Iowa AD Gary Barta Announces Retirement

Iowa Barta

University of Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta announced his retirement Friday, effective August 1st. Barta had been the head of Iowa athletics since 2006 when he took over for Bob Bowlsby. The school is set to name an interim Athletics Director next week. Barta is the direct report of the offensive coordinator to skate around nepotism policies. He has also settled numerous lawsuits during his tenure at Iowa. His tenure leaves a lot of uncertainty about how his legacy will be remembered. Iowa has had success with him at the helm, but it did not come without controversy. 

Barta’s Career at Iowa

During the Barta tenure, Iowa has earned four national titles, all in wrestling, and 27 Big Ten Team titles, all with an 89% graduation success rate. The university facilities underwent north of $380M in upgrades and new construction. They include the $89M Iowa Edge project that was completed in 2019, renovating and enhancing the north end zone. During Barta’s tenure, the University also completed upgrades to the Hayden Fry Hawkeye Football Complex, Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and the Goschke Family Wrestling Training Center.

Barta inherited Kirk Ferentz as the school’s head football coach when he took over in 2006. Three years later, Iowa won 10 regular season games and emerged victorious in the FedEx Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech. It remains Iowa’s only BCS victory in the Ferentz tenure. Iowa football achieved the school’s first 12-win season in 2015, finishing the regular season unbeaten. They went on to lose in dramatic fashion in the Big Ten Title game, and made the program’s first trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl since 1991. 

College Football Playoff Committee

Barta served three years on the College Football Playoff Committee from 2019 to 2021, and was the committee chair for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. During his time as chair, the College Football Playoff made history with the first non-Power Five team selected to the Playoff. The Cincinnati Bearcats earned the number four seed to play in the Cotton Bowl. 


In 2012, Ferentz’s son, Brian Ferentz, was hired to the staff as the offensive line coach. Barta claimed that Brian’s father was removed from the hiring process to comply with the University’s nepotism policies. However, the younger Ferentz said publicly, “Once he [Kirk Ferentz] had an idea of what he wanted to do, he reached out to me. How can you say no to your father?” His statement contradicted Barta’s, and it wasn’t the first wave of controversy that surrounded the athletic director.

Since 2010, Barta and the Iowa Athletic Department settled five lawsuits ranging from Title IX issues, gender discrimination, medical training oversight, and racial discrimination. The settlements totaled north of $11M.

Impact on Iowa Football

With Barta leaving the program, it ends the college football’s longest run of a head coach-athletic director duo at 17 seasons. Barta and Ferentz have produced a football program of consistency within its coaching staff, and it has been largely successful. However, after last season, that “consistency” was dubbed as “stubbornness.”

Because of Barta’s role with the Iowa offensive coordinator, he was responsible for the contract amendments that now require an average of 25 points per game and seven wins on the season. The adjusted contract requirements now incentivised mediocrity. At the Big Ten level, with a program as rich in football culture as Iowa, the changes were a bad look. In many senses, it solidified the program’s unwillingness to change. With Barta’s retirement, the perspective of Iowa Football will likely change in the next handful of years. The college football landscape is evolving, and a change at the top might be just what’s needed for Iowa to take the next step in the football program.

Transfer Portal and NIL

Wisconsin hired a new athletics director in 2021, replacing the long-time director Barry Alvarez who retired that season. The situation in Madison is strikingly similar to what’s beginning to unfold in Iowa City. In his tenure as the athletics director, he never fired a head coach. Alvarez actually served as the interim on two different occasions when Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen took new jobs.

The football culture at Wisconsin was consistency and success, and they were good at it. However, with the changing landscape of college football in the transfer portal and NIL, the program was falling behind. When Chris McIntosh took over in 2021, it took him just over one calendar year to fire head coach Paul Chryst. He then made a blockbuster hire in Luke Fickell. Now, he is beginning to transform Wisconsin into a school that competes in the NIL game and has taken 14 transfers this offseason.

At Iowa, it had been reported that Barta had not once made contact with the head of Iowa’s NIL Collective, Brad Heinrichs. In this day and age of college athletics, that’s absurd. There are rules in place that prohibit the University and the Collective “working together.” However, the coordination of an athletics department and a school’s collective is paramount in setting up a competitive NIL. At Iowa, that relationship was reportedly lacking under Barta. While the SWARM Collective has been successful, its apparent relationship with the University athletics department itself was nonexistent. 

The Future of Iowa Football

Ferentz and the football program have taken great strides in the transfer portal era. They landed Cade McNamara and Kaleb Brown this off-season. But it would not be a surprise to see a new athletic director push the envelope in terms of what the school can do to strengthen its position as the landscape of college athletics continues to evolve. That’s not to call for the firing of Ferentz. But to enhance the evolution of Iowa Football as it continues under a new athletics director. There’s a great opportunity in front of Iowa Football and the athletics department as the school makes a change at the top for the first time in nearly two decades. 


Iowa Barta

Photo courtesy: Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK