IOWA CITY, Iowa – It wasn’t that long ago when Gary Barta was considered the University of Iowa’s embattled athletic director.
About five months ago to be exact.
I had people telling me in late August that Barta would be lucky to survive the football season, given all the dysfunction in the Iowa Athletic Department.
By dysfunction, they meant a struggling football program and a messy situation in field hockey in which former Iowa coach Tracey Griesbaum has filed a civil rights complaint against her former employer, alleging a pattern of gender bias.
The field hockey situation has yet to be resolved, but that by itself isn’t enough to say that Barta is struggling with a job that he has had since 2006.
Barta is actually overseeing one of the greatest sports calendar years in school history.
The Iowa men’s basketball team has won nine games in a row and climbed to third in the Associated Press, its highest ranking since 1987.
Iowa and Oklahoma are the only schools that currently have a men’s basketball team ranked in the top 10 and a football team that finished the 2015 season ranked in the top 10.
The Iowa wrestling team is ranked second nationally and appears to be peaking at the right time based on recent performances.
And the Iowa baseball program is now on solid ground with Rick Heller entering his third season as head coach and coming off a season in which Iowa made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990.
Barta deserves credit for that, just like he would deserve blame if Iowa was struggling in football, basketball, baseball or wrestling.
Barta was under tremendous pressure to get it right when he hired McCaffery to replace the disaster that was Todd Lickliter in 2010.
The Iowa men’s basketball program was in disarray at the end of Lickliter’s three-year debacle, and Barta was largely to blame because he had hired Lickliter.
Barta probably still wouldn’t be Iowa’s athletic director if McCaffery had failed to rebuild the basketball program.
But instead, McCaffery has flourished, making Barta look all the much wiser.
Barta deserves credit for showing patience and respect when dealing with Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz, but also for showing a willingness to challenge Ferentz to do better.
Barta knew it was ridiculous and unfair to even consider terminating Ferentz’s contract after the 2014 season. But Barta also knew that he couldn’t just say nothing from a public relations standpoint, so he called the 2014 season unacceptable.
It’s hard to know if Barta’s criticism lit a fire with Ferentz, but the timing suggests that maybe it did.
This isn’t to say that Barta is without blame. He could’ve handled the field hockey situation better because it shouldn’t have been allowed to reach this point.
But overall, Barta’s job performance speaks for itself.
Iowa is having success in both football and men’s basketball. Fair or not, that defines an athletic director more than anything.