Goschke Family Wrestling Training Center, Nagle Family Clubhouse and Hoak Family Golf Complex, Iowa Soccer Operations Center, P. Sue Beckwith Boathouse, and the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center natatorium among others.

The Hawkeyes have won 12 Big Ten titles in that time with a national championship in wrestling, a Final Four from women’s basketball, as well as two Big Ten Tournament Championships and another in men’s basketball, and a pair of Big Ten Championship appearances for Hawkeye football. Over his 17 years in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes had an 89% graduation success rate.

Beyond the Hawkeyes, Barta also served three years on the College Football Playoff Committee. That included serving as the chair in his final two years on the committee. Beyond the CFP, Barta served four years on the NCAA Division I Council and was named the 2015-16 National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics/Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year.

Barta, who has been battling prostate cancer since 2017, said the decision to hang them up did not come lightly.

“This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer. As I’ve reflected, I came to the conclusion there’s never a good time to step away…because there’s always more to be done. That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family. Again, I’m incredibly grateful to have served in this role. I look forward to wherever the next phase in my journey takes me. Thank you to President Wilson for her continued support, along with everyone in the “Hawkeye Family” for this amazing run. The best is yet to come! Go Hawks!”

But it wasn’t all good for the Hawkeyes under Gary Barta. Over the last six years, the Iowa athletic department has been mired by six separate lawsuits ranging from gender discrimination to racial discrimination and Title IX. Those lawsuits have been settled for a total $11 million.

The athletic department was also forced to take out a $50M loan from the University to make it through a single season in 2020 without funding from the football program’s ticket sales - a debt which will be inherited by his successor for the next decade or more.

Those financial black eyes only add to the annual grumbling among Hawkeye fans and national pundits regarding untimely and sometimes unnecessary contract extensions for the university’s highest paid coaches. Some such extensions have come completely behind closed doors with no public disclosure for months.

Beyond the financial issues, hiring and firing has been a point of contention among the fanbase. While Barta seems to have hit a home run with the hiring and extension of baseball coach Rick Heller, he also struck out perhaps as bad as anyone ever has when he hired Todd Lickliter to replace REDACTED. He’s not been faced with any decisions that he’s willing to make with regard to the head football or wrestling coach. The same can be said for women’s basketball. And while Fran McCaffery has not done a bad job as Iowa’s men’s basketball coach, the next AD will certainly be facing a crossroads.

That’s to say nothing of the situation in football. With an August departure, the new interim AD will be stepping into the spotlight just in time for the Hawkeyes to return to the gridiron, where all eyes will be on the Iowa offense. Offensive Coordinator Brian Ferentz has a contract that is set to expire at the end of this season. But Barta infamously put in place guardrails on an extension, dependent on the team averaging 25 points per game and winning 7 games this season. If so, the new AD will likely be strapped with the same strange reporting structure given the state’s nepotism laws.

As for who, exactly Barta’s replacement could be, Goetz remains the most likely candidate post what is assumed to be her interim stint starting this fall. The former AD at Ball State, Goetz came to Iowa City after having been a top candidate to take the role at Penn State and then Wisconsin. She held the title of interim AD at Minnesota in 2015-2016, where she made the hire of Tracy Claeys when Jerry kill retired due to health reasons.

She’s a former collegiate soccer player (Brevard College and Clemson), as well as a former head coach (Missouri-St. Louis). In 2021, Goetz was named vice chair of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee and served as chair in 2022-23. She was named the 2022 NCAA Division I FBS Nike Executive of the Year by Women Leaders in College Sports, shortly before being hired by Iowa last fall.

Her resume is more impressive than Barta’s when he was hired away from Wyoming after three years in the role. And by all accounts, she has made a strong impression on everyone she has worked with or encountered in Iowa City. The only thing that could throw a wrench into things is if former deputy athletic director and current Kansas State AD Gene Taylor would have an interest in returning to Iowa City.