By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – First it was Gary Barta, and now Kirk Ferentz who has said something in a release that makes you wonder what truly lies beneath the surface of the Gary Dolphin controversy.
I had pretty much moved on from Dolphin’s two-game suspension being a news story, but then the Iowa football team held its annual team banquet on Sunday and Dolphin was among those who were honored.
Iowa’s play-by-play announcer for both football and men’s basketball was the recipient of the 2018 Distinguished Service Award.
“Gary is not only a nationally respected broadcaster, he is a tireless ambassador for Iowa football here in our state and across the country,” Kirk Ferentz said in the release that listed all the individual awards for the players. “Right after the Nebraska game, our coaches came together and unanimously selected "Dolph" as the recipient of this year’s award. No one bleeds black and gold more than Gary Dolphin and this is our opportunity to say thank you.”
Maybe I’m a conspiracy theorist or blowing things out of proportion, but the timing of Dolphin’s award, and that Ferentz gave such a strong endorsement, just seemed odd in light of the current circumstances.
It makes you think, or at least wonder, if it was Ferentz’s way of standing up for Dolphin, who recently was suspended for two men's basketball games for making critical comments about Iowa player Maishe Dailey, and about Iowa’s recruiting. The comments were made in what Dolphin thought was a private conversation with color analyst Bobby Hansen during a commercial break in the first half of the Pittsburgh game on Nov. 27 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
However, the microphone was left on by mistake and Dolphin’s comments spread quickly on social media.
The comments were just part of what led to the suspension, though, as Barta said in a weird statement that “ongoing tensions” also had played a role. It was weird because Barta, Iowa’s Athletic Director since 2006, didn’t offer any more details other than saying ongoing tensions, and that left so much room for interpretation and speculation.
It seemed pretty apparent that McCaffery had influenced or encouraged Barta to include the sentence about ongoing tensions, and even more apparent after McCaffery acknowledged at a press conference a few days after the comments were made that it was no secret that his relationship with Dolphin was strained.
McCaffery also called the comments inexcusable and said he was disappointed, as he had a right to be.
The problem with believing that the timing of Ferentz’s comment was more than just a coincidence is that I have no reason to believe there is any friction or ongoing tensions between Ferentz and McCaffery.
Based on what he said in the release, Ferentz wants us to believe that the decision to honor Dolphin was made “right after” the Nebraska game on Nov. 23rd.
But is it just me or does anybody else think it’s strange that the Iowa coaches would've had Gary Dolphin’s award on their minds right after the 31-28 victory over Nebraska that was decided by a field goal as time expired?
It could depend on what Ferentz meant by saying “right after” the Nebraska game. Maybe he meant in the few hours or the few days right after the game.
That would be easier to believe because it’s just hard to picture Ferentz and his assistant coaches shifting their attention to Iowa’s play-by-play announcer right after such a dramatic and pivotal victory.
I understand that Dolphin is the beloved voice of the Hawkeyes, and has had that distinguished title for 22 years. But is Dolphin really who the coaches were thinking about right after the Nebraska game?
That just seems hard to believe.
Iowa officials had to realize under the circumstances that the timing of Dolphin’s award, and the rousing endorsement from Ferentz, would lead to rumor and speculation.
And if they didn’t, shame on them for being incredibly naïve.
Ferentz raised eyebrows in 2011 when he gave an award for the first time to Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle not long after 13 members of the Iowa football team had been hospitalized with a rare muscle disorder called Rhabdomyolysis. The players were hospitalized after having participated in a grueling workout during the offseason.
All of the players made a full recovery, but some on the outside questioned the timing of Doyle's award, thinking it was too soon after the Rhabdo incident.
The Rhabdo incident seems relevant now, because just like in Dolphin's case, Ferentz strongly endorsed somebody who still was under fire.
In both cases, Ferentz seemed to be sending a message or making a statement as a show of loyalty.
At least, that's how it was perceived under the circumstances.
I've been told that the decision to honor Dolphin was made by the coaches before the Pittsburgh game, and I believe that. I don't think Ferentz did some rush job to prove a point because of what happened to Dolphin.
But still, the timing of Sunday's award, accompanied by Ferentz's endorsement, left something to be desired from a perception standpoint because of the unusual circumstances.
My hope is that McCaffery and Dolphin can work out their differences because this is a distraction that nobody needs, especially Maishe Dailey.
Dolphin made his worst mistake by singling out a player. But Dolphin has apologized multiple times and has served his suspension.
So now it’s time to move on, again.
The only reason I wrote this column is because there has been so much discussion about the timing of Dolphin’s award, and about Ferentz's comment, that it seemed newsworthy.
The optics had some fans wondering if there was more to the story.
And there could be more to the story. But for the sake of Dailey, Dolphin and McCaffery, let’s close this unfortunate chapter.